Planning an Oregon vacation and looking for the best places to visit in the Beaver State? From Cannon Beach to Mt. Hood and Portland to Bend, Oregon has numerous attractions that are worth visiting at least once. Find the best things to do and the best things to see in Oregon in this epic guide. You might also like our post on the Ultimate Oregon Road Trip Itinerary.
Oregon is one of the best states to road trip in the United States of America. Located in the Pacific Northwest, it is known for its diverse culture, beautiful coastline, and green forests. The state’s northern boundary with Washington is marked by the River Columbia while the Snake river outlines its eastern boundary with Idaho. On its south is the state of California. Oregon has varied landscapes of sea stacks, towering mountains, tall redwoods, and densely forested woods. U.S Highway 101 runs parallel to the Pacific Coast in coastal Oregon and offers access to unique coastal vistas.
Fun Fact: Fur trade was a big portion of Oregon’s economy during the early times; hence the name ‘Beaver State’! Beaver is also the state animal of Oregon and protected and admired for its qualities of intelligence and ingenuity. The beaver also flies high on the flag of Oregon.
Oregon is also one of the most underrated states in the Western USA. Overshadowed by the sunny beaches of California and the evergreen forests of Washington State, Oregon is not on the bucket list of that many visitors. However, the state offers a unique range of attractions from the vibrant city of Portland to the breweries in Bend. Visitors can enjoy beautiful natural attractions like the Columbia River Gorge and Cape Perpetua Scenic Area along the Oregon Coast. The state’s eastern region has high deserts and stark landscapes while the Willamette River Valley is filled with lush wineries.
“Oregon is an inspiration. Whether you come to it, or are born to it, you become entranced by our state’s beauty, the opportunity she affords, and the independent spirit of her citizens.”
– the late Oregon Governor Tom McCall
Best Things to do in Oregon
Oregon is a year-round destination and has plenty of things to do whenever you visit. The state is perfect for baby boomers to the millennials and should be on everyone’s travel bucket list. In the summer, you can take scenic road trips and enjoy biking around Oregon while in winter you can snowshoe or go skiing near Mt. Hood. Oregon has unique attractions for everyone including art lovers, foodies, beer enthusiasts, adventure lovers, and even Shakespeare fans! Here is an epic list of things to do in the Beaver State.
Explore the weird vibe of Portland
Vibrant Portland is located in the shadow of snow-capped Mount Hood. It is known for its hip and eccentric vibe. The city’s slogan is ‘Keep Portland Weird’ and Portland does a great job with its maple bacon doughnuts, the underground Shanghai tunnels, tiny Mills End Park which has a single tree, a haunted castle in the center of an urban forest, and eclectic stores!
Portland has a variety of sightseeing attractions for tourists including museums, bridges, gardens, and urban parks. The city’s gardens – Japanese Garden, Lan Su Chinese Garden, International Rose Test Garden – are beautiful and great for a stroll. The world’s largest independent bookstore, Powell’s City of Books, is located in Portland.
The beautiful Tom McCall Waterfront Park and many bridges are great for biking around the city – and Portland is known as one of the most bikeable cities in the USA. The city is also famous for its restaurants, cafes, and food trucks and eating is one of the popular past times while in Portland. Read our post on the Best Things to do in Portland for more information.
Take in the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is one of the best places to visit in Oregon. It is located just half an hour away from Portland and makes the perfect day trip from the city. The deep canyon follows the course of the Columbia River Gorge which is the boundary between Oregon and Washington. The area attracts over 2 million visitors every year.
The Columbia River Gorge has a lot of gorgeous waterfalls including the famous Multnomah Falls, Horsetail Falls, and Punchbowl Falls. Hiking the waterfalls and other trails located along the gorge are a major tourist attraction of the area. The Columbia River Gorge area also has many historic landmarks and small towns like Troutdale and Hood River.
The best way to explore the Columbia River Gorge is via a drive along the Historic Columbia River Scenic Byway. Most of the waterfalls and trailheads are located along the scenic byway. Things to do in the gorge include hiking, sightseeing, camping, and bicycling.
Photograph the stunning Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge deserves a special mention. It is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the country. Visitors can drive along the Historic Columbia River Highway from Portland to reach the beautiful Multnomah Falls. The waterfall is located just a 30-minute drive from the city and is a perfect day trip in Oregon.
At a height of 620 feet, Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Oregon. The waterfall has two drops and magnificent cascades over the cliffs. The upper falls plunge from a height of 552 ft into a pool while the lower falls drop by a height of 69 ft. Visitors can hike a moderate 2.2 miles trail to reach the top of the falls.
However, the best way to see in the gorgeous falls is from the Benson Bridge which is located overlooking the first drop. Multnomah Falls is a year-round attraction. Falls look spectacular with the backdrop of fall foliage in autumn while some winters they freeze to form a spectacular winter wonderland. Other attractions at the Falls include the visitor center located inside the Multnomah Falls Lodge.
Hike in Mount Hood National Forest
Mount Hood is the stratovolcano that provides a beautiful backdrop to the Portland Skyline. Mount Hood and the surrounding area are protected under the Mount Hood National Forest. It can be easily reached in under 2 hours from Portland and the drive passes through the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. One of the best ways to experience the Mount Hood National Forest is via the Mount Hood Scenic Loop which comprises the Historic River Columbia Scenic Byway.
The National Forest also has many mountain lakes and hiking trails. The Trillium Lake loop trail is 2 miles long while the Lost Lake trail passes through old-growth forest. Another popular attraction is the Mirror Lake trail which has beautiful views of the mountain peaks. The Timberline Lodge and ski area is a popular attraction during winter for its ski lifts and a variety of beginner and advanced ski runs.
Drive the scenic Rim Drive at Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake is the only national park in Oregon. The stunning blue lake attracts visitors from all over the world to the National Park located in Eastern Oregon. Crater Lake is one of the deepest lakes in the world and was formed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Mazama thousands of years ago. The volcano erupted and then collapsed to form the caldera which filled with water to form Crater Lake. The lake is 1949 feet deep and famous for its deep color and water clarity.
Summer is the most popular time to visit the National Park as the lake is at its bluest then. The best way to see the lake is to drive along the scenic rim drive which has beautiful views of the lake from different sides. It has many pullouts and trailheads to get even closer to the lake. Popular summer activities include hiking, biking, camping, and swimming in the national Park. Visitors can take a boat tour to Wizard Island located inside Crater Lake.
The lake doesn’t look as blue during winter but the contrast with the surrounding snow peaks is stunning. The Crater Lake Rim Drive is closed during winter but some areas near the park are open to four-wheel-drive vehicles. Winter activities at Mount Rainier National Park include skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, and playing in the snow.
Understand the history of Oregon in Astoria
Astoria, a coastal seaport, is the oldest city founded in Oregon. Astoria is strategically located on the banks of the Columbia River where it meets the Pacific Ocean. It was the port of entry for the Pacific Northwest and one of the important cities along the coast. Today, Astoria is a great place for a day trip or weekend getaway along the Oregon coast.
Because of its age and importance, there are many historical attractions located in Astoria. To see murals depicting the city’s history and beautiful views, head up to the Astoria Column. Columbia River Maritime Museum is good to learn about Astoria’s shipping, fishing, and military past. The Flavel House Museum is famous for its period furniture and Queen Anne Victorian architecture. In nearby Fort Clatsop, you will get information about the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Astoria is a great place to visit for movie buffs. Many movies have been filmed in Astoria including the 80’s classic – the Goonies, the Ring 2, Kindergarten Cop, etc. You can get information about the movies set in the city and other parts of the state at the Oregon Film Museum located in Astoria. The museum is set in a former jail and is a historic building.
See the Twilight filming locale at Cannon Beach
With its stunning sea stacks and views up the foggy coast, Cannon Beach is one of the most romantic destinations in the country. However, you would be surprised to know that Cannon Beach is not actually the name of a beach but a coastal city in Oregon. The city has a beautiful location between the Pacific Ocean and the mountain ranges.
The coastline here is full of gorgeous sea stacks and wide beaches. The most popular sea stack is Haystack Rock which is 235 ft tall. To get the most iconic view of Cannon Beach – with Haystack Rock in the focus – drive to Indian Beach in Ecola State Park. Cannon Beach is also a popular filming locale. Many movies including the Goonies, Point Break, and Twilight were filmed here.
There are many other things to do in the city of Cannon Beach. Visit the Cannon Beach History Center in Museum to understand the history of the area. Hike to the beautiful Tillamook Rock Lighthouse and enjoy the pretty views. Explore the many art galleries in the city including Northwest by Northwest, White Bird Gallery, and Bronze Coast gallery. Eat fresh seafood and enjoy the quintessential beach town experience.
Visit the breweries in Bend
Bend, located on the Deschutes River, is a must-visit city in Oregon for craft beer lovers. There are over 15 breweries located in and around Bend and the city even has its own Ale trail. You will also find wineries and cideries in Bend. Another great attraction is the High Desert Museum where you can see many exhibits about the desert environment, history, and wildlife. Hike up to Pilot Butte to see the extinct volcano and beautiful views of Bend from above.
Bend is also the perfect getaway town for exploring Oregon outdoors. To experience the natural volcanic landscape surrounding Bend, visit the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Another great option is Lava Butte where you can hike to the top of the cinder cone. In the winter, Bend is popular for the ski resorts and snowshoe trails located in the Cascade mountains.
Tour the Oregon State Capitol at Salem
Salem is the capital of Oregon and known for its scenic beauty. A must visit while in the city is the Oregon State Capitol. Visitors can take a free tour of the capitol and understand the history of the state, the state legislature, as well as see art by local artists. Art lovers should also visit the Hallie Ford Museum of Art which has artwork by Pacific Northwest and Native American artists. Salem has many other museums including the Bush House Museum and the Willamette Heritage Center. Visitors can also tour the Historic Deepwood Estate, which is a gorgeous Queen Anne style mansion.
Downtown Salem is charming and worth a quick stroll. The city also has many gardens and parks including the vast Bush’s Pasture Park. The Willamette Valley Cheese Company is also located in Salem and is a great place to visit for foodies. Families love to visit Salem’s Riverfront Carousel which has beautiful wooden horses. The city hosts the Salem Film Festival, which is one of the biggest and the best film festivals in the world. Salem is located in the Willamette Valley and is a great place to explore the surrounding wineries.
Enjoy harvest season at the Willamette Valley Wineries
Oregon’s Willamette Valley has the perfect combination of weather, sunshine, and rainfall for wine growing. The 150-mile long valley is home to over 500 wineries and is a popular tourist attraction. It is located just under half an hour from Portland. The best time to visit the Willamette Valley is during the harvest season from September to November. The valley is especially famous for the Pinot noir grapes.
Visitors can tour the wineries, go wine tasting, and experience traditions such as grapes stomping. Along with the wineries Willamette Valley also has many gourmet restaurants and a diverse culinary scene. Apart from the wineries, there are many other things to do in Willamette Valley. The valley has many hiking trails. Biking and hot air balloon rides are also popular during the summer and fall.
Go whale watching along the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
The Samuel H Boardman State Scenic corridor is a byway located between Brookings and Gold Beach on the southern Oregon coast. All along the byway, you will have beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and the Oregon coast. Sunrises and sunsets along the corridor are especially scenic. To access the byway, travel along US Highway 101. The road is 12 miles long and passes through thick Sitka spruce forests, coastal bluffs, and hidden beaches.
While this drive is short, most of the attractions lie beyond the road. That’s why we recommend parking at the trailheads and hiking to scenic viewpoints and geological formations. Some of the most popular viewpoints are Cape Ferrelo Viewpoint and House Rock Viewpoint. A must-visit attraction is the series of 7 arch rocks known as the Natural Bridges. All along the corridor, you can spot wildlife including migrating whales.
See the wax statues at Newport
Newport, on the Oregon coast, has its own charm. It has an interesting mix of outdoor coastal attractions and funky cultural destinations. Located on the Yaquina Bay, Newport is a destination in itself and worth a weekend getaway. Start at the Historic Bayfront district where you can walk along the water’s edge, spot sea lions, and smell the ocean. Then take a tour of the Yaquina Head lighthouse, which is probably the most photographed lighthouse along the Oregon Coast.
Newport also has many attractions for families. The most popular is the Oregon Coast Aquarium where kids can see harbor seals, sharks, sea turtles, sea lions, and more. The undersea Gardens are a popular place to watch marine life while diving and snorkeling. The Wax Works is another unique Newport attraction where you can see wax figures of celebrities, superheroes, and villains – it’s like Madame Tussauds but creepier! Newport also has a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum and is a great place to spend a day or two.
Go off-roading at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Located in Florence, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is a part of Siuslaw National Forest. They are the largest coastal expanse of coastal sand dunes in the country and stretch for over 40 miles along the coast. The area has really massive dunes with some dunes being over 500 feet in height. The dunes are created over thousands of years of wind erosion on the coast.
The dunes are a major tourist attraction and people from all over the state visit the area to enjoy this unique landscape. Popular activities include off-roading, sandboarding, hiking, and camping. Water activities in the area include fishing and canoeing. The dunes look beautiful at sunset and sunrise and are a paradise for photographers.
Experience the cultural attractions of Eugene
After Portland, Eugene is the cultural heart of Oregon. The city is known for its arts and museums. Art lovers must visit the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon campus. The museum has a vast Asian Arts, Pacific Northwestern Art, and European Art collection. The Hult Centre for Performing Arts is home to the Eugene Opera, Eugene Concert Choir, Eugene Ballet, and Eugene Symphony. Attending a performance at the Hult Center is one of the musts in Eugene. Museum of Natural and Cultural History, also located on the university campus, has detailed exhibits about fossils, wildlife dioramas, etc.
Eugene also has vast outdoor spaces and urban parks. The largest park in the city, Alton Baker Park, has many hiking and biking trails that connect the Willamette River from both sides. Kayaking in the park is also popular. Hendricks Park is another garden worth visiting for its rhododendrons. A hidden gem is the Cascade Raptor Centre. The center treats and heals injured birds including eagles, hawks, and falcons. The center is kid-friendly and loved by kids.
See Thor’s Well at Cape Perpetua
Cape Perpetua is located 15 minutes away from Yachats on the central Oregon coast. The natural area is a part of the Siuslaw National Forest. There are many amazing experiences in the scenic area. The Visitor Center has many exhibits and the rangers can guide you about hiking trails and wildlife sightings including whales, sea otters, and seals. If you happen to be in Cape Perpetua at sunset then you will be able to see really spectacular colors in the sky.
A must visit in the area is the Cape Perpetua Lookout. The overlook is 800 feet high and has amazing views down the coast. Cape Perpetua also has many great geological formations including Thor’s Well, Devil’s Churn, and Spouting Chasm. The area also has many tidepools that are perfect for families looking to explore tide pool creatures. Cape Perpetua also has many hiking trails.
Step inside the Oregon Caves
Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve is located in the Siskiyou Mountains near the California-Oregon border. This is one of the most underrated national parks destinations in the state. The monument is located near Cave Junction. Visitors can see the caves on a guided tour with the park rangers.
The tours usually last for 90 minutes and on the tour, you can learn about the cave system and the geology of the area. You will pass through the beautiful marble cave, go spelunking, walk along dark twisting passages, and see bats. Apart from the caves, the monument also has hiking trails including the Big Tree Loop trail.
Marvel at the colorful landscape at Painted Hills
The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is located in eastern Oregon and consists of 3 distinct park units: Painted Hills, Clarno, and Sheep Rocks. The park preserves fossils of plants and animals that lived in the area between 5 to 45 million years ago. The monument is named after a 19th-century fur trader John Day and is a great place to visit for history buffs.
The monument has diverse terrains of badlands, shrublands, and desert landscapes. Visitors can see a variety of fossils on the designated trails. Many prehistoric Native American petroglyph sites are also located around the monument. Painted Hills is definitely the most beautiful and fascinating park unit. Here you can find colorful hills and fossil trails. To reach Painted Hills, drive along the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway as a day trip from Bend.
Step in footsteps of the pioneers in Baker City
The Oregon Trail is an over 2170 miles long route that the first settlers used to travel west from Missouri to Oregon’s Willamette Valley in the early 19th century. The pioneers, miners, fur trappers, and homesteaders traveled on the Oregon Trail by foot or in horse wagons. The National Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City enjoys a prominent location on Flagstaff Hill and overlooks over 6 miles of the trail.
The center serves as an excellent museum about the Oregon Trail. It has many exhibits, interactive demonstrations, and video clips that narrate life on the historic trail. The museum takes you back to the 1820s when the pioneers made the dangerous journey out west. Visitors can still see the wagon ruts left by the pioneers and look at the models of mule wagons and horse carts used by them. Because of its location in Baker City, the interpretive center is an off the beaten path attraction but well worth the visit.
Eat cheese and ice cream at the Tillamook Creamery
Tillamook, located on the Northern Oregon coast, is a great city to visit for one reason: The century-old Tillamook Cheese Factory! Tillamook Cheese Factory is a top family attraction where visitors can eat ice cream, grilled cheese sandwiches, and a variety of cheeses including the famous Tillamook medium cheddar. You can learn about the cheese-making process as you tour the factory. Tillamook is also a cultural destination and has many museums and historic buildings.
The coast here is a paradise for bikers, hikers, and off-roading enthusiasts. The waters along the Tillamook Coast are excellent for fishing. Visitors can also dig for bay clams along the shore. Along with clamming, visitors can also go for crabbing for Dungeness crabs along the bay. Eating the delicious clams and crabs along the coast is great fun. You can also go bird watching and whale watching along the coast as well as spot sea otters and seals.
Besides these attractions, Oregon has a number of great things to do including events, activities, and scenic sights and should definitely be on your travel bucket list. We hope you liked our list of awesome and unusual things to do in Oregon as well as the top-rated tourist attractions in the Beaver State. Did we miss out on any of your favorite things to do in Oregon or any underrated attractions? Let us know in the comments.