The state of Oregon offers some of the greatest natural landscapes in the country and even the world. While its known for its lush forests there are also stunning mountain ranges, rivers and beautiful coastline along the Pacific. If you’re visiting Oregon, you must explore some of the beautiful state and national parks that it offers. Here are a wide variety of some of the best places to visit and explore the outdoors in Oregon.

Best Oregon Parks

1. Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park is located in Western Oregon and has one of the deepest and clearest lakes in the world, which was formed over 7,000 years ago from the eruption of the Mount Mazama volcano, one of the largest environmental disasters seen by humans. This left a nearly 4,000-foot deep crater that was filled in by water from rainfall and the melting of snow. Crater Lake sits along the Oregon Cascades. When visiting the park, you can go on beautiful hikes around the 33-mile loop around Crater Lake and hike down trails to the water on the Cleetwood Clove Trail. You can explore the beautiful scenery here and take boat tours on the lake and see the clarity of the water. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the ninth-deepest lake in the world. It’s a scene of nature you’ll definitely never forget.

2. Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is an absolutely stunning 40-mile stretch of coastline and beach between the Coos and Siuslaw Rivers that holds the largest collection of coastal sand dunes in America that tower 500-feet above sea level. Here, there are abundant things to do whether you want to hike or horseback ride throughout the dunes and explore their wonder or you can drive through the sand dunes as well with off-roading vehicles. The areas for people on feet and those in vehicles are very well maintained and sectioned off by the park to keep the activities separated and safe. The Umpqua Dunes are the highest dunes offered in the park and are only for those on feet to explore and visitors can even do whale watching from the top of them as more than 18,000 grey whales migrate south along the Oregon Coast in December and January and north with their calves between the spring months from March until June. This is one of the most scenic spots in North America and definitely worth the trip.

3. Smith Rock State Park

In Central Oregon’s High Desert, you can find the picturesque Smith Rock State Park that truly offers some of the best rock climbing for all experience levels. There are an abundance of large rock cliffs made of tuff and basalt and the park offers hundreds of different routes for climbers and is known as the American birthplace of modern sport climbing. There are extremely advanced routes offered at Smith Rock, but there are also much easier routes for beginners and non-advanced climbers with many different rock climbing guiding companies throughout the area to help you along the way. Other than rock climbing, there are miles of hiking and biking trails and you can explore the Crooked River, which has great fishing as well. The best trail to take is known as Misery Ridge, which may sound daunting, but is a nearly 4-mile loop trail that offers some of the best views in Oregon of Smith Rock, the Crooked River Canyon, the peaks of the Oregon Cascades and more. It’s definitely a very ideal park for climbers, but those who don’t climb can explore the endless beauty the park has to offer as well.

4. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

In East-Central Oregon is the John Day Fossil Beds, a U.S. National Monument from the beautiful, bright colored hills with one of the best fossil deposits below them from the Cenozoic Era from 65 million years ago. There are three different parks in the national monument with the Sheep Rock, Painted Hills and Clarno. You can visit the wondrous fossil museum at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center and you can hike expansive trails throughout the John Day Fossil Beds that will take you back and time and give you a very unique, interesting experience. The most notable trails in the park are the Blue Basin Overlook Trail and the Island in Time Trail where you can experience the best of the entire park.

5. Valley of the Rouge River State Park

In the Southwest corner of Oregon, you can find the Valley of the Rouge River State Park, another electrifying scene of nature. The rushing river has fun rapids and salmon runs and you can explore it on rafts on a 35-mile downstream run, which is one of the best whitewater rafting experiences in the country. There is also great hiking especially on the Rogue River National Recreation Trail, which is located along the river for 80 miles. You can also fish Chinook, salmon and trout on the river. The best thing to do would be to take a rafting tour and complete it with a backpacking hiking along the river and it’ll be one of the best natural experiences you can get.

6. Ecola State Park

Ecola State Park stretches along 9 miles of coastline and offers outstanding sightseeing, hiking, and wildlife viewing as well as other great recreational activities with plenty of history as well. The park wraps around Tillamook Head, between Seaside and Cannon Beach. Ecola State Park is part of the Oregon Coast Trail and was part of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The beaches have stacks of beautiful rock formations along them and Haystack Rock is a beautiful scene for visitors. Ecola State Park is also a very popular surfing area. The Tillamook Head Trail is a great walking expedition to experience the nature offered by the park. You’ll experience great wildlife with deer and elk as well as eagles soaring around the park and in the winter and spring there may even be an opportunity to see migrating gray whales.

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This article was written by Cameron Lafontaine.