Discover a world of incredible natural wonders in this guide to the best places to visit in Oregon. These miracles of nature have earned Oregon a premium spot on the must-see list for landscape photographers, nature enthusiasts, and outdoor lovers from around the world.
With endless waterfalls and mountain ranges, savagely beautiful coastline, volcanic remnants, and countless one-of-a-kind geographic marvels, the hardest thing about making a list of the best natural places to visit in Oregon was deciding which places would NOT be on it!
The entire state could seemingly be considered a National Park. With international travel looking near-impossible for the foreseeable future, it might be time to consider a staycation exploring Oregon’s inspired natural beauty.
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Best Places to Visit in Oregon for Nature Overview
There are so many spectacular places to visit in Oregon that the list could be endless. However, I’ve tried to be decisive and have included what I consider to be the top 16 natural wonders of Oregon, all of which are deserving of a place on your Pacific Northwest itinerary.
I’m sure everyone’s list would differ slightly, so leave me a comment and let me know if you think I’ve missed somewhere or what you’d include on your list!
Before you dive into the must see places, you may also want to queue up our complete guide on all things to do in Oregon. This extensive guide covers the best Oregon destinations by region and is the most extensive state travel guide you will find.
1. Crater Lake National Park
Photography Destinations: Visitor Center, Sun Notch, Phantom Ship, Watchman Overlook
In what is arguably the most beautiful state in the country, how can there be only one National Park?
While this feels like a bit of a slight as a native Oregonian, I must admit that the one place they’ve honored with the distinction is more than worthy. Crater Lake is an absolute dream destination that should be on everyone’s travel bucket list.
The National Park Service was formed to preserve places of unspeakable natural beauty, and Crater Lake could be defined as exactly that. A world-changing volcanic eruption has left in its wake one of the deepest lakes and bluest lakes in the world, and is one of the coolest places in Oregon.
It is easily the most beautiful Oregon destination year-round. In the winter, it is the perfect place for snowshoeing for beginners. They even have a free ranger-led snowshoeing tour!
In the summer months, the park opens up allowing for scenic drives and hikes, and you can even swim in designated areas of the lake.
If you are creating an itinerary of must-see places in Oregon looking for that premier Pacific Northwest nature, you absolutely need to visit Crater Lake National Park.
2. Painted Hills of Oregon
Photography Destinations: John Day National Monument
The Badlands of South Dakota may get the distinction of being a National Park, but Oregon has its own claim to fame in the department of erosive beauty!
The Painted Hills unit of John Day National Monument is a remote region in Central Oregon that feels like another planet. Striped landscapes in all variety of color emote a sense of wonder and excitement, earning it a spot on the 7 Wonders of Oregon list.
Considering a trip? First check out our Complete Visitor Guide to the Painted Hills of Oregon to prepare you for your visit, provide photo inspiration, and explain everything you need to know prior to making the journey.
Few places like the Painted Hills of Oregon exist anywhere in the world, which is what earns the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument the number two spot on our list of the best Natural places to visit in Oregon.
Due to its extremely remote setting, the Painted Hills also live under some of the clearest and darkest skies in Oregon. Aspiring night photographers and casual stargazers alike will fall in love with the summer displays of celestial beauty here.
3. Cape Perpetua
Photography Destinations: Thor’s Well, Overlook
*If you wish to photograph this national treasure, please first consult and study this Ultimate Guide to Thor’s Well to ensure a safe and successful visit.*
While Samuel H. Boardman is the best place to visit in Oregon for coastal splendor, Cape Perpetua is home to one of the greatest natural wonders you will discover anywhere in the world in Thor’s Well.
Thor’s Well is a dangerous, hair-raising place to photograph, but the reward is unmatched. At first glance, you may think the Pacific Ocean sprung a leak! Be warned, however, that the danger to personal safety and especially your equipment is very real.
While Thor’s Well is the most notable natural sight to see in the region, Cape Perpetua is more than this one incredible feature. There are a variety of intoxicating wilderness walks and other interesting coastal phenomenons such as Spouting Horn and Devil’s Churn to discover.
It also happens to be a spectacular place for stargazing and astrophotography!
If an oceanside road trip is on your mind, have a look at our complete list of the Best Locations to Visit on the Oregon Coast.
4. Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor
Photography Destinations: Secret Beach, Whaleshead Beach, Arch Rock Viewpoint
It is difficult to the words to describe the natural marvels that await hikers, photographers, and ocean lovers in the 10-mile stretch of coastline known as Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor.
Suffice to say that not only is Samuel H. Boardman one of the absolute best places to visit in Oregon, but I contend that it is the most photogenic coastline in the entire world!
Sorry New Zealand, that’s just how I feel.
From Whaleshead Beach to the hidden gem at Mack Point, Samuel Boardman corridor is one of the most beautiful places in Oregon. This entire section of the state is filled with dramatic sea stacks and natural marvels you have to see to believe.
For more specific information regarding the where and when, you may find our guide to Southern Oregon Coast Photography Locations useful.
5. Columbia River Gorge
Photography Destinations: Multnomah Falls, Oneonta Gorge
Multnomah Falls is the tallest, most visited, and most beautiful waterfall in Oregon. It is considered the crown jewel of the Columbia River Gorge, which is one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon (a list reserved for the best Oregon nature.)
If waterfall chasing is big on your list of things to do during your visit, this is a must-see destination. In fact, Multnomah Falls was unanimously awarded the #1 spot on the list of the Best Waterfalls in Oregon.
However, the Columbia River Gorge has a lot more to offer than this one iconic stop. In fact, it has the highest density of waterfalls in North America, with some such as Horsetail Falls and Ponytail Falls visible right from the roadside!
Outdoor enthusiasts will delight in the variety of nature trails available for exploration. Unfortunately, some of the most popular hikes (including Oneonta Gorge) have been closed since the Eagle Creek fire torched much of the Gorge in 2017.
There are also many tour options for Columbia River Gorge and Multnomah Falls; explore several waterfalls on a half-day group tour, visit Multnomah Falls as part of a full-day winery tour, or even take to the skies and enjoy a scenic flight over Multnomah Falls!
Want more waterfalls? You may also enjoy our guide to the Best Waterfalls in Oregon
6. Smith Rock State Park
Photography Destinations: Misery Ridge Trail, River Trail, Canyon Rim
I would argue that Smith Rock is the best state park in the entire country. However, there are some people in Utah who may take issue with that.
Regardless of its ranking, the unique beauty of Smith Rock cannot be debated or overstated. In fact, it has even be recognized as one of the official 7 Wonders of Oregon.
In addition to being one of the most coveted places to visit in Oregon for landscape photographers, it is also one of the most popular destinations in the US for rock climbers.
The best views in Smith Rock State Park are achieved via the Misery Ridge Trail. This short but grueling hike delivers you to the highest vantage points available in the park. From here, you can walk around to the far side and experience sweeping panoramic views of Monkey Face, Mesa Verde, and all sorts of distant mountains.
If hiking is not your thing, the views are also stunning directly from the parking area.
7. Mt Hood
Photography Destinations: Lost Lake, Lawrence Lake
Mt Hood is to Northern Oregon as Mt Mcloughlin is to Southern Oregon. Both are large, isolated volcanoes that rise up triumphantly to adorn distant vistas.
As the cities of Northern Oregon have a much higher population density than their Southern counterparts, Mt Hood sees a lot more visitors as it is a popular day trip from Portland for nature lovers.
It also happens to stand about 2000 feet taller than Mcloughlin at 11,250′ elevation. Couple the above factors with the longevity of its snow caps due to its Northern latitude and colder temperatures, and you’ll understand why it has out-ranked Mt Mcloughlin on the list of natural places to visit in Oregon.
While viewing Mt Hood from the city should definitely be on your Portland itinerary, I highly recommend taking a closer look! Night photographers love the astrophotography opportunities from Lost Lake, which is also a fantastic place to photograph sunrise.
You can even opt to take a scenic flight over Mt Hood and the Columbia River Gorge for a truly unique experience!
Wondering what equipment you need for better photos? See our personal recommendations here: Best Camera Gear for Travel Photography
8. Alvord Desert
Photography Destinations: Salt Flats, Pillars of Rome
This is the only place on our list that I have not actually been to! The primary reason for this is that the Alvord Desert is located in the Southeast corner of the state, en route to pretty much nowhere.
That said, the remote nature of the Alvord Desert is exactly what makes it one of the coolest places to visit in Oregon! The sun-scorched, cracked earth of the salt flats and mud flats make for a dramatic foreground as the Steens Mountain range rise up in the distance.
This has become a popular place for a variety of activities that make use of the wide-open space.
Additionally, the absolute lack of major cities for hundreds of miles makes this one of the least light-polluted areas you will find anywhere in the country, attracting stargazers from around the country.
If you are planning a trip to the remote Southeast region or considering it, we have listed the top destinations in our extensive Things to Do in Oregon guide.
9. Silver Falls State Park
Photography Destinations: South Falls, Lower South Falls, North Falls, Middle North Falls
Located conveniently just over an hour from Portland, a visit to Silver Falls State Park makes for the perfect day trip from the city. Considered the crown jewel of the Oregon state park system, Silver Falls is home to rich green rainforest alongside creeks with a series of majestic waterfalls.
Take the impressive 7.8 mile Trail of Ten Falls hike and weave through the forest of towering douglas fir, verdant ferns, lichen, and moss, as you discover the 10 waterfalls that give the trail its name.
Silver Falls is the perfect place to practice long-exposure photography and hone your skills, creating silky-smooth images of the several cascades. You can even walk behind four of the waterfalls for added diversity to your photos.
Although Silver Falls is beautiful year-round, it is truly spectacular in fall when the autumn foliage adds an extra burst of golden color.
While the Umpqua National Forest also offers a similar experience, what pushed Silver Falls State Park into the 9th spot above it is the ability to see so many thundering waterfalls along one hike. Additionally, its proximity to Portland makes it a popular Northern Oregon destination to get out into nature.
10. Umpqua National Forest
Photography Destinations: Toketee Falls, Watson Falls
If you ask someone who has never been to Oregon what they would expect it to look like, they will unknowingly describe the Umpqua National Forest. Unspoilt wilderness, towering waterfalls, looming mountains, and endless rivers and streams abound.
I will touch on the absolute must-see places to visit in Oregon’s Umpqua National Forest here, but I highly recommend making this part of an Oregon road trip.
To makes things easy on you, we have created a guide to the Waterfalls in Southern Oregon. In it, you will find the perfect road trip itinerary and route, as well as all the highlights along the way.
Even if your visit won’t include time for much, the places every visitor should see include Toketee Falls, Watson Falls, and ideally, a visit to Toketee Hot Springs.
Planning a trip to Southern Oregon? Waterfall chasers will also appreciate our guide to Southern Oregon Waterfalls.
11. Central Oregon High Desert
Photography Destinations: Three Sisters, Volcanic Legacy
The Oregon High Desert region generally encompasses much of Central Oregon near Bend and Sisters. This is truly one of the most beautiful places to visit in Oregon for nature lovers, and somewhere I personally hope to call home one day!
Anyone who has ever been to Bend and explored the area has surely felt the jaw-dropping, nose-to-glass feeling as every twist in the road seems to reveal another snow-capped mountain or cinder cone or other visual wonders.
Couple the unbeatable nature with a world-renown beer scene (aka the Ale Trail) and you will understand why Bend is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country.
On top of that, Bend makes for the perfect, centrally-located home base when visiting other Oregon destinations. You’ll find a range of accommodation in Bend and one of the best glamping spots in the state!
Come for a week or a lifetime, as no amount of time will ever be enough to truly appreciate everything the Oregon High Desert region has to offer in natural beauty.
12. Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
Photography Destinations: Sparks Lake, Devils Lake, Todd Lake
Central Oregon is a legitimate treasure trove of natural beauty. Rather than trying to pick out individual places to visit, I opted to rank them by region.
One of the most popular vacation destinations in the state is Sunriver. Located at the base of Mt Bachelor, Sunriver is a maze of older homes that are rented out for visitors hoping to enjoy seasonal outdoor activities.
Sadly, so many of these travelers fail to realize the beauty they are missing off the slopes! The Cascade Lakes is either a scenic detour along Hwy 46, or a 61-mile loop beginning and ending in Sunriver.
Explore a myriad of pristine lakes with stunning mountainous backdrops along the drive. Of note, my runner-up prizes for “most beautiful” go to Todd Lake and Devils Lake.
If you are a nature or landscape photographer, the one place you must visit on the Cascade Lakes drive has to be Sparks Lake. As popular as it is for sunset and even night photography, I feel sunrise is by far the best time to visit. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Sparks Lake is the best place in Oregon to photograph sunrise!
13. Mt Mcloughlin
Photography Destinations: Willow Lake, Fish Lake
This may once again be a Southern Oregon bias, but I boast confidence in the decision to honor Mt Mcloughlin, formerly Mt Pitt, on the list of the best places to visit in Oregon for nature lovers.
While far from the tallest mountain peak in Oregon, what makes Mt Mcloughlin so marvelous is its isolation. The first time most people will experience its grandeur is on an otherwise inauspicious drive South on the I5 freeway.
As you arrive at the top of Blackwell Hill, the view opens up and there you see the snow-capped peak of Mt Mcloughlin looming majestically above the Rogue Valley.
There are a few trails available for visitors interested in summiting the mountain, but I personally prefer to photograph at it from the ground.
If you are looking to explore the region, Willow Lake and Fish Lake are two of the most beautiful places to visit in Oregon for viewing Mt Mcloughlin.
Planning a trip through Southern Oregon? Find inspiration in our guide to:
Southern Oregon Photography Locations
14. Mckenzie Pass
Photography Destinations: Proxy Falls, Tamolitch Blue Pools
The Mckenzie Pass is only open seasonally. However, it still sees its fair share of visitors when the snow has thawed and the sun is shining!
The most popular reason for visiting used to be the idyllic waterfalls for which Oregon is known. Sahalie and Koosah Falls, being the most accessible and extremely impressive, perhaps saw the most tourists, while the magnificent Proxy Falls was the favorite Oregon destination for landscape photographers.
That all changed some years ago when a viral video surfaced bringing the often-neglected Tamolitch Blue Pools to the public eye. Since that time, this small but impossibly-blue forest oasis has become one of the most popular places to visit in Oregon.
15. Florence Sand Dunes
Photography Destinations: Jessie M Honeyman State Park
The Oregon Sand Dunes of Florence are one of the most popular places to visit in Oregon for motor-enthusiasts looking for a weekend adventure.
While most of the Oregon coast is famously rocky, the coastline along this stretch is filled with hills of silky white sands and sparse vegetation.
There are many access points for those looking for adventure sporting, but fewer options for landscape photographers and family picnickers.
As a kid, one of my earliest memories of Oregon is laboring to climb up to the top of the dunes, only to descend with giant leaps into pillowy soft landings. To this day, it is the closest I have felt to being able to fly!
16. Table Rock
Photography Destinations: Kirtland Road Pear Orchards
Perhaps it is with some Southern Oregon bias that Table Rock has made its way onto the list of the best natural places to visit in Oregon. After all, I have driven by this eye-popping feature more times than I can count growing up in the Rogue Valley.
Then again, as I scroll through the images above, my confidence is restored in the integrity of this ranking. The volcanic plateaus known as Upper and Lower Table Rock are a beautiful place to hike, picnic, or just marvel at from afar.
Discover all of my favorite places to photograph in Southern Oregon here.
Photographing the Most Beautiful Places in Oregon
As you have seen, Oregon is home to some incredible natural wonders that you will undoubtedly want to photograph to treasure forever.
While it is possible to capture some great photos nowadays with smartphones, for the best possible photos you may want to consider a few key pieces of photography gear:
- Camera: We use the Sony a7riii and highly recommend it. However, beginners may wish to consider an entry level DSLR.
- Lens: The lens we use most frequently is the Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS as the zoom lens allows for the most diversity. We also often use the Laowa 15mm F2 for shots that require a wider angle and night photography.
- Tripod: A tripod is essential if you are shooting in low light, at night or for any other long exposure photography. When traveling, we use the Manfrotto Be Free as it’s lightweight and easy to carry on longer hikes. For times when we require something more stable, we use the Artcise Carbon Fiber Tripod.
- Filters: A Circular Polarizing (CPL) filter (CPL) or Neutral Density (ND) filter are very useful for allowing slower shutter speeds and for cutting glare on reflective surfaces, helping to bring out the colors. The best CPL and ND filters we have found are the quartz line from Polar Pro.
Other Oregon and PNW Guides
We have a variety of guides that feature the incredible natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Browse the list below to find other helpful travel guides, as well as instructional guides for learning photography.
Additionally, you are welcome to browse our Oregon photography gallery if you are interested in purchasing fine-art prints or just want more inspiration .
- The Best Things to Do in Oregon: The Complete Guide
- The Official 7 Wonders of Oregon Ultimate Guide
- Top 10 Places to Visit on the Oregon Coast
- The Most Magical Waterfalls in Oregon
- Painted Hills of Oregon Complete Guide (one of the 7 wonders of Oregon)
- Thors Well Complete Guide (an Oregon hidden gem and world wonder!)
- Trail of Ten Falls – Silver Falls State Park
- Southern Oregon Coast Photography Guide
- Best Places to photograph in Southern Oregon
- Southern Oregon Waterfalls Guide & Roadtrip Itinerary
NorCal / Washington Regional Guides
- Things to do on a Northern California Road Trip
- Guide to Shasta-Trinity National Forest
- Burney Falls Camping Guide
- Photographing Olympic National Park
Instructional Guides to Photography
Final Thoughts on the Best Natural Places to Visit in Oregon
In a place gifted with such natural beauty as Oregon has been, there will always be room for debate on which places deserve a spot on the Top 16… and we welcome it! If there is anything we missed, please let us know what you would vote in and (what would be taken out) in the comments below.
As you may have noticed, there is a lot of love for Southern Oregon on here. As a Rogue Valley native, I have spent a lot of time exploring the area and think it is often overlooked by visitors.