Our Favorite Natural Attractions in Oregon
The National Park Service has officially named 11 sites in Oregon as “National Natural Landmarks” or, places that “contain outstanding biological and geological resources, regardless of land ownership type.” Aside from those that are nationally recognized, Oregon has many natural attractions that we highly recommend. Read on for our 12 favorite natural attractions to visit in Oregon.
Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve is a protected area in the northern Siskiyou Mountains of southwestern Oregon in the United States. The 4,554-acre park, including the marble cave, is 20 miles east of Cave Junction, on Oregon Route 46.
Crater Lake inspires awe. Native Americans witnessed its formation 7,700 years ago, when a violent eruption triggered the collapse of a tall peak. Scientists marvel at its purity: fed by rain and snow, it’s the deepest lake in the USA and one of the most pristine on earth. Artists, photographers, and sightseers gaze in wonder at its blue water and stunning setting atop the Cascade Mountain Range.
Saddle Mountain State Natural Area is cherished for its hiking trails, wildflowers and breathtaking scenery. A small, seasonal campground, day-use picnic area, a two and a half mile trail to the summit and a short .16 mile side trail are the humble offerings at Saddle Mountain. If the trail’s natural beauty and wildflowers aren’t enough to entice you to the top, the panoramic view from the 3,290-foot summit will. On a clear day you can see the sweep of the Columbia River as it enters the sea, miles of Pacific shoreline- and on the eastern horizon, the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and Washington.
With over 1.6 million acres, the Willamette National Forest is home to eight wilderness areas, including the popular Three Sisters Wilderness and Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, a variety of backpacking and day hiking opportunities, waterfalls, wildflowers, mountain biking trails, boating, swimming and much more! The varied landscape of high mountains, narrow canyons, cascading streams, and wooded slopes offers excellent opportunities for visitors and make the forest valuable for many purposes.
Called Oregon’s Alps, and one of Oregon’s 7 Wonders, The Wallowas are home to the state’s highest peaks outside the Cascades (we see you, Sacajawea and Matterhorn), the Wallowa range cradles rivers and ranchland prime for easy family touring or epic adventures.
The Painted Hills Unit is located about 9 miles northwest of the town of Mitchell, Oregon. Distinguished by varied stripes of red, tan, orange, and black, this area preserves a sequence of past climate change. The Painted Hills Unit also contains a diverse assemblage of leaf fossils aging 39-30 million years old called the Bridge Creek Flora, and a small outcropping of rock containing animal fossils from 30-27 million years ago.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is a special place. One of the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world, the stark, mist-shrouded views of dunes, forests, and ocean in such close proximity to one another are rare and hauntingly beautiful. Many plants and animals, including some found in few other places, call this area home. In 1972, Congress designated this 31,500-acre portion of the Siuslaw National Forest as a National Recreation Area in recognition of its unique values.
According to Native American lore, Multnomah Falls was created to win the heart of a young princess who wanted a hidden place to bathe. Visiting Multnomah Falls, a 611-foot-tall roaring, awe-inspiring cascade of icy water, lets you experience the power and beauty of nature up close and with ease. From the parking area off of I-84, a 5-minute walk is all that separates you from the exhilarating spray at the base of the falls.
Devils Punch Bowl State Natural Area is a state day use park on the central Oregon Coast in the United States. It is centered on a large bowl naturally carved in a rock headland which is partially open to the Pacific Ocean. Waves enter the bowl and often violently churn, swirl, and foam. The bowl is thought to have been created when two caves carved by the ocean collapsed. Whales migrate past the park, in season, and the park, which projects into the Pacific, provides panoramic views of the ocean and good whale watching.
Oregon’s Lost Lake, near the Santiam Pass Highway, is a seasonal alpine lake with a unique trait: a drain-like hole. Each summer, as the water supply dries up and stops feeding the lake, the water drains out into an underground river. It’s easy to think of Lost Lake as a sink with a drain that isn’t completely closed. When you turn the tap on full strength, it fills up. If you turn the tap down enough, the water starts to empty down the drain. In the rainy wintertime, when stream flows are high, Lost Lake fills. When rainfall and stream flows drop during summer months, the amount going in becomes less than the capacity of the hole to drain the water. So the lake drains. Fast.
Haystack Rock stands 235-feet tall and is part of the Tolovana Beach State Recreation area. Haystack Rock is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and is a State protected marine environment. While there are a few other geographic landmarks in Oregon that go by the same name, Cannon Beach Haystack Rock is one of the most, if not the most, popular in the state. Mainly composed of Basalt, Haystack Rock was formed by lava flows an estimated 10-17 million years ago. The same volcanic activity resulted in other popular Oregon coast landmarks like Saddle Mountain, Tillamook Head, and Arch Cape. It is estimated that Haystack Rock weighs over one million pounds.
Another one of Oregon’s 7 wonders, Smith Rock showcases towers of volcanic ash that rise like the spires of a cathedral out of the sage and dust of the high desert. Situated in Central Oregon, home to 300 days of sun a year, Smith Rock is located in an outdoor adventurer’s playground. Golfing, caving, paddle boarding on the Deschutes and skiing Mt. Bachelor are all close by. Smith Rock is a popular attraction and parking can be challenging, especially during the peak season and on weekends.
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