Top Ten Things I Think Any Visitor to Oregon MUST See:
10. Rice Hill
Not a scenic wonder nor a historic site nor a cultural mecca. An Ice Cream place. The town of Rice Hill (which is in a valley, while Rice Valley, a few miles away, is up the hill. Don't try to figure it out) is a truck stop along I-5, along with a few other buildings. One of these, on the west side of the road, is a ramshackle old hamburger joint that also serves the most wonderful ice cream in the world -- Umpqua Dairy. Big cones and dishes, an amazing array of flavors, and local, natural ingredients. Any travel between the north end and the south end of Western Oregon requires that one stop here for some of the most decadent calories you'll ever meet.
9. Highway 126
This highway runs from Florence on the coast, east through Eugene, up over the cascades, through Bend. The section you don't want to miss is closed in winter, so visit it in the summer months -- the scenic drive through the Cascades. Home to Oregon's second highest waterfall (Salt Creek), lava beds, and some of the most spectacular mountain vistas in the state. Bring your dramamine and your camera!
8. Ashland, Oregon
Home to the Oregon Shakespeare festival, a world-class Shakespearean theater that rivals the Old Globe in San Diego or Stratford itself, set in Southern Oregon. Also home to beautiful Lithia Park.
7. Portland, Oregon
Yeah, I know, it's a city. But it's a beautiful city, and it's Mt. Hood-dominated skyline is one of the most picturesque in the country. Add to this a growing culinary scene, dozens of microbreweries, one of the best public transit systems around, and several features that could easily contend for a spot on this list on their own merit, including:
7a. The Grotto, a retreat center owned by the Roman Catholic Church, full of peaceful gardens, and one of the best views of the Cascades you can find without strapping on mountain climbing gear.
7b. Washington Park, the second largest city park in the US, and home to the Oregon Zoo, several museums, a traditional Japanese Garden, and the Portland Rose Test Garden, the world's most impressive array of roses. It's also the best spot to view and photograph the skyline and Mt. Hood in the distance.
6. Oregon Dunes National Monument
When the ocean erodes land from coastlines, all that earth has to go somewhere. This is where. Instead of eroding land, the Pacific Ocean depists sand here, creating the largest sand dunes in America -- 47 miles long, 5-10 miles wide, over 900 feet high. and they're growing. Bring your taste for 4-wheel drive vehicles. If you don't have your own, don't worry, there are rentals and guided tours galore.
5. Heceta Head
Just after the Dunes end just north of Florence, the coast range climbs skyward again, and you come to Heceta Head lighthouse, one of the most photogeninc, and arguably the most photographed lighthouses in the world. If you have a Lighthouse calnedar, you probably have picture of Heceta. In addition to a spectacular view OF the lighthouse, you get a pretty impressive view FROM the lighthouse -- as well as an informative tour from the volunteer docents. I was lucky enough to be there when one of them decided to display his bagpiping prowess last time I visited.
4. Oregon Caves National Monument
Not as big as Mammoth or Carlsbad caves, these caves are impressive nonetheless for several reasons. First, they are carved into granite, not limestone. Second, the caves were undiscovered even by Native Americans until the 1800's. And finally, the countryside around them is equally beautiful -- mountainous and forested. One more reminder that if you like the color green, this is a state you don't want to miss.
3. The Columbia River Gorge
On its course from Canada to the Pacific Ocean, the Coumbia River encounters a pretty impressive obstacle -- the Cascade Mountain Range. obviously, a river can't go over a mountain range, so the Columbia goes through -- in Gorgeous fashion (pun intended). I like to refer to the gorge as the Hudson River Valley of Oregon. The valley floor is dotted with low, rolling hills, bordered on each side by imposing basalt bloffs stretching away into mountains on either side. While the view from I-5 is impressive, to really enjoy the gorge you should take the Scenic byway. In addition, the gorge provides several spot which also could easily make this list on their own merit:
3a. Multnomah Falls is Oregon's tallest waterfall. The view of the falls itslef is impressive, and the view FROM the falls is worth the 1,000 foot high hike.
3b. Crown Point is a lookout point and provides the best view from the top of the gorge.
3c. Hood River, Oregon at the eastern end of the Gorge, the town of Hood River is located where its namesake feeds into the Columbia. It's home to one of the state's better breweries (Full Sail), and is the unofficial world capital of windsurfing.
3d. Bridge of The Gods this bridge connects the Oregon and Washington sides of the river, and is one of the prettiest pieces of architecture in the state.
3e. Bonneville Dam is not as big as Grand Coulee, but it's still impressive to see, and the fish ladders are a great place to view Northwest salmon and steelhead make their migrations.
2. Fort Clatsop
Forget "arguably", this is without a doubt the most historically significant place in the whole state. Do you like singing about "sea to shining sea?" Well this is where that second shining sea was added to the mix. Fort Clatsop is the site where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their Corps of Discovery spent the winter after reaching the Pacific. The fort itself is rather timy, two small buildings of three rooms each, set facing each other, with the ends connected by log palisades. But the museum has great exhibits, and the living history demonstrations are as entertaining as they are informative. This is as close as we get to the great historical sites of the east, and while nowhere near as old, its significance cannot be discounted.
And finally, the one place you must see if you see nothing else in the state whatsoever. If you know this state well, and you've been paying attention, you probably know what it is. So without further ado:
1. Crater Lake National Park
It's our only National Park, and while that doesn't seem right, if we only get one, it's fitting that this is it. As the name implies, Crater Lake is set in the crater of an extinct volcano, Mt. Mazama. At well over 1000 feet, it's the deepest fresh water in North America. The surrounding park is an impressive example of the arid high mountain pine forests of the eastern Cascades, but the real treat is cresting the rim of the crater and looking down on some of the most stunningly blue, pure water you'll ever see in your life. Take the rim drive, visit the Crater Lake lodge, and hike the trail down to the landing where you can take a boat tour out to Wizard Island, the old cinder cone of the volcano. You won't be sorry.