Best Oregon Summer Trips: Our Top 25 Travel Destinations in Oregon

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Sea Lion Caves, Florence; the height of a 12-story building and the length of a football field, the sea lion cave north of Florence is a hulking treasure of groaning mammals. / Photo by Brent McGregor

Oregon’s greatest asset is its diversity of outdoor recreation possibilities. Limiting any Oregon must-do list to 25 items isn’t an easy task. A hundred would be more like it. That noted, these 25 outings are the essentials. If you haven’t done any of them, you’ve got your work cut out for you. If you’ve done some of them, you’ll find some interesting pursuits that you may not have considered. Every summer, find two or three major outings and enjoy them to the fullest. So whether you walk, gawk, hike, ride, surf or paddle, you’ll go home from any Oregon outdoor experience the better for

Our top Oregon trip: at play on the Oregon Coast


Riding a dune buggy, hiking the ten miles of unobstructed beach, frolicking on the sands of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area are but three of many attractions near the quaint seaside town of Florence. Others include the sea lion caves north of Florence and the historic Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

WHITEWATER/CLEAR WATER

Take crystal clear cold water, mix in verdant riverside foliage and bright sun, and you have whitewater rafting on the North Umpqua River. It’s a drop-pool river with the rush of each rapid followed by calm waters and time to sightsee.

HIGH LAKES DRIFTER

With snow-covered mountains serving as a backdrop, Central Oregon’s forested, clear water High Cascade Lakes offer a myriad of paddle opportunities for kayakers and canoeists. Good campgrounds, fishing and photo ops are bonuses.

BE A CULTURE VULTURE

From Shakespearean drama performed outside to new plays and classic revivals done indoors, musical theater, fine restaurants, and a bucolic setting, Ashland delivers theater and apres-theater in spades. And for a change of pace from Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival, head over to nearby Jacksonville for music–classical to jazz, blues and folk–in the Britt Festival‘s outdoor amphitheater.

SINGLETRACK NIRVANA

Considered a classic by mountain bike riders nationwide, the McKenzie River Trail follows the river for 26 miles through a dense old-growth forest and past spectacular Sahalie and Koosah Falls. While the trail is technically challenging at its start, it moderates and finishes easy and fast.

CASTING TO REDSIDES

Cutting through Oregon’s dry side east of the Cascades, the Deschutes River gets its name from its many falls but its reputation from its hard-fighting native “Redside” rainbow trout. Single-day to multi-day fly-fishing float trips take anglers into the heart of the river’s steep walled basaltic column cliffs.

LINKING UP

The closest thing to true Scottish links golfing in America is Bandon Dunes on the southern Oregon coast near Bandon. Here the wind howls and each shot demands steely reserve. Designed by Scotsman David McLay Kidd, Bandon Dunes is for walking with a caddy. Companion courses (Pacific Dunes, Bandon Trails and Old McDonald) make for equally impressive play.

TROLLING ASTORIA

Once dubbed “The San Francisco of the north” for its hills and colorful Victorian-style houses, Astoria is rich with history. Ride the trolley to the Columbia River Maritime Museum, watch cargo ships from a riverside hotel room, experience incredible dining and then hike to the Columbia Column and feel like Lewis and Clark might have on their first viewing of the Pacific Ocean.

A ROUGISH HIKE

Days on the trail and nights in lodge comfort make hiking the 44-mile Rogue River Trail truly memorable. The trail parallels the Wild and Scenic Rogue and can be done in four leisurely days. Raft-supported camping is another possibility. And if hiking doesn’t appeal, raft the river and stay in lodges or camp.

MAKING A LOOP

Starting and finishing in historic Frenchglen, the Steens Mountain Loop Road wends its way through the waterfowl and songbird rich Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, past Fish Lake and then across the mountain’s broad spine. To the east the Alvord Desert fans out to the horizon almost a mile below, while to the west, Big and Little Indian gorges carve deep into the landscape.

A CASE OF QUILT

For one July weekend every year, the town of Sisters transforms itself into a quilter’s paradise. Quilt-makers from all over the world descend on the town to display outdoors some 1,200 quilts, sell them, attend seminars on quiltmaking and pass along the lore of this folk art.

HANGING TEN

Surfing and Oregon actually do go together, especially at Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City. Popular with long- and short-boarders, the cape break also attracts kayak surfers. The Pelican Pub and Brewery is a great beachfront destination for the land-lubbers, who would rather watch surfers from a safe distance.

WHERE’S WALDO?

Considered one of the world’s clearest bodies of water, Waldo Lake is special to sailors, kayakers and canoeists. For mountain bikers and hikers, the 16-mile trail around the lake is challenging but the camping is easy.

ART WALKING JOSEPH

Beneath the rampart of the Wallowa Mountains, Joseph has, on first impression, the look of a typical one-horse Western town. A walk around reveals art galleries and foundries and the realization that this is one art-centric town. Apart from art, there’s camping at majestic Wallowa Lake, rafting Hell’s Canyon and quenching your¬†thirst with ales at the Terminal Gravity microbrewery in nearby Enterprise.

MOUNTAIN BIKING THE HOOD

Singletrack trails that snake through a dense old-growth forest and run alongside roaring streams arriving at vistas of snow-capped Mount Hood make for some of Oregon’s most memorable mountain biking. Circumnavigating Oregon’s signature volcanic peak is now also possible via a system of huts.

BACKPACK THE SKY LAKES

Nearly 117,000 acres of high alpine country dotted with lakes make up the Sky Lakes Wilderness northeast of Ashland. Near volcanic Mount McLaughlin, the Wilderness is accessible to day hikers but best experienced on multi-day lake-to-lake backpacking sojourns.

CYCLE THROUGH HISTORY

Cycling from La Grande to Baker City the “back way” along State Highway 203 takes riders through historic Union with its stately old Victorian homes and National Historical Register downtown buildings, and along Catherine Creek past Medical Springs and Hot Lake in the core of Oregon’s historic gold mining country.

WINE BY BIKE

Not that long ago Oregon burst on the worldwide wine scene with prize winning Pinot noirs. Now the state’s number of varietals and wineries has grown. Touring the rolling hills of the wine country by bicycle allows for more time to drink in the scenery not to mention the fruits of the winemaker’s labor.

GET A GRIP AT SMITH ROCK

In the early 1980s, Smith Rock was a little-known Central Oregon rock formation home to the new “sport” climbing style. Fame came quickly as short technical routes became popular. That popularity has not faded as climbers have put up routes for all abilities on Smith Rock’s welded tuff.

STRUMMING ALONG

Old time fiddlin’ and pickin’ are what July’s Wheeler County Bluegrass Festival is all about. The event is free and when not playing or listening, the nearby John Day Fossil Beds and the Painted Hills are worth a visit.

BIRDING BY BOAT

A sure way to get close to incredible numbers of waterfowl is to paddle the marked, self-guided canoe/kayak trails on the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and the Klamath Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Both are famous for waterfowl and hundreds of other species of avian life.

TUMBLING WATERS

Along a short stretch of the historic Columbia River Gorge Highway 30 (just off I-84) are a series of pristine waterfalls. Make a short walk to Horsetail, Wahkeena and Latourell falls or take a long hike alongside Bridal Veil and spectacular 620-foot Multnomah Falls.

SURFING THE GORGE

As summer winds howl up and down the Columbia River Gorge, it becomes a worldwide windsurfing and kiteboarding mecca. And what better place for post-river outings than laid-back, friendly Hood River.

AGE OF AQUARIUS REVISITED

Tie-dye maybe be out of style most places but, in Eugene, during the April to November regular Saturday Markets, it’s a high fashion statement. The market features crafts, music, food, locally grown produce and, what else, hipster apparel.

PUB CRAWL PORTLAND

The heart and soul of the American microbrewery revolution, Portland’s lively local beer-making scene and its products are best sampled on a well-planned evening pub crawl. That, or make a daytime tour to see what it takes to make a craft brew.

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