The 12 Most Unusual Experiences in Oregon

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument's breathtaking painted hills
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument's breathtaking painted hills | © David Prasad / Flickr
Photo of Katrina Nattress
11 April 2018

Oregon is known for its oddities—there’s a reason why its largest city’s motto is “Keep Portland Weird.” Here are the 12 most unusual experiences in Oregon.

There are breathtaking natural wonders and peculiar attractions that some locals don’t even know about, and there are even more interesting gems that have become a source of pride for the Beaver State, including the country’s deepest lake and largest independent book store, and the world’s smallest park.

Hang out with some dinosaurs

Prehistoric Gardens

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Dino at Prehistoric Gardens | © Jami Dwyer / Flickr

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 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.

Spend the night in a treehouse

Out & About Treehouse Treesort

Bed and Breakfast, Treehouse
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Out & About Treehouse Treesort | © Nicolás Boullosa / Flickr
The Out & About Treehouse Treesort in Cave Junction is your inner kid’s dream: it’s literally a 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 offers 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.”

Relive fairy tales at a theme park tucked away in the woods

Enchanted Forest Theme Park

Amusement Park
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The Enchanted Forest is a special place to those who grew up in the Portland and Salem areas. The theme park, which began as creator Roger Tofte’s passion project, took seven years of arduous work (and spending literally every last penny) to build before opening in 1971. Since then, it’s become a wooded place of whimsy that features original, hand-crafted attractions like Storybook Lane and Tofteville Western Town, rides like the ice-mountain bobsled roller coaster and big timber log ride, and plenty of adventure for kiddos. Oh yeah, and you can climb inside a witch’s mouth and slide down her hair.

Had been waiting for this.

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Get lost in the largest independent book store in the world

Powell's City of Books

Bookstore, Park, Store
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Powell's City of Books is the largest independent bookstore in the world | © Chuck Taylor / Flickr
Powell’s 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 among Portlanders, thanks to the city’s burgeoning love for books.

Visit a lake that disappears in the summer

Lost Lake

Natural Feature
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Lost Lake, Oregon | © Lessa Clayton / Flickr

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 the Lost Lake in its 79-acre watery splendor; however, by spring, when the streams and creeks slow to a trickle, the mountain basin’s contents begin to drain into a hole. By summer, what was once a bountiful lake mere months ago 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.

Check out some truly bizarre art

The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium

Art Gallery, Shop
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Scenes from the haunted dollhouse at Portland's Peculiarium | © W&J / Flickr

The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium is the epitome of “Keep Portland Weird.” The shop and art space was 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 a 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.

Explore a ghost ship

Wreck of the Peter Iredale

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The Peter Iredale shipwreck | © LDELD / Flickr

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.

Defy gravity in a tilted house

The Oregon Vortex

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Entering the Oregon Vortex | © James Wellington / Flickr

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. Whatever the cause of its perceptive trickery, the Oregon Vortex is a fun, secret treasure of Central Oregon.

Visit the smallest park in the world

Mill Ends Park

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Mill Ends Park is the smallest city park in the world | © brx0 / Flickr

Dick Fagan was an eccentric man. In 1946, he returned from World War II and resumed his journalism career with the Oregon Journal. From his window, he could see an unused hole in a median on Front Street (now Naito Parkway) that was supposed to house a light post that never arrived. As the hole began to collect weeds, he decided to plant flowers in it. He billed the two-foot-wide plot “The Smallest Park in the World” and dedicated it on St. Patrick’s Day in 1948. In 1971, The Guinness World Records legitimized the claim by dubbing Mill Ends Park the smallest city park in the world. Though Fagan passed away in 1969, the park is still maintained and open to the public—if you even notice it on your waterfront stroll.

Take an eerie hike

The Witch’s Castle

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Witch's Castle | © Mike Rohrig / Flickr

What used to be a park ranger station and bathrooms for hikers has become 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.

Dig for fossils

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

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John Day is home to one of the most complete fossil records on the planet | © Jan Hazevoet / Flickr
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.

Swim in the deepest lake in the U.S.

Crater Lake, Oregon

Natural Feature
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Crater Lake in the summer | © sobolevnrm / Flickr
Crater Lake National Park is a must-see destination in the Pacific Northwest—and for good reason. The color of the water is jaw-dropping, and the views can’t be beaten. The lake sits in the caldera of Mount Mazama—a volcano that exploded with a force 42 times greater than Mount St. Helens almost 8,000 years ago. The heat’s intensity completely sealed the bottom of the caldera, creating a basin that turned into a pristine lake over thousands of years. The water in Crater Lake is some of the clearest in the world, and it’s the deepest lake in the whole country.

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