From the Cascades to the coast, Oregon is littered with spectacular natural beauty. You can ski Mount Hood one day and take in the majesty of Haystack Rock the next. Go south, and Crater Lake’s deep blue waters will hypnotize you. For those who prefer their adventures indoors, Portland’s full of quirky gems like the famous Voodoo Donuts and Powell’s Books.
But, there is a whole world of awe-inspiring sights and unusual attractions that tend to fly under the radar. Here are 12 epic places even Oregon locals don’t know about.
The Out & About Treehouse Treesort in Cave Junction is your inner kid’s dream: it’s a literal resort of treehouses. Located near the redwood forests of Oregon, this hidden gem offers over a dozen different options of accommodation suspended in the trees that will make you squeal in delight. And if that’s not exciting enough, Out & About also provides classes on how to construct your own arboreal abode. Its website boasts that it’s “the only place in the world that offers avocational instruction in basic engineering, design and construction methods for building treehouses.”
What used to be a park ranger station and bathrooms for hikers is now a moss-covered, dilapidated secret in Portland. Aptly nicknamed the Witch’s Castle, the stone structure built in the 1930s suffered severe damage in 1962 and was left to rot in the woods of Macleay Park. An easy half-mile walk from the Upper Macleay Parking lot near the Portland Audubon Society, or a three-quarter mile hike from the Lower Macleay Parking lot at at NW 30th and Upshur, is all it takes to transport yourself into an enchanting, semi-creepy fairytale.
Visitors flock to Cannon Beach’s Haystack Rock, but Yachats has a spectacle all its own. Thor’s Well sits on the edge of the Oregon coast. The gaping, “bottomless” sink hole, also known as the drainpipe of the Pacific, is truly a sight to behold, but do so with caution. The well that seemingly swallows up the sea around it is actually a hole in the rock that is only around 20-feet deep. Though the best time to view the godly fountain is at high tide or during storms, Thor’s Well can sweep out unsuspecting spectators.
Nestled off highway 101 sits Oregon’s very own Jurassic Park. Prehistoric Gardens was established in 1955 and offers weary road-trippers a reprieve (and excuse to gawk at size-accurate dinosaur sculptures). The attraction’s late creator, Ernest Nelson, constructed 23 concrete reptiles in a 30-year span, with his most impressive being a Brachiosaurus, which measures in at 86-feet long and 46-feet tall. The dinos are scattered along a foliage-lined coastal trail that truly makes visitors feel like they’ve just stepped through a time machine.
The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium is the epitome of “Keep Portland Weird.” The shop and connected art space were established in 1967 by local explorer Conrad Talmadge Elwood, and his love for all things bizarre has become one of the city’s strangest hidden gems. The Peculiarium offers exhibits like a nightmare dollhouse, alien autopsy and trip inside a zombie’s brain. In the gift shop, visitors are greeted by a Bigfoot statue and can sift through pop artifacts, gag toys and freaky specimens. Photography is encouraged, so make sure to bring your camera (or, more realistically, phone) to document your surely one-of-a-kind experience.
The Tamástslikt Cultural Institute is the only tribal-run Native American museum along the Oregon Trail, and it’s a local gem in Pendleton. Situated on the Umatilla Reservation, the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes that have lived on the land for 10,000 years developed and operate the cultural institute, which tells history from a Native American perspective. The three permanent exhibits—“We Were,” “We Are,” and “We Will Be”—showcase the tribes’ immense pride, and the name really says it all: Tamástslikt means “interpreting our own story.”
Mount Hood is a pretty unassuming place for a hot springs, and that’s why Robert Bagby didn’t take the time to develop them upon his discovery in the 1800s. The prospector and hunter was mining for gold when he came upon the springs, but due to their remote location he left them as they were. In the 1930s, the first bathhouse was constructed, including large tubs carved out of cedar logs. Visitors can still soak in those tubs today, they just have to be willing to make the trek to find them. Though the journey is less strenuous than it was when the Bagby Hot Springs first opened, it’s still a 1.4-mile hike to get to the hot watery haven.
If you are a sloth lover (and really, who isn’t?) then adding the Sloth Center in Rainier, OR to your bucket list is a must. The research facility and sanctuary is home to the most captive adult sloths in the world. Though the center acts primarily as a conservation facility for these arboreal cuties, tours provide visitors with opportunities to get up close and personal with the magnificently slow creatures. Just remember to book yours in advance, as tours are limited to small, guided groups to help protect the animals.
The Dee Wright Observatory looks like it was built on the moon. The scenic lookout point appears to be rising out of the rocks that surround it, but much to outer space enthusiasts’ chagrin, the structure was built by humans in 1935. Made from the same jagged lava rock that encompasses the observatory, visitors are able to view the nearby Cascade mountain range from a number of viewing windows—some built to awe at specific peaks. The upper level is equipped with a brass compass that can help visitors identify the magnificent mountains they’re viewing.
Near Sisters, in the heart of the Cascade Mountains, is a mysterious lake that seems to disappear every summer. If you visit in the winter, you’ll see Lost Lake in its 79-acre watery splendor. But when the streams and creeks slow to a trickle in the spring, the mountain basin’s contents begin to drain into a hole. In the summer, the once-bountiful lake mere months earlier, transforms into a grassy meadow. Geologists believe this phenomenon is caused by a collapsed lava tube created during a period of intense volcanic activity over 12,000 years ago.
Portland is home to all kinds of bizarre establishments, and one of the most unusual of all is Jim Stewart’s Zymoglyphic Museum. Located in the artist’s garage, the collection of odd specimens come from “the Zymoglyphic region,” which is a place that only exists in the mind of Stewart. From flightless spinybirds to eyeball plants, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish where nature ends and art begins, making this one-of-a-kind gallery a must-visit. Note: The museum is only open the second and fourth Sundays of the month.
In the early 20th-century, a small mining company office building began slipping down the hill before its foundation came to rest at an odd angle. The owners claim the structure originally began to slide due to a magnetic force, or “vortex.” They credit this force to causing other paranormal phenomena to happen, such as balls rolling uphill and brooms standing on end. Though the vortex theory is just that—a theory—what really happens at the tilted house is a distorted sense of perception, which makes objects appear to change size and do all other kinds of bizarre things. Despite the cause of its perceptive trickery, the Oregon Vortex is the fun, secret treasure of Central Oregon.