The Ultimate Guide to the 7 Wonders of Oregon

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Oregon is absolutely packed with amazing landscapes, from craggy sea stacks to ancient volcanoes and towering waterfalls. And while you could spend a lifetime exploring this gorgeous state, there’s actually an official bucket list- the 7 Wonders of Oregon- of the very best outdoor adventures that locals and visitors should check off during their time here.

But what are these incredible experiences and what’s the best way to see them? Keep on reading to find out everything you need to know to check off each of the 7 Wonders of Oregon!

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What are the 7 Wonders of Oregon?

While Oregon is bursting with amazing things to see and do, in 2013, Travel Oregon borrowed a page from the Seven Wonders of the World campaign and selected seven diverse experiences throughout the state that travelers should visit. The campaign was a smash success and now, visitors near and far (including myself!) try to hit all of these incredible sites. 

They are:

  1. Columbia River Gorge
  2. Crater Lake
  3. Mount Hood
  4. Oregon Coast
  5. Painted Hills of Oregon
  6. Smith Rock State Park
  7. The Wallowas
Cliffs along the Oregon Coast

In this post, I’m going to outline what each of these 7 Wonders of Oregon offer, the best time to visit, and exactly what to see and do at each of them to make sure you have the most epic time in Oregon.

So let’s get into it!

1. Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge, stretching about 90 miles from the town of Gresham to The Dalles, is the United States’ largest National Scenic Area- and offers more than 90 waterfalls in its footprint.

To explore the area, you’ll take the Historic Columbia River Highway, which was one of the first roadways in the United States that was specifically integrated into the natural beauty of the landscape it traverses (as opposed to simply cutting through it)- and accordingly, it was the first scenic highway in the country to be designated as a National Historic Landmark. 

The Columbia River Gorge is best known for its eye-popping number of waterfalls, but there are tons of other things to see and do here, from hikes through technicolor wildflowers in the springtime, winery hopping in Hood River, and dozens of fruit and veggie farms, like apple and pear orchards, where you can mosey around the gorgeous blooming trees and pick your own produce!

What to do at the Columbia River Gorge:

  • Did you even visit the Columbia River Gorge if you didn’t stop by Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s tallest waterfall, ringing in at a staggering 620 feet? While Multnomah Falls is definitely worth a stop, you can beat the crowds- and see five more waterfalls you’ll likely have all to yourself- by continuing on past Multnomah Falls to the Wahkeena Falls Loop hike.
  • Hit the trails- Dog Mountain is a challenging, yet gorgeous hike that provides epic views of the gorge below and, once you’ve reached the top, unmatched views of Mount Hood (plus it’s one of the most popular wildflower hikes during the spring in Oregon!).

    For something a bit easier, consider stopping by the Rowena Plateau Loop, with one of Oregon’s most iconic overlooks and panoramic views all the way up and down the river. 
Columbia River Gorge at sunset
  • There so many things to do in Hood River, the cutest town along the Columbia River Gorge, but one of the most unique is kiteboarding, which is basically like if sailing and skateboarding had a baby. There’s tons of kiteboarding schools in the area, like Cascade Kiteboarding, to help you get out on the river and kiting around like a pro in no time!

When to visit the Columbia River Gorge:

Most of the Columbia River Gorge can be visited year round, although you may occasionally run into some snow, come winter.
To see the waterfalls at their maximum flow, visit in the springtime or early summer- when you’ll also have the best chance of seeing colorful wildflowers blanketing the meadows surrounding the Columbia River.
Fall can also be a spectacular time to visit- not only because of the beautiful fall foliage, but most of the u-pick farms in the region will be open to harvest your own fruit, perfect for picking apples or berries and making some yummy treats at home with friends (much hygge vibes). 

Where to stay near the Columbia River Gorge:

I’d recommend either staying in the quirky city of Portland or, for a totally different vibe, Hood River, which mixes a small, historic downtown area with all the outdoor adventure your body craves. 

For Portland, consider staying at:

  • Hotel Lucia: An art-filled boutique hotel with accommodating staff and tons of perks, like a complimentary happy hour every day. Plus, it’s dog friendly!
  • Hotel Zags Portland: A very Portland-ish hotel- think a Gear Shed for its guests, where you’re welcome to rent bicycles or a ukulele, if the need so arises; a social room to play board games; and a bar (for which guests often receive credit just for staying at the hotel) with cocktails lovingly crafted by hand.

For Hood River, consider:

  • Westcliff Lodge: Surrounded by trees and with epic river views, this hotel feels wonderfully secluded. Its rooms are clean and comfortable, with handy amenities, like an in-room fridge and microwave.
  • Columbia Cliffs Villa Hotel: Almost all of the rooms here provide river views, so you can watch the kite surfers ride the waves some 200 feet below your window. This hotel has everything you need for a luxurious retreat- like deliciously plush robes- but is also just a mere mile from Hood River’s charming downtown area.

2. Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake is Oregon’s only U.S., National Park- and holds a number of other incredibly impressive accolades, like being the deepest lake in the United States (1,943 feet deep, to be exact!) or the ninth deepest lake in the world!

The lake was formed approximately 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama, a 12,000-foot-tall volcano, erupted and collapsed, leaving behind this enormous crater. Artifacts of the volcano remain today, like Wizard Island, the largest island within the lake, which is a 750-foot tall volcanic cinder cone.

Wizard Island in Crater Lake, one of the 7 wonders of Oregon

Beyond its gargantuan size, the lake is also known for its incredible blue color. Because the lake has no inlets and only gets its water from snow or rain, there’s no sediments or mineral deposits carried into the lake, allowing it to maintain its vibrant hue and making it one of the cleanest and clearest lakes on the planet!

What to do in Crater Lake:

  • Make the loop around Rim Drive, a 33-mile scenic drive around the lake, with plenty of incredible overlooks to stop and take in views of the 5-mile wide lake below. Be sure to stop at the Phantom Ship overlook, where you can see the oldest rocks rising out of the Crater Lake basin, erosion resistant volcanic spires that are 400,000 years old!
  • Hike the Watchmen Peak trail for absolutely epic views of Wizard Island below- plus it’s the best place to watch sunset in the park!
  • Did you know you can actually swim in Crater Lake? Just hike down the Cleetwood Cove Trail and jump into the clear, blue water. Word of warning, though- at the very height of summer, the water temperature only gets up to about 66°F- so be prepared to get chilly!

When to visit Crater Lake:

Crater Lake is actually one of the snowiest places in the entire country, receiving, on average, a whopping 42 feet of snow every year. Because of these harsh winters, many roads and other facilities are only open in the park from June through October.

There is another interesting element to consider during this timeframe, though. You may notice that most of our photos from Crater Lake look a bit smoky- that’s because, with the dry, arid climate of Crater Lake’s high desert environment, wildfires are quite common in the hot summers.

In fact, my husband and, Justin, and I have visited Crater Lake three times- in July, August, and October- and were chased out of the park both times by smoke from nearby fires. So if you plan on visiting Crater Lake in the summer, I’d recommend checking this Smoke Map before your visit to make sure you’ll have a clear view- and clean air to breathe!

If you’d prefer to avoid crowds, though, winter can still be a lovely time to visit the parts of the park that remain open throughout the year- just don’t forget to bring your snowshoes (Justin has these and I have these).

Cleetwood Cove in Crater Lake National Park, one of the 7 wonders of Oregon

Where to stay near Crater Lake:

  • Crater Lake Lodge: Built 1,000 feet above and overlooking Crater Lake, this historic facility offers rustic, yet cozy rooms and a wood-adorned lobby with plenty of board games to play with friends and family after a long day of hiking.
  • Aspen Inn: Impeccably clean and comfortable inn close to the park’s south entrance. The owners of the motel go above and beyond to make sure you have an incredible time in Crater Lake, with snowshoes, kayaks and other outdoor adventure gear at the ready for your enjoyment.
Pssst… while you’re visiting Crater Lake, be sure to make the short drive to relax in either the gorgeous Umpqua Hot Springs or McCredie Hot Springs as well!

3. Mount Hood

Towering at 11,239 feet, Mount Hood is the tallest mountain in Oregon- and the fourth highest peak in the Cascade Mountain range. It’s also a year round playground for outdoor enthusiasts, with breathtaking hiking and camping trails in the summertime (in fact, it’s the second most-climbed mountain on Earth, after only Japan’s Mount Fuji) and awesome skiing and snowboarding in the winter. 

Couple on the Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain trail overlooking Mount Hood, one of the 7 wonders of Oregon

While Mount Hood is the centerpiece of exploration in this area, there’s tons of gorgeous features around this volcano, from tranquil lakes and waterfalls to fruit and lavender farms, made even more picturesque with the mountain towering dramatically in the background. 

What to do at Mount Hood:

  • Try out any of the number of incredible Mount Hood hikes. My favorite is Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain, which provides the most epic view of Mount Hood you can imagine. Tamanawas Falls is another popular trail around Mount Hood, with a 110-foot cascade thundering over a volcanic rock cliff.
  • Rent a canoe or stand-up paddle board  from Hood Outfitters (or bring your own, like our trusty Intex Explorer K2 kayak) at Trillium Lake and paddle around, while gazing up at the massive volcano. Come in the morning to see a perfect reflection of the mountain in the lake’s waters!
  • If you’re visiting in the winter, join two-million other snow-seekers at Timberline Lodge, the mountain’s only true ski-in, ski-out resort or Mt. Hood Meadows, with an impressive three-mile long ski run and 2,777 feet of vertical drop.
Trillium Lake reflecting Mount Hood, one of the 7 wonders of Oregon

When to visit Mount Hood:

If you want to partake in non-snowy activities, it’s best to visit Hood between July and October, when its higher elevation hikes will be clear of snow and you’ll find wildflowers carpeting its meadows. January through March is the best time to catch fresh powder, although you can usually find snow at its very highest elevations year round (one of Timberline’s claims to fame is that it stays open 10 months of the year!).

Where to stay near Mount Hood:

  • Old Parkdale Inn: Charming bed and breakfast with incredible views of Mount Hood, unmatched service, and the comfiest beds this side of Mississippi.
  • Timberline Lodge: This historic lodge, completed in 1937, offers everything you’d want a cozy mountain resort to have- an outdoor heated pool that’s open year round, a hot tub, and sauna to relax in after a long day of exploring Mount Hood’s slopes.

4. Oregon Coast

Stretching 363 miles along Oregon’s western border lies some of the country’s most dramatic and wild coastline, with abundant sea life, rugged sea stacks, and the largest coastal sand dunes in the nation (stretching 40 miles long!). Beyond its beauty, the Oregon coast is super special for another reason- thanks to the Oregon Beach Bill, every single inch of Oregon’s coastline is publicly owned and freely accessible to all, the only state in the continental U.S. that offers these amazing protections.

View from Arch Rock lookout of Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor along the Oregon coast

While its natural beauty is unmatched, there’s also tons of unmissable charming Oregon Coast towns to be explored, like the iconic Cannon Beach, the ridiculously cute and colorful Old Town of Florence, or Newport, with more awesome breweries and restaurants than any city with less than 11,000 residents should possibly have.

What to do along the Oregon Coast:

  • Explore Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach, like tidepooling at low tide or observing the puffin colony that nests on the sea stack from April through July.
  • Visit any of the 11 lighthouses along the coastline- my favorite is the Heceta Head Lighthouse, the most cartoonishly adorable structure that’s been beaconing sea goers since 1894. 
  • Depoe Bay is one of the best places on the planet to see gray whales, who love to feed on the mysid shrimp and amphipods. You can join a Depoe Bay whale watching tour, like Whale Research EcoExcursion, from mid-March through the beginning of September, where you’ll head out on the water with a marine biologist to see these school bus-sized creatures up close and personal.
  • For the most dramatic and jaw dropping landscapes, head to the southern coastline, like Bandon or Brookings. For example, one of the best things to do in Bandon is explore Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, a beach with tons of sea stacks, arches, and caves. Alternatively, Brooking’s Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor offers some of the most quintessential Oregon Coast views, from its secluded Secret Beach to the pine tree-topped sea stacks of Natural Bridges.

When to visit the Oregon Coast:

The coastline is fairly temperate year round, making it a wonderful place to visit no matter the season. Most visitors flock here in summer months, when the weather is warmer and the skies are clear.

That being said, I actually think that visiting in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall can be quite lovely- not only is it less crowded and more affordable during these timeframes, but the gray skies and low hanging fog can accentuate the coastline’s mysterious beauty.

Couple having a beach campfire on Cannon Beach along the Oregon Coast

Where to stay along the Oregon Coast:

The Oregon Coast is quite long, so there’s no one particularly good place to stay to see the entire coast. I like to think of the coast in three sections: the northern, central, and southern coastline. If you have time, I’d plan doing an Oregon road trip so that you can explore them all!

  • If you’re visiting the northern coast (like Cannon Beach or Cape Kiwanda), consider a stay at Cannon Beach’s Hallmark Resort and Spa, which is basically as close as you can physically get to Haystack Rock AND offers hot cookies at check-in.
  • For the central coast (like the self-proclaimed whale-watching capital of Oregon, Depoe Bay, or Newport), consider a stay at Newport’s The Whaler, located in the adorable Nye Beach neighborhood, with ocean views from every single room and a hot tub to relax in.
  • For the southern coast (like Brookings or Bandon), consider a stay at Bay Point Landing, one of the quirkiest things to do in Coos Bay. At this eclectic resort, you can choose to stay in either Airstreams or gorgeous tiny cabins with huge glass windows and stunning bay views.
Couple looking at overlook at Cannon Beach
Pssst… we have a TON of information-packed posts about the Oregon coast and all of the incredible outdoor adventures you can have there to help you plan your next trip!

5. Painted Hills

The Painted Hills, in central Oregon, is the most famous of the three sections of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and offers one of the world’s best and most continuous collections of geological features (including fossils!) from the Tertiary Period, which spanned from about 50 million years to 5 million years ago. The Painted Hills’ vibrant soil and unique striations are remnants of the changing climate and volcanic eruptions millions and millions of years ago- and are one of the only places on the planet where you can see this kind of geological formation. 

Couple sitting on top of car in front of the Painted Hills of Oregon

Today, you can walk amongst the colorful hills and learn a little bit about the amazing science and history that cause this land to be otherworldly shades of red, green, purple, and orange.

What to do at the Painted Hills:

  • Hike the Painted Cove trail, with a short wooden boardwalk hovering over scarlet-hued earth, giving you an opportunity to get up close and personal with the colorful hills.
  • Take in the views at the Painted Hills Overlook, with otherworldly-looking hills of yellow, black, and brick red.
  • Explore the tiny and quirky town of Mitchell– make sure to stop by and grab a beer from Tiger Town Brewing Co.

When to visit the Painted Hills:

Central Oregon has a high desert climate and can get quite hot and dry in the middle of summer. As such, I’d recommend visiting either in the springtime (April or May) or in the fall (October through mid-November). Winter should be avoided, given that snow can often blanket the hills in the wintertime, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of seeing the hills’ colorful hues!

Wildflowers in front of the Painted Hills of Oregon

Where to stay for the Painted Hills:

I’d recommend visiting the Painted Hills as a day trip from one of my favorite towns on the entire west coast, Bend, which is a beer enthusiast’s and outdoor lover’s dream come true.

In Bend, consider:

  • Bunk and Brew: For those on a budget or looking to meet other travelers, this fun hostel highlights the incredible beer scene in town, with a complimentary beer upon arrival, and has fun events throughout the week, like a ski movie night.
  • Oxford Hotel: This stylish boutique hotel offers gorgeous views of the Cascades and is conveniently located just steps away from the city’s best breweries and restaurants.
Pssst… we have a whole guide for to the Painted Hills of Oregon, including tips to make the most of your visit!

6. Smith Rock State Park

If you’re anything like me, the word “Oregon” makes you think of lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and craggy cliffs. Smith Rock looks the complete antithesis of all that, with ashy volcanic rocky outcroppings jutting out of the desert-like ground below. 

Woman standing overlooking the Crooked River in Smith Rock State Park, one of the 7 wonders of Oregon

Smith Rock’s jagged spires make for epic rock climbing- in fact, there are over 1,000 bolted routes in the park and the park is considered the birthplace of U.S. sport climbing! And, even if you’re not into hanging off the side of a cliff, there’s plenty to see and do in the park, with miles and miles of excellent hiking and mountain biking trails and stunning wildlife (like golden eagles and river otters) to spot.

What to do in Smith Rock State Park:

  • The challenging Misery Ridge trail is one of the most iconic Smith Rock hikes, providing absolutely stellar views from its 3,360 foot summit of Smith Rock’s volcanic formations, the Crooked River, and even the Cascade Mountains.

    If you don’t feel like getting your butt kicked during your visit, the Canyon Trail is one of the park’s best hidden gems, offering shade, limited elevation gain, and a nice mixture of views along the trail (you’ll see climbers scaling Smith Rock’s walls, the Crooked River, and a ponderosa pine tree forest). 
  • If you’re a climber, you’ll be in absolute heaven here! Even if you’re a beginner, there’s a plethora of guides and schools that can provide rock climbing lessons, like the Smith Rock Climbing School or Chockstone Climbing Guides.
  • For a completely unique perspective of the park, book a hot air balloon ride over Central Oregon. While there’s no set route (did you know that hot air balloons quite literally just go where the wind takes them?), flights with Big Sky Balloon Company frequently fly over Smith Rock, other unique rock formations formed by Oregon’s volcanoes, and the Cascade Mountains.

When to visit Smith Rock:

I’d recommend visiting Smith Rock in either the spring or the fall, when the temperatures are moderate and without the insane crowds of summer. Winter can still be a great time to experience the trails in the park- just be sure to bring along microspikes and trekking poles for additional traction on the snow and ice.

Crooked River in Smith Rock State Park, one of the 7 wonders of Oregon

Where to stay around Smith Rock:

Bend coming in clutch again! Bend is just 30 minutes south of the park and an excellent homebase to explore Smith Rock and some of the incredible landscapes in the area. 

Consider staying at:

  • Riverhouse on the Deschutes: Overlooking the Deschutes River and offering maximum cozy vibes (like in-suite wood burning fireplaces and an outdoor hot tub), this is an excellent place to enjoy Bend’s natural beauty- but also is within close proximity to Bend’s charming downtown.
  • McMenamins Old St. Francis School: McMenamins is kind of a Pacific Northwest institution, turning old, unexpected buildings (like a 1930s Catholic school) across Oregon and Washington into funky boutique hotel experiences. The one in Bend is no different, with an onsite brewery, movie theater, and hot soaking pool. You haven’t really been to Oregon if you haven’t stayed at a McMenamins!
Sunset at Smith Rock State Park, one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon

7. The Wallowas 

The Wallowas Mountains have frequently been called “The Little Switzerland of America”, with snow-capped peaks, alpine lakes, and charming mountain towns. 

Wallowa Mountains towering over Wallowa Lake

This region is absolutely perfect perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. Take, for example, its Eagle Cap Wilderness, with a jaw-dropping 534 miles of hiking trails to be explored. Alternatively, you can find lower impact ways to explore the landscape, like taking the Wallowa Lake Tramway, zipping 3,700 feet up to the top of Mount Howard and offering panoramic mountain and lake views.

What to do in The Wallows:

  • Explore the town of Joseph, which feels like a cross between a European town, tucked in the mountains, and something you’d see in the Wild West. In its cute downtown, you’ll find coffee shops, award-winning chocolatiers, and several local art galleries.
  • Go on a hike- the Maxwell Lake trail will take you to the banks of a gorgeous alpine lake, surrounded by craggy mountain peaks.
  • Rent a glass-bottomed kayak or stand-up paddleboard from Jo Paddle and glide across the clear waters of Wallowa Lake.

When to visit the Wallowas:

If you’re looking to get up into the mountains, summer and fall is the best time to visit, when the high elevation hikes are snowfree and the days are sunny and clear.  If you’re a fan of snow sports, the Salt Creek Summit Sno-Park, just 30 minutes south of Joseph, can also be a great destination, come winter, for snowmobiling, Nordic skiing, and snowshoeing. 

Sunset over the Wallowa Mountains, one of the 7 wonders of Oregon

Where to stay for the Wallowas:

  • Eagle Cap Chalet: Located on the edge of the beautiful Eagle Cap Wilderness, this lodge offers a mix of clean and comfortable accommodations (cabins and hotel rooms), with friendly staff to make your stay as awesome as possible.
  • Mingo Motel: While this family-run motel may be a little on the older side, the rooms are spotless and extremely quiet- an excellent place to rest your head after a full day of adventuring in the mountains!

Have you been to any (or all) of the 7 wonders of Oregon? Which one is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!

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