Oregon is a state to get out and explore. From snow-capped mountains, barren dry desert lowlands, dense forests, and rocky coastal beaches, the state provides visitors varied and remarkable scenery for outdoor recreation. Whether it is scenic driving, car camping, or an all-out backpacking trip in Oregon’s thousands of acres of protected wilderness, Oregon rewards all who venture out and explore its land. These trips highlight the best of Oregon and are prime destinations for getting out and exploring this state.
There is no substitute for the connection made with nature when you set out on a long hiking trail and are deeply immersed in an old-growth forest. There is also no finer down-time than relaxing around a campfire and listening to the coyotes howl from across the foothills. Oregon is so abundant with life, it is possible to experience this and so much more. Below are Oregon Photo Guide’s 10 Treasures of Oregon™ which feature the top destinations for you to explore and make your own outdoor adventure:
10. Leslie Gulch
Leslie Gulch, in remote southeastern Oregon, is a top destination for outdoor enthusiasts seeking towering and colorful geological formations. The area encompasses more than 11,000 acres highlighted by the Leslie, Timber, Slocum, Juniper, Dago, and Runaway gulches managed by the Bureau of Land Management as an area of Critical Environmental Concern to protect the outstanding landscape scenery and habitat of California bighorn sheep and several rare and endangered plant species. Leslie Gulch is more impressive than many State Parks and deserves protection for its fragile environment. Yet its remoteness is likely what has preserved its fragile beauty and keeps it a lesser-known treasure for those seeking solitude.
Continue to the full guide… Leslie Gulch
9. Bandon Beach
Bandon is a small coastal town on the southern Oregon coast. Well-known for its scenic beauty, photographers and nature enthusiasts alike enjoy its dramatic coastline, which is reputed to have some of the most striking beaches in the entire Northwest. Filled with coastal rocks, islands, and rocky outcroppings or “sea stacks” sprinkled throughout the landscape; Oregon photography opportunities are not only endless, but impressive. A few of the notable formations in the area are Face Rock, Haystack Rock, Coquille Rocks, Elephant Rock, and Table Rock. Face Rock is one of the most photographed monolithic formations in the area. As the name implies, you can make out the profile of an uplifted face from the sea. Visitors can easily find Face Rock by driving along Beach Loop Drive and parking at the Face Rock Viewpoint with access down to the coastline. With classic coastal imagery including numerous rock formations, bountiful tide pools, crashing waves, and silvery sand, it offers the essentials for a remarkable experience at the Oregon coast.
Continue to the full guide… Bandon Beach
8. Fairy Falls
A hike to Fairy Falls in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge is an opportunity that many landscape photographers and outdoor enthusiasts make year after year. Fairy Falls is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Oregon as its unique image is quite frequently published in many books and calendars. As the hike to Fairy Falls starts at the Wahkeena Falls Trailhead, Wahkeena Falls is a destination of its very own. However, the main attraction is the 2 mile round trip hike up to Fairy Falls with its stunning fan-shaped appearance. Once you reach Fairy Falls you can also head out to Larch Mountain, Devil’s Rest, and Angel’s Rest by connecting to various hiking trails intertwined in the area. The spectacular scenery along the way highlights the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge.
Continue to the full guide… Fairy Falls
7. Smith Rock State Park
Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon’s high dessert attracts hikers, climbers, photographers, and nature enthusiasts far wide throughout the Pacific Northwest. Located in Terrebonne, Oregon, Smith Rock is widely considered a rock climbing mecca with over 500,000 annual visitors. Generally regarded as the birthplace of modern American sport climbing the park hosts top cutting-edge climbing routes. There are countless climbs in the park with more than a thousand being bolted routes. Not just a destination for rock climbers and hikers, Smith Rock also offers miles of mountain biking trails and also makes a great stop for a picnic with the family. Winding around the park is the truly majestic and looping Crooked River offering many top photography shots. Smith Rock State Park encompasses approximately 650 acres of the Oregon High Desert. Slightly reminiscent of Yosemite National Park, the geological formations are Oregon’s mini-version of other state’s mighty rocky landscapes. Smith Rock is a treasure of Central Oregon.
Continue to the full guide… Smith Rock State Park
6. North Fork John Day Wilderness
The North Fork John Day Wilderness along the North Fork John Day River Trail deep in Oregon’s Blue Mountain gold rush country is prime backpacking country. The 25 mile-long trail follows the John Day River downstream through a rimrock canyon featuring forests of douglas fir and lodgepole pines, rocky outcrops, smooth meadows, and decaying log cabins of Oregon’s gold rush pioneers. The North Fork John Day drainage was a bustling gold and silver mining area in the middle to late 1800s. Old mines, log cabins, water-worn rock, dredged ditches, and other traces are still visible of people who mined an estimated $10 million in gold and silver in the early days of Oregon. The North Fork John Day Wilderness is rugged and pure, with wildflowers and wildlife. Not likely to be crowded, you can find your solitude as you head out into the wilderness on the same path as Oregon’s early pioneers.
Continue to the full guide… North Fork John Day Wilderness
5. Steens Mountain
The Steens Mountain in the southeastern part of Oregon stretches along Harney County, with its 9,733 foot summit towering above the Alvord Desert. The length of the Steens Mountain is impressive, and running 50 miles, it is often confused as a series of mountains. Yet, the majestic Steens is a single mountain and is the largest-fault block mountain in the northern Great Basin. For an expansive view, there is no finer place in Oregon to view Steens Mountain than from the Alvord Desert. From the east rim overlook, it drops over a vertical mile to the floor of the desert playa. With its famous notch in the east ridge of Kiger Gorge, the basalt craggy peaks tower above the Alvord Desert with impressive prominence and grandeur. However, the Steens Mountain is not just to be seen from afar, as for a brief period in mid-summer, when the snow melt has receded, the summit can amazingly be reached by car. Beginning in the tiny and historic town of Frenchglen, the Steens Mountain Loop Road climbs in a 52-mile loop to the 9,700 summit, making it the highest road and most spectacular drive in Oregon.
Continue to the full guide… Steens Mountain
4. Canyon Creek Meadows
Canyon Creek Meadows in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness of Central Oregon is a top destination for alpine wildflower meadows. The hike starts at Jack Lake and traverses through silver snags of burnt forest from the 2003 B&B Complex forest fire. The hike is popular for several reasons, the trailhead is just 45 minutes from Bend and the trail creates a moderate 6.5 mile loop hiking trip which is accessible to day-hikers or for backpackers who wish to camp near the base of the spectacular Three Fingered Jack mountain. The trail continues up through dense patches of green forest, alongside the pristinely flowing Canyon Creek, and ultimately through vibrant wildflower meadows up to the base of Three Fingered Jack. Here at the Upper Canyon Creek Meadow is where for a brief period towards the end of July and mid-August, the meadow is filled with vibrant wildflowers with the craggy and lightly snow-filled peaks of Three Fingered Jack as a backdrop. The quality of the blooms vary each year and when the year is prime and the flowers are at peak bloom, there arguably is no finer wildflower display in Oregon.
Continue to the full guide… Canyon Creek Meadows
3. Mt. Hood at Lost Lake
Lost Lake in Hood River County, Oregon is located just ten miles northwest of Mt. Hood within the heart of Mt. Hood’s beauty and scenic grandeur. While Oregon may have at least 19 areas named “Lost Lake,” this is the one droves of visitors always seem to find. With a famed “postcard” view of Mt. Hood’s northwest face reflected in its waters, the proximity and view of the mountain from Lost Lake is unrivaled, making it one of the most photographed locations in Oregon. An amber glow of Mt. Hood’s snowfields and the evening reflection of Mt. Hood in the cool still water of the lake is the reason why photographers make this trek. The picturesque area offers a variety of hiking trails including the Shoreline Trail #656 which is an easy walk around the lake totaling 3.2 miles. Along the hike there are countless views of Mount Hood with the lake in the foreground. The hiking trail takes you around the lake and through old-growth timber, wildflowers, and swampy meadows. Oregon hikers and nature enthusiasts come to the area to view the mountain and surrounding water, old-growth forests, wildflowers, and diverse wildlife habitat and viewing opportunities. Part Jersey Shore –part Camp Kumbaya –all walks of life visit Lost Lake. Each visit for their own reasons as the area offers outdoor recreational diversity. Remarkably, all find harmony.
Continue to the full guide… Mt. Hood at Lost Lake
2. Painted Hills
Painted Hills is one of three units comprising the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Near Mitchell, Oregon, the area is regarded as one of the most beautifully striking regions in Eastern Oregon. The Painted Hills receive their name from spectacular colors and banded striations that appear hand-painted with an artistic quality that seems almost unnatural and highly surreal. These colors shift in appearance throughout different times of the day due to the varying angles of the sun. They absolutely explode in vibrancy after a thunderstorm, with a full saturated color palette due to the polarizing light filtering the sun’s rays through the clouds. Colors range from burnt red, amber, orange, yellow, and gold, with streaks of black and grey reminiscent of an artist’s creation. The Painted Hills of Oregon are a top destination for painters and landscape photographers alike, searching to capture the beauty of this awe-inspiring Oregon landscape.
Continue to the full guide… Painted Hills at John Day Fossill Beds
1. Ice Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness
Ice Lake, in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon, is a pristine and magnificently scenic alpine lake nestled at the bottom of the Matterhorn and Sacajawea Peak of the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon. Known as the “Oregon Alps”, the Wallowa Mountains are a scenery-packed wonderland of splendid beauty. Home to 17 mountains that eclipse 9,000 feet and derive from the Nez Perce word for “land of running waters,” the Wallowas of northeastern Oregon offers the state’s best backpacking experience. The 15.5 mile out-and-back hike to Ice Lake is the premier hike to witness the magnificence of this unspoiled landscape and experience a portion of Oregon that is unrivaled in adventure. Not only is the destination beautiful, but so is the journey. The hike takes you through lush wildflower meadows, a forest canopy of dense pine and fir trees, and plunging waterfalls. Since the trek is so remarkable, it is the most popular hike in the Eagle Cap Wilderness; which is Oregon’s largest and most spectacular wilderness for hiking and photography. Ice Lake offers a reward to all who make the trek and is the top treasure of Oregon.
Continue to the full guide… Ice Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness
To view the locations that didn’t quite make it on the 10 Treasures of Oregon™, visit the full guide on the top destinations in Oregon at Oregon Photo Guide.
Oregon Photo Guide™ features the landscape photography of Michael Skourtes, Portland Oregon photographer and avid outdoorsman. I venture throughout the state searching for the top destinations for Oregon hiking, backpacking, camping, and photography. I share my experiences and photography of Oregon on my guide. I encourage you to explore Oregon and make your own outdoor adventure.
For picture galleries featuring Oregon photography, or to contact me, visit www.photographyoregon.com.