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Oregon is one of our favorite US states to visit. The combination of gorgeous coastline, mountains, forests, and deserts is hard to beat. Throw in the cultural urban center and the state becomes the perfect destination for travelers.
- 1. The Oregon Coast
- 2. Crater Lake
- 3. Mt. St. Helen's
- 4. Astoria
- 5. The Columbia River Gorge
- 6. Portland
- 7. Bend
- 8. Mt. Hood (And the Cascades in general)
- 9. Smith Rock State Park
- 10. The Painted Hills / John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
- 11. Salem, OR
If you're planning a trip to Oregon, these would be my top recommendations for the Oregon Bucket List:
1. The Oregon Coast
With 363 miles of coastline to explore, it’s no surprise that the Oregon coast tops my list for places you must visit in this beautiful state. The best part is that the whole shore is open to the public and free to visit thanks to state laws. Our family loved our time along the Oregon coast!
One thing to keep in mind when visiting this region is it’s not like California beaches. Even in the summer, the temperature rarely reaches above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so you’re far more likely to don a sweater than a swimsuit.
But, don’t let that keep you from the Oregon coast, because there are still plenty of things you can do all year long.
Things to Do Along the Oregon Coast
What you can do along the Oregon coast varies greatly depending on where you are. If you want the grand tour of the entire coast, you’ll want to catch Highway 101 at either end of the state. But, if you want to pick a few places to get to know better, here are a few of our favorites.
- Lighthouses in Tillamook, Newport, Yaquina Bay, and more
- The Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area in Reedsport
- Hiking along the many trails near the shore
- Fat-tire bike riding
- Winter storm watching in Cape Meares
- Wildlife watching in Fort Stevens State Park, Cape Perpetua Visitor Center, and more
Depending on where you stay and the time of year, you may also take part in local festivals and fairs.
Places to Stay Along the Oregon Coast
There are so many options along the Oregon coast that it was hard to narrow them down, but here are a few worth checking out.
- Winchester Bay Inn in Reedsport
- The Pacific Reef Hotel in Gold Beach
- The Coho Oceanfront Lodge in Lincoln City
2. Crater Lake
If you want to take an unforgettable road trip to an area steeped in mystery and beauty, Crater Lake is the place to go. As you might have guessed by its name, this lake is in a crater which was formed after a volcanic eruption hundreds of years ago.
Crater lake is the deepest lake in the United States, and also one of the most pristine as the water comes from rain and melted snow that have become trapped at the top of the mountain. It’s also the source of many dark Native American legends, UFO sightings, and supposed Big Foot activity.
Here’s how much you can expect to pay to visit Crater Lake:
- $10 per car from November to April
- $25 per car or $15 per motorcycle from May to October
If you have a National Parks Pass, however, it’s free to get in! This is a great investment if you’re planning on visiting a number of national parks during the year as it’s only $80 to visit over 2,000 sites across the United States.
Things to Do at Crater Lake
Most people visit Crater Lake just to see the lake, so there aren’t too many things to do here. Even so, I’ve gathered a list of options for those who want to spend some more time here.
- Rim drive
- Crater Lake Lodge tour
- Sinnott overlook
- Boat tours
You may also want to check out Crater Lake Park. There, you can find activities led by park rangers, whether it’s listening to a short talk about the area or going on an afternoon hike.
Need more information? Check out my guide for a Crater Lake road trip!
Places to Stay Around Crater Lake
Unfortunately, there aren’t many places to stay around Crater Lake since so many people make it a day trip in their itinerary. However, if you do want to spend more time there, here are three options for spending the night near this location.
For more information about Crater Lake, some road trip ideas, and more things to do, you can check out this post.
3. Mt. St. Helen's
Although not technically in Oregon, Mt. St. Helen’s is a little more than an hour from Portland and certainly worth the trip. This active volcano is currently dormant, but you should always check on conditions before visiting just to be safe.
Mt. St. Helen’s is famous for having erupted in 1980 following two earthquakes. Ash from the eruption was scattered across 11 U.S. states, including much of Oregon. Once the site of the most destructive volcanic eruption in U.S. history, you can now visit Gifford Pinchot National Forest to visit it.
The cost to visit the Johnston Ridge Observatory to see Mt. St. Helen’s is $8 per person over the age of 16. Inside, you can find some incredible photographs and other information that shows how big of an impact the eruption had.
Things to Around Mt. St. Helen’s
In addition to seeing the volcano itself, here are a few other things visitors can do while visiting this infamous landmark.
- Watch the short film in Castle Rock
- Listen to ranger presentations at Johnston Ridge
- Hike around the park
Places to Stay Around Mt. St. Helen’s
This is another location that most people make a day trip out of from Portland, but you can certainly stay in Washington if you’re like. Here are a few places to stay close to Mt. St. Helen’s:
Right on the Colombia River and Pacific Ocean, Astoria is one of Oregon’s coastal towns that deserves its own spot on our list. Originally a trade center for the entire Colombia basin, Astoria remains a busy hub of activity that also makes a great vacation spot.
One of the things that makes this town a must-see item on your Oregon bucket list is the hill that you can hike up which provides breath-taking views of the ocean and entire region. Once there, you can also take in the Astoria Column, a hand-painted, 600-foot column that depicts the town’s history.
Before you make the climb, go into their store and by a few balsa wood model planes. They only cost a buck each and once you climb up, you can fly them off the top of the tower! It's a great activity for kids (though I'm not sure who had more fun, our kids or their Dad...)
More things to Do in Astoria
Here are some of the many things you can do in Astoria in addition to seeing the Astoria Column:
- Stroll along the Riverfront. It's a wonderful stroll and you can actually hear the sea lions under the deck! On weekends, you can take the Riverfront Trolley tour too.
- Visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum. We had a great time there. Fascinating place!
- Check out the Oregon Film Museum. Movie buffs can also tour locations from the filming of the Goonies.
- Visit local breweries
- Go to the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. We were going to but missed it but I'm sure we'll be back again someday to check it out!
Places to Stay in Astoria
There are many places you can stay in Astoria, depending on your budget and how great of a view of the water you want. Here are just a few of the hotels you can look into:
5. The Columbia River Gorge
You can find the Columbia River Gorge just 30 minutes west of Portland. It’s considered one of the most scenic stretches in Oregon, so don’t miss your opportunity to see the natural beauty that this state is overflowing with.
Within the gorge, you’ll find several welcoming towns, including The Dalles, Hood River, and Troutdale. Stop into any one of them for local charm and to participate in some of the many activities you can enjoy in this region.
Things to Do in the Columbia Gorge
The availability of some of these activities may vary by season, but there’s always something to do in the Columbia Gorge. Because of the many options, it’s a great place to take your whole family. Here are a few of the things you can try there:
- Hiking or mountain biking
- Rock climbing
- Driving along the Historic Columbia River Highway
- Visit local microbreweries
- Visit Lake Celilo
- Take a sternwheeler cruise along the river
There are also several museums and other local sites you’re welcome to check out, including:
- The Dalles Lock and Dam
- Bonneville Dam Visitor Center
- Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum
- Vista House at Crown Point
Be sure to look into these for more information about entrance fees and seasonal schedules.
Places to Stay in the Columbia Gorge
We’re going to break down these places to stay based on the three main towns that can be found in the Colombia Gorge, so you can narrow down the best place to stay based on which is closest to the activities you want to do while visiting. And remember, it's a great day trip out of Portland too!
Places to stay in The Dalles:
Places to stay in Hood River:
Places to stay in Troutdale:
“Keep Portland Weird” is the slogan of Oregon’s largest city (if you've ever watched an episode of Grimm, you should be able to relate to that!). You don’t have to spend much time there to get a taste of the weirdness, but we recommend staying for at least a few days to really experience everything they have to offer.
Portland also works great as a home base for some of the other items on the bucket list, including the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. St. Helen’s. So, if you want to take some day trips and have a fun scene to go back to at night, Portland is the way to go.
Things to Do in Portland
Based on the size of this city alone, there are literally thousands of things you can find to do throughout the city. We're making a list of just a few of our favorites and things we wished we'd been able to do more of.
- Buy from a food truck
- Check out some of the 70+ local breweries
- Rent a bike to explore the city
- Go hiking in Forest Park
- Visit the International Rose Test Garden
There' plenty more! You may also want to check out my picture-post on the Japanese Garden in Portland. Also, see this list of Portland museums which I think are well worth a visit.
Places to Stay in Portland
It would be difficult to not find the perfect place to stay in Portland, Oregon since there are plenty of options available. You can easily choose based on your personal preferences and budget.
Here are a few places we recommend checking out:
After visiting Bend, it’s easy to see why it’s called the outdoor playground of the West. Located in Central Oregon, it’s surrounded by mountains, volcanoes, rivers, and a wide variety of wildlife. Even so, within Bend, there’s a thriving nightlife and all the amenities you could want.
What we liked best about Bend is that there’s truly something for everyone. There are extreme sports and mountain hikes for the adventurous, art walks and museums for families, and everything in between. It’s not something you want to miss on your trip to Oregon.
Things to Do in Bend
It was hard to pick the best things to do while visiting Bend, but I did my best. Hopefully, this brief list gives you an idea of everything this town has to offer.
- Hiking (especially to the summit of Pilot Butte)
- Take a cave tour
- Rent a kayak or standing paddleboard to tour the Deschutes River
- Visit the Old Mill District
- In the winter, go ice skating, skiing, or take a sled dog ride
- Go rockhounding to find a lava rock or shiny obsidian to take home
- Travel the Bend Ale Trail
Some of the art exhibits and museums you can visit include:
- Tin Pan Alley Art Collection
- Art in the High Desert Annual Festival (in August; check for dates)
- Mary Medrano Gallery
- Roundabout Art Route
- High Desert Museum
- Sunriver Nature Center
- Petersen Rock Garden
- Fort Rock Valley Historical Society Homestead
You can also make several day trips from Bend to other items on my Oregon bucket list, including Crater Lake, Smith Rock State Park, and the Painted Hills.
Places to Stay in Bend
There are over 50 hotels to choose from within Bend, but one place is my own personal favorite though. It's also the cheapest motel we ever stayed at in the US - and it was still fantastic!
8. Mt. Hood (And the Cascades in general)
The shape of Mt. Hood is probably what you picture when you think of Oregon in general, so it should be no surprise that this famous landmark made our Oregon bucket list. It’s home to the only year-round ski resort in the United States and capped with 11 glaciers.
Rising 11,249 feet (3,429 meters) above sea level, Mt. Hood is considered a dormant volcano even though it last erupted just over 100 years ago in 1907. It’s also the second most hiked mountain in the entire world!
Things to Do Around Mt. Hood
Here are just a few of the things you can do around Mt. Hood:
- Hike the mountain
- Go skiing (year-round!)
- Travel the Fruit Loop to see local orchards and berry farms
- In the spring, view the wildflowers that grow in abundance
- Visit one of the alpine lakes: Lost Lake, Mirror Lake, or Trillium Lake
- Check out local museums
- Take a photography tour to capture Mt. Hood’s beauty
What we did in our day in Mt. Hood was to hike Trillium Lake (gorgeous views of the mountain!) and then drive up to the summit. We stayed at one of the lodges in Government Camp (a small settlement on the mountain) and my husband and brother-in-law hiked further up the mountain the following morning.
Places to Stay in Mt. Hood
The best place to stay to explore the mountain is Government Camp. It's a ski location during winter and was busy enough when we got there in summer time. Just visit Booking.com and search for your dates and Government Camp, Oregon.
9. Smith Rock State Park
With literally thousands of climbs throughout the park, there’s no shortage of avid rock climbers who frequent Smith Rock State Park. But, with breath-taking sights and a myriad of wildlife to spot, there’s plenty for everyone here.
Although nobody is sure how this rocky area got its name, one thing is certain: it’s a must-see for vacationers in Oregon. Because it’s only around half an hour outside of Bend, it’s a great place to day trip to when visiting Central Oregon.
Day use parking is $5 per vehicle, but if you’re going as a hiking or biking group, it’s $8 per person.
Things to Do at Smith Rock State Park
Here are some of the things you can do while at Smith Rock State Park:
- Rock climbing
- Overnight camping
- Wildlife spotting
Places to Stay Around Smith Rock State Park
Although you’re more than welcome to make visiting Smith Rock State Park a day trip from Bend, you can also stay near the park if you want to spend some more time there. Here are a few options for you:
10. The Painted Hills / John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
One of the “7 Wonders of Oregon,” it was easy to include the Painted Hills and the John Days Fossil Beds on our bucket list.
The Painted Hills get their name from the brilliant yellow, black, gold, and red layers of rock that have formed there. It truly looks like these hills were painted with an unbelievably large paintbrush. They’re one of three areas that make up the John Day Fossil Beds.
As you can imagine, the Fossil Beds are home to a wide variety of fossils. Paleontologists continue to study the fossils that have been dug up there, including ancient cousins of rhinos and elephants that once roamed the Americas.
The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center is home to over 40,000 fossils in total. You can see them there and learn more about what life may have been like long ago. Entrance to the center as well as the rest of the areas around the Painted Hills are free.
Things to Do in the Painted Hills
Here are some things you can do while visiting the Painted Hills:
- Check out the paleontology center
- Dig for fossils in the town of Fossil
- Take the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway
- Visit the ghost town Shaniko
- Check out the Kam Wah Chung and Co. Museum
Places to Stay Around the Painted Hills
This is another place most people choose to take a day trip to, but you can certainly pick one of these places to stay near the Painted Hills and John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
11. Salem, OR
While not as weird as Portland, Oregon’s capital city still has plenty to offer visitors, and should not be missed when visiting this state. Nestled in one of the most fertile valleys in the United States, Salem is surrounded by fields and farms that bring their wares into the city.
It’s easy to see why people love to live in and visit Salem. There’s plenty to do, and there’s always something delicious to sample, whether it’s a pie made from locally-grown berries, wine from local vineyards, or fresh produce right from the field.
Things to Do in Salem
- Go wine tasting
- Check out local microbreweries
- Walk, hike, or bike nature trails
- Visit the State Capitol building
- Picnic in one of many local parks
- Buy fresh, local produce at a farmer’s market
You may also want to visit one of the many museums that are in or near Salem, including:
- Deepwood Museums and Gardens
- Bush House Museum
- Hallie Ford Museum of Art
- Gilbert House Children’s Museum
Places to Stay in Salem
There’s no shortage of places to stay in Oregon’s capital city, so we just picked out a few for you to consider. You can easily find one that meets your needs and stays within your budget.
This would be my Oregon Bucket List. We've visited most of the places in this list. Some more than once! There are a few that we missed, which is why this list comes handy for me as well!
If you've visited Oregon and can offer more suggestions - let me know!
And finally, a map: