National Parks in Oregon – Top Sites to Visit

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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.

Final Thoughts

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!

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26 Comments on “National Parks in Oregon – Top Sites to Visit”

  1. The Crater Lake National Park. Ohh, man! The animal scenery sounds like so much fun. And the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Nice!

    If I’ll ever find myself in Oregon, I will gonna have to visit those. Any ideas for the number three? Maybe you’re favourite, Alex?


    1. Yes, Hells Canyon and Crater Lake are quite the sites to see in Oregon. My personal favorite, though, is Crater Lake. It is an incredible place to visit because of its geologic history. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  2. wowowow what I wouldn’t give to visit those places? That looks like one heck of a vacation there man! I think crater lake is my Favorite, probably because I’ve never seen snow up close before haha

    1. Yes Al, all of these are quite wonderful places to visit. Crater Lake is an excellent place to visit year round. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  3. Love this article. One of the things I want to do is travel the country and Oregon is loaded with destinations I would love to visit. Begining with Crater Lake. It looks so majestic. How long would it take to visit all these sites?

    1. I appreciate the compliment Juan. I am sure that you will be able to travel the country. Crater Lake is by far the best national park in Oregon to see. My guess to visit all these sites would take at least three weeks, depending on how fast you go. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day.

  4. Great article and good information. I was lucky enough to be born in Oregon and have been to all those places except Hells Canyon and seen many others not listed here.
    My family are campers and hikers and prefer the mountain areas, but the state has much to offer from the coast to the desert as well. Thanks for the beautiful review of Oregon.

    1. I appreciate the compliment Sherry. It is nice to hear you were born in Oregon and experienced a lot of the state. It is quite beautiful. From North to South and East to West, Oregon has plenty to offer. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  5. Wow. I’m adding all of these to my bucket list! Such beautiful you have a recommendation for when to check them out (summer vs winter)? I’ve never been to Oregon before but its one of the many places I plan to visit while traveling.

    1. It is nice to hear you plan to travel to Oregon in the future Sarah. When it comes to visiting the parks, you will encounter more road and trail closures in the Winter as opposed to the Summer. For this reason, I would encourage you to come during the Summer. If you can stomach the cold though, then the snow can be quite extraordinary to see. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  6. Wow that’s some nice scenery! I’ve always wanted to check out crater lake and the caves! I’ve seen the gorge and the Columbia river valley but I saw that the gorge was hit hard by fire? Now that we’re closer over in Spokane we don’t have an excuse not to visit lol.

    1. You are right John. It is quite stunning scenery. Yes, the Columbia Gorge was hit by a fire, but firefighters have since contained it. When you are in Spokane, you have a lot of options when it comes to parks. Thank you for sharing John and I hope you make it a great day!

  7. Hello Alex, I felt like your were talking straight to my heart. I adore traveling through the Pacific Northwest and especially Oregon. The scenery just speaks to my soul.
    This is such a great piece. I am always in awe of Multnomah Falls and the whole Gorge. And I have had the sweetest times along the coast. The Pacific Ocean along with the cliffs is so dramatically scenic. PCH is my favorite drive in the world!
    I would really love to just spend weeks traveling the entire state to soak in its beauty. It feels to me that a trip like this is completely restorative to the soul. Being in nature is my religion. My peace.
    Which area will you be talking about next? Great job on this article. I am so looking forward to hearing more from you!
    In peace and gratitude, ariel

    1. Hey Ariel, I appreciate the compliment. It is quite generous. The Pacific Northwest is a wonderful place to see stunning scenery. The landscape and forests are captivating. It is nice to hear that you had a wonderful time in Oregon.

      For my next article, I am writing about environmental stewardship, but I plan to do a future article on Oregon State parks. Thank you so much for sharing Ariel and I hope you make it a great day!

  8. Oregon is a state I have yet to visit. All those beautiful parks! I’m sad to say that I have not even heard of them. I love hiking when I travel, so I will bookmark your site for the wonderful suggestions you listed. The Columbia Gorge looks breathtaking and Nez Perce looks like something I need to see.

    1. Hello Linda, if you ever get the time, I encourage you to visit Oregon. It is quite a spectacular place for forests and scenery. Nez Perce and the Columbia Gorge are both fantastic places in the state to visit. Thank you for bookmarking my site and I hope you make it a great day!

  9. I enjoyed your article on the parks in oregon to visit, I also love to hike and spend time in nature so these parks interest me very much.

    Such beautiful photographs showing the true beauty of each park you wrote about, I never realized Oregon has such beautiful scenery until now.

    These parks are great choices for family summer vacations, I am so happy I stumbled upon your website today.

    What time of the year do you recommend is the best time to visit Oregon for the best scenery, I thank you for this article it is on my future vacation plans

    1. Hello Jeffrey, it is nice to hear that you enjoyed the article. Oregon is quite a stunning place to visit for scenery. These parks are best during the Summer because that is when the weather is clearest, but, if you are looking for more of a challenge, then Winter is a time to consider.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  10. Crater Lake National park sure looks amazing, especially with all that snow!

    Oregon is certainly added to my hiking list. 🙂 I recently moved to the Peak District – the highest point in the UK, and some of the views from the peaks are breath-taking!

    So one of my new hobbies is now hiking, and I’m looking for places to hike, whether near where I live or in other countries. Looking at some of the beautiful parks you’ve highlighted, it’s definitely given me an even bigger reason to return to the US.


    1. Hey Neil, Crater Lake is quite the national park. It is spectacular, making Oregon one of the best states to visit if you are an outdoor adventurer.

      The Peak district sounds like it is a wonderful place to live. Hopefully you will return to the US to see similar sites. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  11. Wow, I had no idea Oregon held so many secrets! These locations look and sound absolutely amazing. There is so much diversity on the west coast and it’s seems pretty awesome. Looks like I’ll be adding Oregon to my list of trip destinations. Any good family campgrounds in these parks?

    1. Hey Joe, it is wonderful to hear you found this article helpful. Oregon is quite a beautiful state for camping and hiking. There is plenty to choose from.

      When it comes to family campgrounds in Oregon, your best option for family camping is Hells Canyon. You can kayak during the summer and fall asleep to the sound of the river. I hope this helps.

      Personally though, I would take my family to Crater Lake National Park if I had the option. You camp in the Mazma campgrounds and are treated to spectacular views. I hope this gives you some ideas.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  12. Hi Alex,
    I’m an avid camper who has done some trekking through Southeast Asia Australia and China. I am yet to get to the states, however, your article has sure pressed some buttons and stirred up my desire.The photos displayed and the descriptions you have given are quite awe inspiring. I must say the destinations shown are certainly on a future travel list
    Thanks mate

    1. Hey Paul, it is great to hear you enjoyed the article. Asia and Australia must be quite the place to travel to. Hopefully you will travel to the United States soon. There are a lot of scenic hikes to do. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  13. This was really informative. I really like the pictures and sound of Crater Lake National Park and Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve. It would be amazing to visit either one of those places but especially the caves, which are magnificent!

    1. Hello Rachel, it was wonderful to hear that you found those parks particularly interesting. My personal favorite in Oregon is Crater Lake National Park. It is incredible, but the caves are also quite stunning. It is chilling to be deep underground and hear next to nothing. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

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