20 Must-Visit Attractions in Oregon
Multnomah Falls plunging into a pool below | © John Fowler / Flickr
The Beaver State is a haven for outdoor and cultural adventures alike.
It doesn’t matter what part of Oregon you’re visiting, you’re bound to find something interesting to explore. If you’re into art and history, there are museums abound; for outdoorsy types, there are waterfalls, lakes, mountains and parks as far as the eye can see.
Love flowers? The state boasts some beautiful gardens. Bibliophile? Portland is home to the largest independent bookstore in the world. Here are 20 must-visit attractions in Oregon.
, the most famous waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge, plunges 635 ft in two tiers, crossing under the iconic Benson bridge on its way down. The Oregon treasure is viewable by car and easily accessible with a lodge and vista point that requires little walking. Visitors can trek up to the bridge for a spectacular view, but unfortunately the rest of the hiking trail has been damaged by last year’s horrific Eagle Creek Fire
and is currently closed.
Portland Art Museum
The Portland Art Museum
has been around for a while. Indeed, it was founded in 1892, making it the oldest museum in the Pacific Northwest and the seventh oldest in the U.S. The gallery is known for its variety of collections, including Native American
, Northwest, Asian, contemporary and modern art centers, as well as an outdoor public sculpture garden. It houses 42,000 pieces in its permanent collection alone and amasses 112,000-sq ft (10,405-sqm) of space, making it one of the top 25 largest museums in the country.
Located roughly 50 miles east of Portland, Mt. Hood is a must-visit both in winter and summer. Towering at 11,249 ft, the potentially active stratovolcano is the highest mountain in Oregon and one of the loftiest in the country, due to its prominence. In the winter, Mt. Hood Meadows
is one of the premier destinations for snow sports in the Pacific Northwest, while in the summer, hikers and campers can explore the Mt. Hood National Forest
in all its vibrant beauty.
Powell’s City of Books
is an iconic Portland landmark, with rows of new, used, eclectic, rare, and out-of-print books spanning a multi-level building that occupies an entire city block. And despite the downturn of brick-and-mortar bookstores, Powell’s has maintained its stature amongst Portlanders (thanks to the city’s burgeoning love for books).
Bakery, American, $$$
With a catchphrase like: “The magic is in the hole,” what’s not to love? Novelty doughnuts may be all the rage these days, but Voodoo Doughnut
has been doing it for years. 15, to be exact. Though you can find their pink boxes in multiple cities across the U.S. these days (Eugene, Austin, Denver, Los Angeles), Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson and Tres Shannon’s unusual doughnuts originated in Old Town Portland, and the 24-hour operated flagship location is still packed to the gills both day and night, for good reason.
National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
offers living history demonstrations, interpretive programs, exhibits, multimedia presentations and special events, but the coolest part about this Eastern Oregon museum is its more than four miles of interpretive trails. The Center tells the story of Oregon Trail pioneers using life-size displays, film and live theater presentations. The 500-acre site also includes remnants of the historic Flagstaff Gold Mine, ruts carved by pioneer wagons and breathtaking vistas of the historic trail route.
Henry Pittock’s French Renaissance-style chateau
has been the gem of Portland’s West Hills since its completion in 1914. Its burgundy roof, matching turrets, and stately elegance acts as a history lesson on one of Portland’s most influential, respected, and wealthiest men at the turn of the 20th century. After the family gave up the estate in the ’60s, the city’s Bureau of Parks and Recreation renovated the grounds and currently gives tours of the interior and grounds, which offer stunning views of Downtown Portland.
Wreck of the Peter Iredale
On October 25, 1906, the Peter Iredale ran ashore on the Oregon Coast, en route to the Columbia River. The crew abandoned the four-masted steel barque sailing vessel on Clatsop Spit near Fort Stevens in Warrenton about four miles south of the Columbia River channel. Now, visitors can get up close and personal with the shipwreck at low tide. The ship’s over 100-year-old remains jut out of the sand in Fort Stevens State Park.
Portland Japanese Garden
Influenced by Shinto, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophies, Portland Japanese Garden
incorporates the energies of stone, water, and plants to create a peaceful, tranquil botanical haven. The garden, spanning five and a half acres of land, is separated into five features—flat, strolling pond, tea, natural and sand and stone—and also boasts a teahouse, cultural festivals and events, and workshops.
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
Science Museum, Theater
If you grew up anywhere near Portland, the chances are that you had a field trip to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
. OMSI has 200 interactive exhibits and other activities for all ages. It also has eight labs, rotating shows, submarine tours, a theater, motion simulator, planetarium and museum, which hosts almost two dozen events monthly, making it one of the best science centers in America and a cabinet of curiosity for the whole family.
The Oregon Vortex
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 claim this force causes 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.
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” sinkhole, 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 ft 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.
Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum
Aviation Museum, Space Museum, Park
McMinnville’s Aviation & Space Museum
is a pilot’s dream. The hall’s displays range from the aeronautic designs of the Wright brothers to a Lockheed SR-71; however, its prized possession is the original Spruce Goose. The massive airplane is built entirely out of wood, due to wartime restrictions on metals, and stands as a symbol of American industry during World War II. With the adjacent Wings & Waves
indoor waterpark open year round, this museum provides something for the whole family.
International Rose Test Garden
There’s a reason why “The City of Roses” is the official moniker
for Portland. In 1888, Henry Pittock’s wife, Georgina, invited friends over to gander at the roses in her garden and thus the Portland Rose Society
was born. In 1905, Portland held its first Festival of Roses, and just over a decade later The International Rose Test Garden
was created as a safe harbor for European hybrids during World War I. Since being dedicated in 1924, the garden blooms with more than 10,000 manicured rose plants of over 550 varieties and is a must-see for lovers of the flower.
If you’re visiting Bend in the winter, Mt Bachelor
is a must-see. The ski area is only 22 miles from downtown, so you’ll be able to get a few runs in before lunch. If you’re not much of a skier but still love the snow, the mountain offers a wide range of activities including snowshoe tours, snowblast tubing, sled dog rides and helicopter tours.
Columbia River Maritime Museum
The Columbia River Bar is one of the most dangerous passages in the world, and the first thing you see when you arrive at the Columbia River Maritime Museum
is the 44 ft Coast Guard rescue boat in action, suspended over fake waves. The Astoria gallery is the only maritime museum in Oregon, and it tells the legend of “The Graveyard of the Pacific.” Since 1972, the Columbia River Bar has caused approximately 2,000 vessels—including 200 larger ships—to sink, and this nonprofit institution features six galleries and a great hall that shows films of the unapologetic river.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
is an experience all its own. According to the National Park Services, the colorful rock formations “preserve a world class record of plant and animal evolution, changing climate and past ecosystems that span over 40 million years,” and visitors are able to explore Oregon’s prehistoric past through hikes and exhibits showcasing one of the most complete fossil records on the planet.
While most urban sprawls are wrought with cement and towering structures, this city sticks to its Pacific Northwest roots: trees, plant life, hiking trails, and vast stretches of natural scenery. And Washington Park
, with 15 miles (24.1 kilometers) of trails, a zoo, rose garden, arboretum, museums, and Japanese garden, is Portland’s centerpiece for connecting with nature.
Bagby Hot Springs
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 hot springs first opened, it’s still a 1.4 mile hike to get to the hot watery haven.
High Desert Museum
The High Desert Museum
joins regional wildlife and natural resources with art and culture to promote an understanding and appreciation for North America’s high desert history. Through indoor and outdoor exhibits, wildlife habitats and living history demonstrations, the Bend institution strives to help its visitors discover and educate themselves on the majestic natural and cultural heritage of this special part of the world, including immersive looks into the lives of Native Americans, settlers and fur trappers who struggled to survive the harsh climates of the high desert.
These recommendations were updated on April 20, 2018 to keep your travel plans fresh.