With soaring mountain peaks, cascading waterfalls, pristine lakes and sweeping beaches it’s quite a challenge to pick only 7 wonders of Oregon, so it’s no surprise the ones that did make the list of top natural features are such standout spots.
The state’s list plays off the idea of the seven wonders of the world, and highlights some of the top places in Oregon to visit. From beachcombing along the long, winding coastline to towering volcanoes to exploring other-worldly landscapes that are off the beaten track, here are the seven wonders of Oregon that are well worth a visit.
Crater Lake National Park
With its transfixing, deep blue hue, Crater Lake National Park is one of the prettiest places in Oregon. It’s the deepest lake in the USA, and one of the cleanest and clearest large bodies of water in the world.
A must-do when visiting Crater Lake is the Crater Lake rim drive, which is considered one of the most scenic byways in America. The 33-mile loop has jaw-dropping photo-ops, and the road is usually open from July to mid-October.
Some of the best stops during a Crater Lake tour are:
- Discovery Point: The spot where gold prospector John Hillman stumbled across the ‘Deep Blue Lake’ in 1853.
- Watchman Overlook: This is one of the most popular viewpoints in the park, with a phenomenal view of Wizard Island.
- Pinnacles Overlook: This quick detour off Rim Drive leads to a viewpoint of colourful, 100-foot high spires eroding from the canyon wall.
Be sure to hike down to Cleetwood Cove, which is the only trail in the park that leads to the water and also where boat tours depart from. This scenic walk combined with a chance to swim in the deep blue water is one of the most fun things to do at Crater Lake.
The Oregon Coast
A trip down Highway 101 is considered one of the world’s best road trips, thanks to the dazzling stretches of white and golden sand, views of the ocean surf pounding the shoreline, and craggy cliffs dotted with historic lighthouses.
The coastal byway goes all the way down to California, passing through spots like Cannon Beach which is best known for its photogenic for Haystack Rock, Florence where you can go on a wild dune buggy ride, Tillamook which is known for its massive dairy farming production, and the scenic Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor.
It only takes about eight hours to do the full Oregon Coast drive; however, it’s worth stretching out over a few days to properly explore the waterfront towns, hike through the old-growth forests and enjoy some beach time.
The Painted Hills
Stratifications in the soil dating back millions of years have created a kaleidoscope of colours in the eastern part of the state, making the Painted Hills one of the 7 wonders in Oregon.
Oregon’s Painted Hills are part of the John Day Fossil Beds along with the Clarno and Sheep Rock units, and there are incredible natural formations and fossils worth seeing in each which makes this spot a dream for geologists and paleontologists.
Best viewed in late afternoon, visitors can see the red, gold, green, black, yellow and lavender hues that blanket the hills, and the claystones look different depending on the light.
The best Painted Hills trails include:
- Painted Cove Trail: This short trail has a flat, wooden boardwalk that winds through vibrant red hills and is popular with photographers.
- Carroll Rim Trail: With one of the best views in the park, the 1.6 mile hike climbs 400 feet up for panoramic views of the hills and a vantage point looking down at a number of other trails.
- Painted Hills Overlook Trail: Another spot with great views, this flat pathway starts under a pavilion with interpretive signs about the area, and the half-mile walk overlooks the hills.
The Columbia River Gorge
With waterfalls, wind sports and wineries, the Columbia River Gorge has the best of Oregon all in one spot.
Starting from Troutdale just outside Portland, the Gorge stretches across the northern edge of the state and includes cities like The Dalles and Hood River. There are fabulous views of Mt Hood and Mt Adams across the river in Washington, and the Gorge is the gateway to adventures like kitesurfing, mountain biking, hiking, foilboarding and whitewater rafting.
Lavender farms, vineyards and fruit orchards surround Hood River, Parkdale and Mosier, which are best explored by driving the Hood River Fruit Loop. There are also countless waterfalls, with the best known being Multnomah Falls which is 620 feet high and cascades out of a cliffside right along the I-84 highway.
Other must-see Columbia River Gorge waterfalls include Elowah Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Wahclella Falls, or heading over to the Mosier Plateau Trail which has a gorgeous set of falls as well as sweeping river views from the top.
A great way to see the Oregon waterfalls is by doing some of the easy hikes along the historic highway, then capping off the day with happy hour at one of the many craft breweries in Hood River.
With bragging rights as the state’s highest peak, Mt Hood Oregon is the spot for alpine adventures all year round.
Located about 90 minutes west of Portland or an hour south of the Columbia River Gorge, winter activities include downhill and cross-country skiing, sledding and tubing on the snow-capped volcano. The most popular ski resorts are Mt Hood Meadows and the Timberline Lodge and Ski Area, which is the only ski area in North America open all 12 months of the year.
During the summer, Mt Hood has plenty of trails for hiking, mountain biking and waterfall walks up to spots like Tamanawas Falls. There are fun day use areas and campsites at Trillium Lake, Lost Lake and Laurance Lake, which also have great views of the mountain.
Smith Rock State Park
A pair of volcanic events created the towering spires in Smith Rock State Park, which makes it one of the top places to see in Oregon. Found near Bend in central Oregon, the stunning scenery features towering red rocks, narrow canyon, dramatic cliffs and the winding Crooked River, as well as views of the Cascade mountain range.
The easily-accessible overlooks and walking trails are popular with day-trippers, who can walk along the ancient lava flows, hike up to Misery Ridge for incredible views from the 3,360 foot summit, or tackle the 7.3 mile Summit Loop which includes some of the park’s best spots like Monkey Face and the Monument.
Smith Rock State Park is also a world-class climbing destination, with nearly 2,000 routes and 300 bouldering lines.
The Wallowas region serves up a diversity of landscapes, with craggy mountains, magnificent lakes, high desert, and vantage points overlooking Hells Canyon and the Snake River in neighbouring Idaho.
This is one of the best places in Oregon to visit to get a taste of what life was like during the days of the Oregon Trail, as there’s an interpretive centre that includes the ruts carved into the earth by pioneer wagons during the 1800s. Eastern Oregon also has more than a dozen official ghost towns, which were originally gold mining settlements
Most visitors base themselves in the pretty town of Joseph which is framed by the Wallowa Mountains, and is known for its many art galleries. Head up the Wallowa Lake Tramway to the 8,150-foot-high summit of Mt. Howard, for a birds-eye view of one of the 7 wonders of Oregon.
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