When it comes to natural splendor, few places do it as exuberantly and with as much gusto as Oregon. Home to ancient forests, glacier-carved mountains, roaring rivers, tranquil lakes, and grassy plains, this idyllic Pacific Northwest state has a bit of everything. And at nearly 95,000 square miles, no matter where you are, you’re never far from a whole different type of landscape and a whole new adventure.
Nature lovers, these are the most beautiful places in Oregon! From sand dunes to mountain lakes, waterfalls to canyons, they’ll make you fall in love with The Beaver State.
Oregon’s rugged Pacific coastline is a wind-and-water-battered labyrinth of dramatic sea cliffs and rock formations just dying to be explored, but arguably the most famous spot is Haystack Rock.
Located along Cannon Beach, a small beachside community approximately an hour-and-a-half drive from Portland, Haystack rises 235 feet into the air, its bulky shape is a bold punctuation mark along the waterline.
At low tide, visitors can walk close to the base of the rock (but not too close, as it’s a protected site for nesting birds like tufted puffins) to look in the tide pools for marine life like sea anemones and starfish. And not only is Haystack Rock one of the most instantly recognizable symbols of Oregon, but film buffs will recognize it too: it was featured in the opening shot of the popular 80s film, The Goonies.
Columbia River Waterfalls
One of the main reasons the Pacific Northwest is so beloved is because, even if you’re living in a big city, you’re never far from gorgeous nature. This holds true for the City of Bridges, Portland, which hugs the banks of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, and you just need to drive half an hour to reach the entrance of the stunning Columbia River Gorge, along which you can find some of the PNW’s most beautiful waterfalls.
Plummeting from the forested heights of towering riverside cliffs, these majestic falls can be accessed by the historic Columbia River Highway (runs parallel to Interstate 84). The most famous is the elegant Multnomah Falls, which tumbles in a double cascade 620 feet down the cliff face, but arrayed along the route there are tens of scenic waterfalls to pull over and marvel at, including Bridal Veil, Horse Tail, Wahkeena, and Latourell Falls.
7,700 years ago, a gigantic volcano in south-central Oregon had an eruption so monumental, stories about it were passed down through Native American folklore. The eruption in question caused the tip of the volcano to collapse in on itself, creating a huge, circular crater, which over time filled up with water to create the breathtaking Crater Lake.
Stretching more than six miles in length and five miles in width from rim to rim, the shimmering lake with its iconic island is nestled in the base of the caldera, which has grown woods along its steep slopes and rim.
Not only is it one of the most picturesque places in Oregon, but Crater Lake (which is also a National Park) is also the deepest lake in the United States and its snow-and-rain-fed water is among the purest throughout the entire world. Today, roads and hiking trails along its rim allow visitors to drive, cycle, and walk the circumference of this prehistoric natural monument. And yes, there is one place where you can go swimming.
Common perception of Oregon is that it’s all dense forests of moss-drenched trees and constant mist and rain. But drive east of the Cascades Mountains and you’ll find landscapes more similar to the Southwest or even Mars.
The famous Owyhee Canyons are a perfect example. This vast expanse of rolling, sage-covered hills, meandering rivers, and ramshackle canyons carved by desert rivers is an outdoorsy haven, perfect for rafting, hiking, and rock climbing.
Its red-rock canyons like Leslie Gulch and the Honeycomb are some of the most scenic locations, featuring terraced cliffs of sculpted rock that glow different shades in the sunshine. Plus, as the canyonlands are located in one of the most remote sections of southeastern Oregon, light pollution is low, making for some pretty spectacular stargazing.
The Cascade Mountain range, which divides the state from the lush west to the more desertified east, is home to some of Oregon’s tallest and most dramatic peaks, one of which is Broken Top.
Located within the Three Sisters Wilderness, Broken Top is the remains of a stratovolcano, which was eroded by glacial activity over time. The result? Sculpted peaks covered in snow and flanked by the remains of once-mighty glaciers and red hills, with a pristine, turquoise lake nestled at their base.
This epic view is surprisingly very reachable: starting from the outdoorsy town of Bend, it’s a 45-minute drive to the trailhead followed by a three-mile hike. But the hike does ascend more than 9,000 feet in elevation, so it’s not exactly easy. From the peak, however, hikers also have panoramic views of the surrounding wilderness, which includes other mountains in the Cascade Range and endless forests dotted with lakes and rivers.
Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm
Leave the rugged wilderness of the mountains or the coast and you’ll find the tranquil expanses of Oregon’s central valleys, like the Willamette Valley.
Nourished by rain and sun and subject to the four seasons, it’s known for its agricultural prowess, producing wine, fruit, vegetables, and on the Iverson family farm, forty acres of perfectly arranged and color-coordinated tulips.
The annual Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, which takes place every spring on the farm near Woodburn, is now a beloved tradition, with thousands flocking from nearby Portland to marvel at the immaculate, vibrant rows of roughly 80 tulip varieties, with Mount Hood rising prominently along the horizon.
As one of the largest tulip farms in the United States, it’s a flower and Instagram-lover’s dream. And there’s a reason for the farm’s name: it’s inspired by Holland, the land of tulips, windmills, and of course, wooden clog shoes!
Williamette Wine Valley
Stretching 150 miles, the Willamette Valley is the heart and soul of Oregon wine country, home to more than 500 wineries producing some of the best Pinot Noir in the United States.
Driving through the countryside between quaint wine-country towns like McMinnville, you’ll pass rolling hills covered in patchwork rows of vines stretching toward forests and mountainous foothills.
With so many vineyards to visit, you can spend days driving from winery to winery for tours and tastings, but thanks to the region’s lovely climate and tranquility, it’s a perfect place for a wine retreat. Sumptuous resorts like the Allison Inn & Spa and Black Walnut are tucked away on quiet estates with vineyards views, with plenty of amenities and activities. But some of the must-visit vineyards include the pioneering Adelsheim, the chic Argyle (famed for its bubbly), the biodynamic Bergstrom, Domaine Drouhin, and King Estate, king of Pinot Gris.
Running for 40 miles along the Oregon coastline from Florence to Coo’s Bay, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is a sandy wonderland of undulating, pristine, white-sand dunes. Sculpted by winds that produce picturesque ripples across the sun-warmed surfaces, some of the dunes stand over 500 feet above sea level!
This landscape of skyscraping sandy peaks intersected by valleys is a siren call to outdoor recreation lovers, who come to the area throughout the year for hiking, sandboarding, horseback riding, and, the most popular, roaring around on dune buggies.
Small lakes and lagoons are also dotted throughout the dunes, so you can go swimming, canoeing, or kayaking. But another appeal of the Oregon Dunes is also its quiet beauty: you can wander for hours on the warm sand, watching the dunes roll away to the ocean on one side and the forest on the other, changing colors as the daylight dims.
Three Sisters Wilderness
Located within the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests, the rugged Three Sisters Wilderness area is named after three of the most iconic mountains of the Cascades Range: the Three Sisters. These three peaks – the North, Middle, and South Sister – rise dramatically over 10,000 feet up from the landscape and are best admired from the top of the Mckenzie Pass, located in the heart of an ancient lava flow and surrounded by spectacular peaks and dense, old-growth forests. On the slopes of the North Sister, Oregon’s largest glacier, the Collier Glacier, can also be seen.
As the landscape was forged from fiery volcanic eruptions and glacial activity, evidence of this cataclysmic past can be seen in the many lava flows, glacial lakes, and sculpted mountains.
Covering 281,190 total acres, the area is riddled with hiking trails and is also popular for mountaineering, camping, and enjoying water sports like stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and canoeing. The famed Pacific Crest Trail also passes through the Three Sisters Wilderness.
Boardman Tree Farm
With its rustic wildernesses, Oregon is already prime Instagram bait. But there are a few places where man-made creations are equally enchanting, and the Boardman Tree Farm is one of them.
Located roughly 2.5 hours from Portland near the town of Boardman, this 25,000-acre farm of perfectly-aligned hybrid poplar trees is a lovely place to stroll down the immaculate rows. One of the reasons it makes for such a stunning photo op is because, not only are the trees neatly arranged in rows, but they’re all roughly the exact same size and height.
Awash in rich greens during the spring and summer, the best time to go is definitely fall, with all the trees donning their gorgeous fall foliage at once.