The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

A picture collage of four Oregon natural wonders.

Oregon has so many amazing natural wonders including the Oregon Dunes (clockwise from top left), Crater Lake, Mount Hood and Multnomah Falls. (Oregonian staff file)

Oregon has so many things to see and do. How do you pick the best options?

We’re here to help with the Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition. Basically, the places you really need to see around the state. You won’t find anything human-made here. You also won’t find (too many) recommendations for how to experience these places. That’s really up to you.

Of course, Oregon has so much more to offer than these 21 places. We’re curious what you think we should have included. We also want to hear about how many of these you’ve seen. Find us on social media and share your thoughts with hashtag #HereisOregon.

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Now, without further ado, Oregon’s most amazing natural wonders await.

See Crater Lake

Oregon’s only national park is a destination unlike any other in the state. It’s the deepest lake in the U.S., and the blue is so pure that no photo or video can do it justice.

An orange raft floats down a river

A beautiful curve in Crater Lake, seen from the Skell Head viewpoint. Views from Rim Drive in Crater Lake National Park. Jamie Hale/The Oregonian (Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)

Visit the Columbia River Gorge

This 80-mile stretch of the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington is nothing short of breathtaking. You can drive the length of it on Interstate 84, but for a more leisurely trip, try the Historic Columbia River Highway. Take note though: Depending on your location and time of year, you might need a permit to drive that stretch of road. Hiking trails and waterfalls await. You could also consider driving the Washington side of the Gorge for tremendous views of Oregon.

See Multnomah Falls from the top

It’s easy to see Oregon’s iconic Multnomah Falls. You can do that from 55 mph zipping past on Interstate 84, after all. But if you’re able, take the time and walk to the top. You’ll gain 700 feet in elevation over 2.2 miles of paved switchbacks, and it’s worth every step to watch the white water rush over the crest of the falls.

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A view of snow-covered Mount Hood from Portland, Oregon

Water gushes at Multnomah Falls Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (Mark Graves/The Oregonian)

Explore the Oregon Coast

Start in Astoria and work your way south on U.S. 101, or begin in California and head north. Either way, you’re in for a treat. Stops can (and should) include the Sea Lion Caves near Florence, Thor’s Well near Yachats, Haystack Rock in Pacific City and Cannon Beach. The Oregon Coast is one, long spectacular sight, and picking stops isn’t easy, but travel writer Jamie Hale has a guide to the 30 best beaches that should help a bit.

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

A hiking trail leads down to the beach near Hooskanaden Creek, following the Oregon Coast Trail. (Jamie Hale/Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)

Explore the tide pools at Haystack Rock

Cannon Beach’s Haystack Rock is one of Oregon’s most iconic sights on a coast that’s full of them. We don’t suggest picking just one stop on the Oregon coast (see above), but if you do, this might be it. This is one of Oregon’s most-photographed and well-known spots and you’ll quickly understand its draw once you see it up close at low tide.

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

The tide at Cannon Beach was so low Wednesday, July 3, 3019, that visitors were able to able to walk all the way around Haystack Rock. Beachgoers were able to explore tide pools and watch puffins nest in the rocks. (Mark Graves/Mark Graves/The Oregonian)

See the Wallowas

Thanks to most of the state’s population congregating in the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s volcanic mountains are well known (see: Mount Hood). But if you haven’t taken in the vistas of the Wallowas, you haven’t lived. Travel Oregon named the “alpine peaks” of the Wallowas one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon. We recently traveled to Joseph and have tons of recommendations for experiencing the area.

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

Incredible views of the Wallowa Mountains from Mount Howard, accessed by the Wallowa Lake Tramway in Joseph. (Jamie Hale/Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)

See Steens Mountain

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While you’re in eastern Oregon, take a jaunt down to Steens Mountain, a fault-block creation that looks nothing like the snow-covered peaks you see from Portland.

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

Steens Mountain is seen from the high desert on the eastern side of the fault-block mountain. Fields-Denio Road leads alongside this side of Steens. (Jamie Hale/Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)

Experience the Rogue River

One of Oregon’s wildest rivers is also one of its most scenic. You can take a jet boat from Gold Beach to experience the tamer end of the river. Or kayak through the whitewater if you know what you’re doing, or have someone who can guide you.

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

A rafter drifts down the Rogue River in the Klamath Mountains, seen from the Rogue River Trail above. (Jamie Hale/Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)

Visit Smith Rock State Park

Even if you aren’t a rock climber, Smith Rock is worth a visit. Trails are also available to take you to the top, though prepare for some steep inclines and declines. If you’re able, the hike to the top will reward you with spectacular views of central Oregon.

Visit the Oregon Dunes

You don’t need to get off road to see the dunes, but to really experience the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, try traversing them via all-terrain vehicle. Or better yet: Go sandboarding in Florence. Never heard of it? We have a story and video to get you up to speed.

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

A gray mist hangs over the Oregon Dunes near the John Dellenback Dunes Trailhead. (Jamie Hale)

Visit Mount Hood

There are endless options to see Mount Hood from various parts of the state. After all, it’s Oregon’s highest peak. We recommend a picturesque view from Trillium Lake, Lost Lake or Frog Lake, hiking near Timberline Lodge, or for the most experienced among us, climbing to its peak.

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

A view of snow-covered Mount Hood from Portland, Oregon after sunset on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian)

Visit Silver Falls State Park

It’s the largest state park in Oregon, and you can hike BEHIND a curtain of water at the South Falls. While that 7.2-mile Trail of Ten Falls loop is the park’s most famous, plenty of other waterfalls dot the park, which is home to bears and cougars in some of its more remote areas.

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The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

Afternoon sun illuminates yellow maple leaves at South Falls in Silver Falls State Park. (Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)

See Hells Canyon

The stunning canyon that separates Oregon and Idaho is the deepest river canyon in North America, besting even Arizona’s Grand Canyon.

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

Hells Canyon, seen from the Hat Point Overlook, located within the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in the northeast corner of Oregon. (Jamie Hale/Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)

Visit the Oregon Caves National Monument

Check out the caves in southern Oregon, of course, but one reader offered this great suggestion: “Hike to the top of the trail to Mount Elijah on a clear day and see wild irises, glacial cirques full of granite outcroppings and lilypads, and Mount Shasta hovering in full view.”

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve in southern Oregon. (LC- AlbrightD)

Hike to Blue Pool

Travel writer Jamie Hale recently highlighted Blue Pool as part of a story about the lovely McKenzie River Trail. Here’s what he had to say: About five miles south from Clear Lake, the McKenzie River runs into a natural dam, created by a lava flow about 1,600 years ago. Seeking another way down the mountains, the river water seeps up through the porous lava rock, forming Blue Pool. The beautiful, clear pool is a popular destination for day hikers and is one of the busiest spots along the McKenzie River Trail.

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

Blue Pool, also known as Tamolitch Falls, is a natural pool formed by water seeping up through porous rock that came from a lava flow that buried a three-mile stretch of the river. The pool is found on the McKenzie River Trail in Oregon’s central Cascade Mountains. (Jamie Hale/Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)

Visit the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

The Painted Hills are probably the most well-known part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, but they are definitely not the only part worth visiting. We’ll turn to Jamie Hale again (he’s literally been everywhere in Oregon). He highlighted Blue Basin as an overlooked attraction, saying: The blue-hued canyon is practically the definition of “otherworldly,” holding the power to transport any visitor to another place and time. The cerulean claystone ranges from bright blue to seafoam green depending on the sun.

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

Blue Basin is one of the more spectacular oddities in the John Day Fossil Beds of central Oregon. The blue-green claystone changes hues depending on the sunlight, and contains many ancient fossils. (Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)

Speaking of the Painted Hills…

One of Travel Oregon’s Seven Wonders, this is a sight to behold. Part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, the Painted Hills’ strata of reds, oranges, yellows, blues and greens are breathtaking and worth a visit (or two or three).

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

A cloudy sky casts gray light on the colorful Painted Hills, in the John Day Fossil Beds of central Oregon. LC- Jamie Hale/The Oregonian (Oregonian photo/LC- (photo courtesy of Jamie Hale))

See or climb Mount Thielsen

Southern Oregon’s Mount Thielsen – known as the lightning rod of the Cascades – is worth a visit. You can take one of Oregon’s Scenic Byways if you prefer seeing it on a drive (specifically, the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway) or get your gear and climb, like we did for Peak Northwest. Check out the video for a sense of that adventure.

Find the Alvord Desert

This dry lakebed in the far southeast corner of Oregon draws people who want solitude or who love speed. Go on the right day and you might see someone trying to set a land-speed record. Or maybe you prefer the solitude of the hot springs or just taking in the vast emptiness of the dramatic landscape.

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

Tire tracks lead through the Alvord Desert, a seasonally dry lake bed in the remote southeast corner of Oregon. Jamie Hale/The Oregonian (Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)

Take in the Owyhee Canyonlands

Located in a remote area of southeastern Oregon, this area is admittedly difficult to get to. But once you arrive, you’ll be blown away by the rugged landscape.

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

The Owyhee River flows through three states, but perhaps the most scenic stretch is found along Oregon’s eastern border, an area known as the Owyhee Canyonlands. (Terry Richard/The Oregonian)

Visit Newberry National Volcanic Monument

If you’re in Bend or Sunriver, this is a must. Even if you’re not, it’s worth the trip. You feel like you’re walking through time as lava beds surround you near the Lava Butte cinder cone. Or find your way to East Lake or Paulina Lake on the Newberry Volcano, which is about the size of Rhode Island. The area is otherworldly.

The Ultimate Oregon Bucket List: Natural Wonders Edition

The Big Obsidian Flow is a massive deposit of black obsidian and gray pumice, the result of a young 1,300-year-old lava flow at Newberry Volcano, today a part of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument south of Bend. An interpretive trail leads up to and through the flow. (Jamie Hale)

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