Oregon is famous for its natural attractions and its historic role in American History. Natural beauty, scenic rivers, and national historic sites have made Oregon one of the most popular destinations in the Pacific Northwest. But with over 35 NPS sites to choose from, where do you start?
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You might start with considering what part of Oregon you will be visiting. Oregon is a diverse state with five distinct regions. Each one has its own flavor and its own selection of national natural landmarks and historic sites. Here’s our ranking of Oregon National Parks and NPS sites, grouped by region.
**Note: the only officially designated “National Park” in Oregon is Crater Lake, but in this post we’ll be discussing all the NPS sites in Oregon.
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Oregon National Parks (sites) near Portland Metro & The Willamette Valley
Portland and the Willamette Valley is the most accessible and most popular part of Oregon. Cities like Portland, Eugene, and Salem are the state’s centers for art and culture. The Willamette Valley’s wineries, pastoral countryside, and historic towns draw visitors seeking quality, quiet, cuisine.
@dinkumtribe Popular restaurant in the tiny historic town of Aurora, Oregon. #oregonexplore #oregonfoodies #marioncounty #marioncountyoregon #auroraoregon #familytravelvlog #familytravelblog #travelwithkidsblog ♬ Aesthetic – Tollan Kim
With the right planning a family can have it all—the culture and history of Oregon’s urban scene, the beauty of the Oregon Coast, and the wonder of the mighty Cascades.
Here’s the five best Oregon National Parks (sites) in the Portland Metro and Willamette Valley region:
#1 Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is both the most historic, interactive, and convenient national park site in the Portland area. The site’s two units tell the origin story of the Oregon we know today.
@dinkumtribe Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, as seen from inside the palisade. #nationalparks #nationalparkservice #fortvancouver #washingtonstate #pnwadventures ♬ IMPERIAL PIANO – Treia Music
Fort Vancouver was built in what’s now Washington State. But it was founded at a time when the entire Pacific Northwest was known as “Oregon Country”.
The Fort was a key base of the Hudson Bay Company, a British fur-trapping company that explored much of North America. The Fort’s chief superintendent eventually settled in Oregon City in a home that is now known as the McLoughlin House.
Historical reconstructions, living history demonstrations, and a great Junior Ranger program are only a few reasons why Fort Vancouver NHS is a great NPS stop for families.
#2 Mount Hood National Forest
Mount Hood is Oregon’s best known peak. The dormant volcano dominates the Portland skyline, standing majestically east of the Portland Metro area.
Mount Hood and its National Forest offer excellent access to the natural wonders that have made Oregon famous. Beautiful waterfalls, alpine lakes, and year-round glaciers beckon visitors years after year.
Mount Hood National Forest offers prime natural and recreational experiences with relatively little trouble. The National Forest’s campgrounds, trails, snow parks, and ski parks are generally an hour and a half away from Portland and its suburbs.
Historic sites include Timberline Lodge and the Barlow Road, a section of the Oregon National Historical Trail.
@dinkumtribe Exploring parts of the Oregon Trail and Barlow Trail near Rhododendron, Oregon. #oregontrail #barlowtrail #oregonhistory #oregonhistorydiscovered #wagontrail #pioneerhillclimb #coveredwagonlife #oregontravel #adhdfamilytravel #familytravelcreator #familytraveltiktoker #oregonfamily #pnwfamily #pnwfamilies #oregonfamilies #familytravelvlog #familytravelblog #familytravelblogger #familytravelvlogger #familytravelinfluencer #travelwithkids @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe ♬ Outdoors – Colin Tierney
#3 William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge
The Portland and Willamette region has five wildlife refuges, but William L. Finley surpasses all of them. For one, the Refuge includes Floodplain National Natural Landmark, an important site on the Ice Age Flood National Geologic Trail.
@dinkumtribe The Refuge includes Floodplain National Natural Landmark, an important site on the Ice Age Flood National Geologic Trail. @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe @dinkumtribe The Natural Landmark is one of few unplowed lowlands of the Willamette Valley. The site gives remarkable glimpse into what the Willamette Valley was like before the arrival of European settlers. #oregonhistorydiscovered #oregonhistory #iceagegeology #iceagetrail #npsoftiktok #wildliferefuge #oregonnationalparks #adhdfamilytravel #familytravelcreator #familytraveltiktoker #oregonfamily #pnwfamily #pnwfamilies #oregonfamilies #familytravelvlog #familytravelblog #familytravelblogger #familytravelvlogger #familytravelinfluencer #travelwithkids ♬ Fall October Halloween horror classic(177261) – rareNote
The Natural Landmark is one of few unplowed lowlands of the Willamette Valley. The site gives remarkable glimpse into what the Willamette Valley was like before the arrival of European settlers.
William L. Finley NWR is a great place to enjoy native wildflowers in the spring, spot migratory swan, or watch Roosevelt elk in the winter. The Refuge’s two units enclose nearly 6,000 acres, boast eighteen hiking trails, and provide opportunities for birding, hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching.
The Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia River Gorge is an unparalleled wonder, abounding with power, beauty, and lore. The Gorge stretches across most of Oregon’s northern border, linking Eastern Oregon to the Portland Metro Area.
The region is both ruggedly isolated and also an age-old highway of cultures. Follow the mighty Columbia River and see the wild prairies of Eastern Oregon, the wooded waterfalls of the Cascades, and the imposing headlands of the Oregon Coast.
The Interstate 84 traverses the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. The Gorge is a fantastic way to experience the natural wonder of the Pacific Northwest. You can literally drive through Oregon’s iconic beauty while making your way to Portland, Washington State, or Idaho.
The Columbia Gorge region hosts no less than four NPS tour routes, but we’ve focused on the best two:
#1 Multnomah Falls & the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
The Columbia River is one the most scenic rivers of the American West. The mighty river supports a variety of ecosystems, communities, and industries.
Bald eagles fish the river for their young, tug boats push barges to grain elevators located upriver, and enormous basalt rock formations tower far above the highway.
@dinkumtribe Beautiful mural up the circular staircase at the #sustainable #agriculture and #energy (SAGE) Center in Boardman, #oregon. #educational #homeschoolfieldtrip #columbiariver #mural ♬ Simplicity – Jon Steinmeier
The Columbia River Gorge is most famous for its Waterfall Corridor. Eons and ecology combined to create the famed landscape of sky-high waterfalls, daunting basalt cliffs, and temperate rain forests.
Multnomah Falls is the grandest of these falls, plummeting a total of 620 feet amid forested gorge splendor. Be sure to plan in advance for your trip to Multnomah Falls, as this is the single most visited site in the Pacific Northwest.
#2 Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail
Oregon was the scene of hundreds of cataclysmic, Ice Age Floods. The mega-floods tore through the Pacific Northwest and dramatically changed the landscape. The Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail follows the course of these “Missoula Floods” from their Montana origin to the Pacific Coast. The Columbia Gorge offers the best stretch of the Ice Age Floods National Geological Trail.
@dinkumtribe Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail has stops located all over the Northwestern US, with several sites in Oregon. #tualatinoregon #tualatin #iceagefloods #iceage #geology101 #nationaltrail #tualatinvalley #mastodontooth #mastodon #geologictime #amazinglibrary #libraryart #oregongeology #fossilsoftiktok ♬ Try Everything (From “Zootopia”) – Movie Sounds Unlimited
You’ll get what I mean when you visit Crown Point National Natural Landmark. Crown Point is perched on a high ridge overlooking the Columbia River Gorge. The historic viewpoint offers beautiful views of the Gorge and its surrounding region.
Crown Points’ Vista House serves as beautiful interpretive center. The glamorous, early 20th-century, octagonal building showcases the Gorge’s nature and history.
But Crown Point wouldn’t be a great locale in the Ice Age. The Columbia River Gorge was a natural funnel for the Missoula Megafloods. The highly pressurized floods reached heights that surpassed Crown Point’s high summit!
Crown Point is just one of several interesting Ice Age sites located in and around the Columbia River Gorge.
Oregon boasts the most beautiful and foreboding coastline in North America. Little wonder then, that this same coastline would feature remarkable national park sites. Here are our top four picks:
#1 Lewis & Clark National Historical Park & Trail
The Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail follows the famous explorers and their Corp of Discovery. Coastal Oregon is arguably the best part of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail.
The Corps of Discovery spent more time in the Pacific Northwest than in any other area on their route. Better yet, it was here that the expedition accomplished their goal of charting a route to the Pacific Ocean. So there’s really no contest between Oregon and any other state when it come to Lewis & Clark.
The Oregon Coast holds no less than ten Lewis & Clark National Trail stops. Lewis and Clark National Historical Park is the best of all of these stops. The park includes an interpretive center, a reconstruction of Fort Clatsop, and a trail leading from the Fort to the Pacific Coast.
Middle Village is one of several important indigenous archeological sites featured on the Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail.
You can add even more wonder to your journey by visiting Ecola State Park. Ecola is a treasure of the State Parks system, yielding peerless views of the Oregon Coastline.
#2 Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
The Central Oregon Coast boasts one of the largest regions of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world. The wide expanse of of open dunes, tree islands, wetlands, and beaches creates a strange landscape with unique ecosystems.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area stewards this natural wonder. The 31,500 acre park oversees a stretch of coastline that runs from Florence down to Coos Bay. The Recreation Area is famous for its OHV (off highway vehicle) areas where you can cruise the dunes in a dune buggie or go sand boarding. You can also ditch the wheels to hike the parks natural areas and experience one of the strangest landscapes on earth.
#3 Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge
The Oregon Coast holds six national wildlife refuges. Cape Meares may be of the one refuge that offers the most value and convenience.
Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint allows you to take in the beauty and lore of the Oregon Coast. Overlooks afford great views of secluded ocean coves where Murres, puffins, and other seabirds nest on the cliff faces while harbor seals move about in the waters below.
Cape Meares Lighthouse stands sentry at the viewpoint, a beautiful reminder of Oregon’s rich maritime history. Hiking trails guide you through the Refuge’s old growth forest and bizarre Octopus Tree. Wrap up your visit with a trip to Tillamook for a full day of fun!
#4 Rogue River – Siskiyou National Forests
Adventure beckons you to explore the emptiest corner of the Oregon Coast. The Rogue River – Siskiyou National Forests stretch across the wild, mountainous terrain of Southwest Oregon.
This remote area is rich in natural beauty, scenic rivers, and wildlife. These coastal forests are located within driving distance of Oregon’s famed southern coastline, the California Redwoods, and Oregon Caves National Monument.
Be sure to check out Quail Prairie lookout, a sky-high observation deck that towers over the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.
Great Central Oregon National Parks
Central Oregon is one of Oregon’s top travel destinations. The high desert features superb Oregon State Parks such as Smith Rock and Cove Palisades State Parks.
It’s also located next to one of the best parts of the Oregon Cascades. Majestic peaks make for year-round recreation in one of the most beautiful parts of the Pacific Northwest. The cities of Bend and Redmond add comfort, cuisine, and culture to Central Oregon’s exceptional qualities. Here are two Oregon national park sites located in the Central Oregon area:
#1: Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Visit the largest volcano in the Cascade range at Newberry National Volcanic Monument. The massive volcanic complex is nearly the size of Rhode Island and features a range of geologic features.
You can hike cinder cones, trek a mile-long lava cave, or explore an obsidian lava flow. At over 54,000 acres, Newberry National Volcanic Monument is a destination all of its own.
#2: Deschutes National Forest
Deschutes National Forest is synonymous with wilderness and recreation. The National Forest not only includes the Newberry National Volcanic Monument but also features eight wilderness areas.
Trails and facilities provide access to some of the best peaks of the High Cascades including the Three Sisters, Mt. Washington, and Mt. Jefferson.
Three Scenic Byways traverse the Deschutes National Forest, allowing scenic drives through Oregon’s Cascade Range and high desert.
Eastern Oregon: wild Oregon National Parks
Several of Oregon’s brightest gems are found in its Eastern region. East Oregon’s empty prairies and beautiful mountains offer wonderful experiences without the crowds and costs found in Portland or the Oregon Coast. Here are five great NPS stops found in Eastern Oregon:
#1 John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is one of Oregon’s best National Park sites. The three unit park features a remarkable group of Eastern Oregon landscapes, including Oregon’s legendary Painted Hills.
@dinkumtribe 360-degree view from the top of Carroll Rim at the Painted Hills, Oregon. #paintedhillsoregon #visitoregon #oregonexplored #pnwonderland ♬ Paper Birds (3 min) – Jordan Halpern Schwartz
Visit the Sheep Rock Unit to visit the Thomas Condon Museum of Paleontology, an amazing collection of ancient fossils. The John Day Fossil Beds are spread across one of the most scenic and remote parts of Oregon, making it a great place for adventuring families.
#2 Nez Pierce National Historical Park & Trail
Eastern Oregon is the starting point for one of the most unique parks in the National Park system. Nez Perce National Historical Park is composed of 38 sites spread across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.
The collection of locations tell the story of the Nimiipuu, commonly known as the Nez Perce. Places ranged from ancient, sacred spaces to battlefields where the Nez Perce faced off against the United State’s military. Four Nez Perce NHP sites are located in Eastern Oregon.
The Nez Perce National Historic Trail begins in Eastern Oregon and follows the tribe’s epic flight toward the Canadian Border.
The 1,500 mile trail runs from Oregon Wallowa Valley, through the Rockies, Yellowstone National Park, and the High Prairies of Montana. Eastern Oregon offers a unique opportunity to learn this remarkable story in the beautiful homeland of the Nimiipuu people.
#3 National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center & Trail
The wild expanse of Eastern Oregon is the best place to travel the Oregon Trail. Eastern Oregon hosts the National Historical Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, the chief interpretive center of the Oregon National Historical Trail.
The Tamastslikt Cultural Institute introduces visitors to the culture and experience the tribes of Eastern Oregon.
From Emigrant Spring State Park to Umatilla River Lower Crossing, Eastern Oregon abounds with Oregon Trail sites.
In fact, the emptiness of Eastern Oregon makes for a superb Trail rut experience. You get a new appreciation for emigrating families when you’re standing in the silent, wild scrubland.
#4 Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
The State of Oregon ends in North America’s deepest Gorge. Stand at Hat Point Overlook and survey a canyon-land that drops nearly 7,000 feet from rim to river. That’s almost 1,000 feet higher than the Grand Canyon’s North Rim!
Hell’s Canyon and the Snake River are full of natural beauty, recreational fun, and historic interest. Hells Canyon NRA hosts a wide range of activities including bicycling, camping, fishing, horseback riding, hunting, OHV riding, water activities, and water sports.
Epic lava flows, Paleo-Indian migrations, the Nez Perce’s Dug Bar crossing, and the Hell’s Canyon Massacre are only a few of the stories that surround this legendary part of the Pacific Northwest.
Oregon’s Southern region has a character of its own. The enormous area ranges from foggy coastal mountains to sun-baked flats. Though empty and wild, Oregon’s southland boasts several National Wildlife Refuges, a National Historic Trail, two National Monuments, and a world famous National Park.
#1 Crater Lake National Park: Oregon’s “official” National Park
Crater Lake is no less wondrous than when it was first established in 1902. This classic National Park is full of wonders: from the massive lake rim, to the deep blue hues of the lake, to the bizarre and beautiful Wizard Island.
The Lake finds its origin in the violent eruption of Mount Mazama, the mountain that now contains its waters. The resulting crater or “caldera” now hosts one the deepest lakes in the world.
Crater Lake’s Rim Drive provides incredible views and accessible trails from all sides of Crater Lake. Awesome volcanic cliffs sweep down to alpine waters in a scene unlike anything else in the United States.
The Mount Scott Trail affords panoramic views of Crater Lake the surrounding countryside. Boat tours allow you to admire the lake from a different perspective. Be sure to also check out Crater Lake Lodge. The historic lodge was built in 1915 and still accommodate travelers in its 71 rooms.
#2 Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve
Historic Oregon Caves National Monument is located in the state’s remote southwest corner. Established in 1909, the National Monument is nearly as old as Crater Lake and has its own historic lodge.
The Monument is situated on a mountainside in Oregon’s Siskiyou range and encompasses nearly 4,600 acres of forested land. Six trails trek through mountain meadows, marble outcrops, and old growth forest.
Ranger-led tours guide visitors safely through the marble halls and beautiful formations of the Oregon Caves. The dangers of the caves require limitations that you don’t typically expect at a national park.
Children must be at least 42 inches tall to join a cave tour, while wheelchairs, strollers, and infant carriers are not permitted on the tour. Tours work through narrow space and several flights of stairs.
#3 Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument
Oregon’s newest National Park site lies only 17 miles Southeast of Ashland and the Interstate 5 Freeway. The Monument was established in 2000 to protect the natural wonders and cultural heritage of the Cascade and Siskiyou region.
Highlights include monumental Pilot Rock, historic Highway 66, and majestic views from the Soda Mountain observation station. Camping, rock climbing, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and winter activities all take place at this solitary southern gem.
#4 Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge
Southeast Oregon host the state’s most unique refuge. Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge was created as a haven for pronghorn antelope but has grown to encompass several species of Oregon’s Great Basin region. California Big Horn Sheep, Coyotes, and Pronghorns are only a few of the wildlife that frequent this high desert oasis.
The refuge features campgrounds, ranger-led programs, and even natural hot springs! Wildlife watching, photography, hunting, fishing, biking, backpacking, birding, horseback riding, hiking, and art are all encouraged in this remarkable place.
#5 California National Historic Trail
Branches of the California Trail run from south-central Oregon all the way to the Willamette Valley.
The Applegate Trail (a southern extension of the Oregon Trail) also crossed the Klamath and Rogue regions of Southern Oregon. The Interstate 5 and historic Highway 66 follows much of the route that was first taken by emigrant wagons. Pioneer stops and sites can be found throughout the corridor.
The town of Jacksonsville was once one of Oregon’s largest pioneer settlements. This western town offers a great break from the grind of Interstate travel.
Douglas County Museum of Natural History is another stop on the California National Historic Trail that is conveniently located just off the Interstate.
The Wolf Creek Inn offers a great opportunity to step into frontier Oregon. Pioneer Henry Smith built the hotel in 1883 as lodging for stagecoach travelers. Wolf Creek still operates today as the Oregon’s oldest continuously used hotel.
Pacific Wonderland: Oregon’s National Parks (NPS sites)
That sums up our survey of Oregon’s best NPS sites. If you’re visiting Oregon’s national parks, we’ve also created a list of some of the best Oregon gifts to bring home or give to a friend.
Is there a park that you’d like to know more about? Leave us a question or comment, and we’ll get you an answer. Happy traveling!
© Copyright Brian A. Warren 2022.