Oregon is one of the most breath taking places to go hiking. It possesses bountiful scenery and majestic natural splendor, making it a wonderful place to visit. From Crater lake to Hells Canyon, there are plenty of national parks in Oregon to see. Read on to get an overview of each of these parks.
Crater Lake National Park
Formed 7,700 years ago after a volcanic eruption, Crater Lake inspires awe in its visitors. To this day, it rests on top of the belly of a dormant volcano. When traveling Oregon, it is a must see destination. Nestled in the Cascade mountain range, Crater Lake is the US’s deepest lake.
It is fed in entirety by water and snow, giving it a clear, deep blue tint to the water. In the center of the lake, you will see Wizard island, a rising cinder cone. Old growth trees surround the lake that take up most of the landscape. Wildlife that travel through these forests include mountain lions, bears, spotted owls, and elk.
Here, you can find many beautiful trails such as Brown mountain, Garfield peak, Grizzly Peak, and many more that show the breadth of the landscape. If you want to see the lake in great detail, be sure to take a boat tour and see Crater Lake from a whole new perspective.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Known for its well-preserved layers of fossilized plants and animals, John Day Fossils Beds national monument is perfect place to visit for any aspiring paleontologist. Located in central eastern Oregon, the park covers 13,944 acres. The environment includes semi-desert shrub lands, badlands, and riparian zones.
Before Europeans arrived, the park was frequented by Sahaptin people. Since 1864, paleontologists have been excavating many important fossils. Averaging 2,200 ft in elevation, the park is a dry climate. The park features wildlife such as elk, raccoon, voles, and coyotes.
The top places to see in this park include the painted hills, sheep rock, and clarno. Unfortunately, camping is not allowed inside the park. The best trail to hike is the Blue Basin Overlook trail. In this loop, you can see the blue tinged fossil-rich outcrop.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
Located near the border between Northeastern Oregon and Western Idaho, Hells Canyon National Recreation area possesses the deepest river gorge in North America. Cut from the snake river, this canyon provides spectacular views such as the one above from Heaven’s Gate overlook.
If you are a wildlife enthusiast, you will be sure to enjoy this park. This park’s animals include cougars, elk, pika, bobcats, bears, deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats. If you look up into the sky, you can see songbirds and hear the cries of raptors, making it a great bird watching destination.
If you are looking for activities here, consider white water rafting, horseback riding, and hiking. You can see sites such as petroglyphs, abandoned mines, shipwrecks, and homesteads, making it more than just a park to see natural beauty. It is a wonderful park to visit full of majestic views and stupendous forests.
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Carved out over millions of years, the falls you see today were forged by the mighty power of water. Eighty miles long, the Columbia River Gorge boasts seventy-seven waterfalls to see. This area possesses the Multnomah falls at 186 meters, the second highest falls in North America.
Here you can find overlooks of Washington to the north and Oregon’s majestic Cascade’s mountain range. It is quite the site to behold. Many types of trees can be found throughout the area such as white oak, ponderosa pine, and cottonwood.
If you are looking for an intense trail to hike, consider the 13-mile Eagle Creek trail. It may be arduous, but it will be well worth the effort; after hiking it, you will be treated to a magnificent view. Throughout the area, you can choose from hiking, kayaking, camping, mountain biking, rafting, fishing, wind boarding, and kite boarding to keep you busy.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Stretching for 40 miles along the coast of the Pacific, the Oregon dunes are another wonderful spot to visit in Oregon. In the entirety of North America, you will not find any bigger sand dunes. Some dunes reach up to 500ft in height. They are part of a unique area created by millions of years of wind and rain erosion. Watch the dunes shift with the changing winds.
One of the coolest things to do here is whale watch. The Umpqua Dunes are the best section for whale watching, providing plenty of height to give you a great view. You can see them best between March and December.
If you are worried about noise from ATVs and off-roading, then worry no longer. This park does a great job of keeping the people who prefer quiet from those who like to go off-roading.
Other activities abound throughout. You can find plenty of opportunities for relaxation and adventure. It is perfect for off-roading, hiking, fishing, photography, canoeing, camping, and horseback riding, giving you a lot to enjoy the park with.
Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve
Formed from the metamorphis of limestone to marble, the Oregon caves provide a wonderful destination to see stalactites and stalagmites. To remember the difference, the “t” in stalactites indicates the “top” of the cave. Located in southwestern Oregon, the caves provide a wonderful getaway for the would be spelunker.
Here, there are over 15,000 ft of caves to explore, but not all are open to the public. Many cave tours are offered such as the off-trail, which takes you through a tight cavern, and the classic tour, which guides you past fossils, columns, bats, insects, and marble caverns, but is not as tight. Cave tours are available from late March to Early November.
Top hikes in the surrounding area are the Big Tree loop, which gives you an excellent view of the Illinois Valley, and the Bigelow loop, which shows you Mt. Elijah and the wonderful biodiversity of the area. A must see top monument to see is the Oregon Caves Chateau, a six story hotel built in 1934 that features plenty of history and wonderful architecture.
Nez Perce National Historical Park
This park comprises 38 sites located throughout Oregon, Montana, Washington, and Idaho. It is the traditional lands of the Nez Perce people. Sites here commemorate the Nez Perce War of 1877. Here you can find plenty of archaeological remains and historical sites to visit.
On the Oregon side, you can find the Dug Bar where Wallowa bands crossed in May 1877. As well, you can find the Joseph Canyon Viewpoint. From the overlook, you stand where the Nez Perce used to keep their Winter homes. According to tradition, Chief Joseph, the leader of the Nez Perce during the 1877 war, was born along the creek’s east bank.
On top of that, you can find Old Chief Joseph’s grave site along with the graves of other Nez Perce and white settlers. Lastly, there is the Lonstine Campsite to see. The Nez Perce would stay here during the Summer. It is where Old Chief Joseph died in 1871.
Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
Located along the Pacific coast and Columbia river, Lewis and Clark National park offers a wonderful opportunity to learn about America’s greatest explorers. Throughout the year, historical demonstrations are provided. You can see quill pen writing, flint and steel fire starting, hides & furs, and candle making.
One of their top demonstrations is “Flintlocks: Tools of Survival.” In it, rangers load and fire a flintlock muzzle. It even includes audience participation! Top places to go are Fort Clatsop, Netul landing, Dismal ditch, salt works, and middle village station camp.
In addition to all that, it offers canoeing, kayaking, and hiking. There are 14.5 miles of trails to walk through. You can travel outside and see the forest, dunes, wetlands, open water, and beach. The top trail is the fort to sea trail that winds its way through the vegetation all the way to the Pacific.
Deciding Between Parks
When selecting a park to go to, it can be quite overwhelming to make the choice. There are eight national parks in Oregon to choose from. It is a lot. For this reason, you should consider these questions before making any decision.
- What are the parks closest to me and the ones the furthest away? When deciding between parks, it helps to differentiate between those close and far. A close one lets you hike for a day on a quick weekend getaway, but a farther one is going to require more planning.
- What do I want to see? All of these parks are beautiful and you should see them all, but they each boast different sites to see. Pick what you want to see and then go to it. Life is short. You do not want to spend it on the things you do not enjoy, so do what you will savor.
- What do I enjoy doing? Each park offers its own activities. From white water rafting to horseback riding, there is a lot keep you busy. If it is something you would love to do, then go for it. By doing what you love, you will only enhance your experience of the park you choose.
Not every question that could be asked was listed here, so be sure to come up with some of your own. Questions are great because they spark the idea mechanism in your mind. Once you ask your brain a question, it becomes obsessed and seeks an answer to it.
Throughout Oregon, you can find plentiful national parks to see, making it a wonderful destination for the avid hiker. For nearly every outdoor activity you like, there is a national park in Oregon for it. From Crater Lake to the Columbia River Gorge, you will have plenty to see and do.
If you think I missed anything, have thoughts or questions, please do comment below and share it. I hope you make it a great day!