- Helen Armitage
Wheeler County, in north-central Oregon, is the state’s least populated county and boasts an abundance of varied, rugged terrain awaiting to delight visitors. The John Day River, a designated National Wild and Scenic River, cuts its way across the state, linking tiny communities like Service Creek and Spray and offers a scenic way to see the county by raft. The small town of Mitchell, a pioneer town brimming with rustic charm, is a great base for exploring one of the county’s most scenic areas, the awe-inspiring Painted Hills. Named one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon, the Painted Hills’ undulating, multi-hued terrain has seen the county called a ‘geological wonderland.’
Occupying a particularly scenic stretch of Oregon’s coastline, Coos County makes an excellent base for exploring the state’s rugged southern shores. Its biggest city, Coos Bay, is home to a historic downtown district hosting farmers’ markets and one of Oregon’s oldest art institutions, the Coos Art Museum. Visitors are surrounded by natural beauty – the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and Shore Acres State Park, with its botanical gardens, are just two must-see spots. Downstate in picturesque Bandon – dubbed Oregon’s cranberry capital –, breathtaking beaches, a lively local arts scene, and a beautiful shore side golf course attract visitors from far and wide.
Not many areas can boast the varied landscapes that Deschutes County in central Oregon can. Visitors will find desert terrain, luscious forests, and snow-capped peaks. The county seat, Bend, is a beautiful community, home to a lively, diverse art scene and some of the best craft breweries in Oregon, where visitors can learn about the town’s unique location at the High Desert Museum, while the western reaches of the county are a mecca for watersports, hiking, and skiing. Stunning Smith Rock State Park in Deschutes’s northeastern corner, another of Oregon’s Seven Wonders, is a breathtaking spot popular for rock-climbing, horseback riding, and wildlife-spotting.
Up in Oregon’s northwestern most corner is Clatsop County – where beautiful coastline and a rugged interior home to wild, mountainous forests combine to make one of the state’s most popular vacation destinations. In the north of the county, the Columbia River estuary sets a scenic backdrop for the beautiful city of Astoria, while Clatsop’s southern coast is dotted with scenic seaside communities like Cannon Beach – an arty community home to the famous Haystack Rock and recently named one of The Culture Trip’s most beautiful West Coast towns. Inland, adventurers can hike Saddle Mountain, where on a clear day they’ll be treated to breathtaking, panoramic views over the coast and Columbia River.
Brimming with natural beauty, Douglas County boasts one of the highest concentrations of waterfalls in all of Oregon, with a total of 75, including the beautiful Toketee Falls – one of the state’s most famous waterfalls – and the magnificent Watson Falls – at 272 feet high, among southern Oregon’s tallest cascades. Beyond waterfalls, the Umpqua Valley’s fertile soils have made the county a prime wine-producing region, with over 20 wineries offering a distraction for visiting oenophiles, while in the westward reaches of the county, picturesque towns like Gardiner and Winchester Bay give way to Oregon’s wild coastal dunes.
While Clackamas County’s westernmost edges are part of Portland’s southern suburbs – including the affluent Lake Oswego and Milwaukie, with its popular farmers market –, heading further into the county, the urban scenery opens up into idyllic countryside where wineries and farmsteads reside. Further east, Clackamas County becomes an adventurer’s playground, as the rugged terrain of Mount Hood National Forest takes over the landscape. Home to thousands of miles of trails perfect for hiking, the forest’s crowning glory is, of course, Mount Hood; an iconic part of the Oregonian landscape, the majestic, snow-capped peak is one of the state’s Seven Wonders.
Curry County, in Oregon’s southwestern most corner on the border with California, dubs itself the ‘West Coast’s Best Coast’ – a lofty assertion, but considering its 100 miles of pristine, secluded beaches and rugged headlands, it’s a claim that’s hard to deny. Famous for its sea stacks, spectacular sunsets, and whale-watching opportunities, the Curry County seaboard also boasts a number coastal parks, including the beautiful Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. But there’s more to the county than just its coast: visitors will find numerous National Wild and Scenic Rivers – including the beautiful Rogue River – perfect for rafting, fishing, and sight-seeing, while its mountainous, forested east is ideal for hiking and mountain biking.
Nestled along the Columbia River, Multnomah County is another county of contrasts and boasts an ever-changing landscape, as the river cuts westward along its northern boundary. Starting in the county’s wilder eastern reaches, the Columbia River Gorge features hiking trails, numerous waterfalls – including Oregon’s tallest, Multnomah Falls – and scenic lookouts like Vista House at Crown Point. Moving down the river, hip Portland, Oregon’s largest city, comes into view, offering an urban change of pace and plenty of microbreweries and coffeehouses, while in Multnomah’s westerly reaches, scenic Sauvie Island offers respite from the hustle and bustle of Portland.
Located in the southern reaches of the state, beautiful Klamath County is home to one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon – the stunning Crater Lake National Park, which, with a depth of 1,943 feet, is the USA’s deepest lake and the only national park in Oregon. But there’s more to Klamath than just Crater Lake. Around the county, visitors will find some of Oregon’s most awe-inspiring natural scenery, from Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in the south – a haven for waterfowl – to the scenic Deschutes National Forest in the north. For visitors craving a little more civilization, the county seat Klamath Falls should do nicely – nestled around the southern shores of Upper Klamath Lake, the picturesque city has a beautiful, historic downtown and thriving local arts scene.
Sitting just next to Multnomah is Washington County, where Portland’s western suburbs give way to northern Willamette Valley. Nicknamed the ‘Gateway to Oregon Wine Country,’ the county is an oenophile’s dream and home to more than 30 wineries, including the award-winning Ardiri Winery in Cornelius. Beyond its splendid wines, Washington County offers plenty of activities for outdoorsy types, and visitors may wish to explore the region via the Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway – a lovely trail that passes by charming downtowns and fertile farmlands and stretches some 50 miles north-westward into neighboring Columbia County. Other local recreational pursuits include fishing and boating at scenic Henry Hagg Lake.