Striking Gold in the Beaver State: 5 must-experience Oregon Adventures
Crater Lake National Park, OR - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan
Oregon is a gold mine of outdoor splendor that covers the full range of ecosystems: Iconic beaches complete with rock monoliths; lush forests of evergreen and deciduous trees; vast rocky deserts; and of course, massive volcanoes towering above the kingdom known as the Beaver State. I’ve had the pleasure of criss-crossing Oregon many times and each time I’ve been left with a greater sense of awe.
The Oregon Coast
Harris Beach State Park, OR - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan
In the summer of 2020, I found myself in Gold Beach, OR where the mighty Rogue River meets the Pacific Ocean. Oregon’s coast is unlike any other: evergreens on rocky crags, forming secret beaches riddled with natural bridges, and arches extending into the sea. South of Gold Beach is Harris Beach State Park, with the fog maintaining a perfect temperature and the sea rocks providing a beautiful backdrop for the crashing waves. This is an amazing place to walk barefoot in the sand. Beyond this being an ideal beach, the park has a large campground offering many sites with an ocean view. The Oregon Coast Trail runs the entire length of the state’s coast, and is ripe with backpacking opportunities all along the way. Harris Beach State Park is along section 10 of the OCT, making it a good starting or ending point for this famed hike.
Crater Lake National Park / Umpqua National Forest
Wizard Island: Crater Lake National Park, OR - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan
Following the Rogue River back to its headwaters on the western face of Mt. Mazama. The mountain lies in the beautiful Umpqua National Forest on the southern side of the Cascade Mountain Range. The world famous Crater Lake rests within the caldera of the massive Mt. Mazama. The forming of this natural wonder is a violent and fascinating story: Roughly 7,700 years ago the 12,000 foot tall volcano collapsed in on itself, leaving the peak height at 8,000 feet. This event created what would be the world’s deepest lake - though the water level varies annually, it averages 1,934 feet deep. The waters of this natural wonder are incredibly clear and amazingly blue due to rainwater being the only tributary. To glimpse these waters up close, the park service offers boat tours and kayak rentals. Topside - running along the caldera is the famous Pacific Crest Trail - which extends from Mexico to Canada along the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains. Crater Lake National Park is an unrivaled experience, and a worthy destination no matter how far you are traveling.
Deschutes National Forest
Deschutes River: Deschutes National Forest, OR - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan
Running parallel to the Pacific Crest Trail, up U.S. Highway 97 - I made my way toward Bend, Oregon, driving along the eastern edge of the Cascades. Mountain ranges create deserts; the Cascades create a ‘rainshadow’ that forces the rain to fall on the west side of the mountains - leaving the eastern side dry. ‘Oregon’s Outback’ is also known as The High Desert, and is a stark difference from the western portion of the state. That perfect mix of ecosystems is what makes Bend and the surrounding area such a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. The Deschutes National Forest southwest of Bend is home to a handful of fantastic lakes and breathtaking volcano views. Mountain biking, hiking, camping, and kayaking opportunities abound... I spent a week on the shores of Crane Prairie Reservoir - looking longingly up at the volcanic beauty of Central Oregon.
Smith Rock State Park
Smith Rock State Park, OR - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan
Following the Deschutes River northeast, before the confluence with the Crooked River, is Smith Rock. A legendary locale for hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, and mountain biking - the park is loaded with trails ranging the full spectrum of difficulty. This picturesque rock canyon is also home to prairie falcons, bald and golden eagles, river otters, beavers, and mule deer. The Crooked River has carved its way through these buttes, providing stellar river views from most points of the park. There is one campground in the park, it is hike-in and on a first-come first-served basis. When I visited, the campground was closed due to Covid; but nearby is Skull Hollow Campground and I found it to be a perfect home for a night. It is a special treat to see a full moon rise above Oregon’s high desert, and the coyotes howling amongst the juniper trees made the moment entirely perfect.
Mount Hood: Trillium Lake, OR - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan
Northwest on US Highway 26, headed for Oregon’s highest point and most regal of volcanic peaks… Mount Hood. Only an hour and a half from Portland, this beautiful geologic wonder is a well known part of the Portland skyline and is a local favorite for all types of recreation. Trillium Lake is the most famous of Mt. Hood viewpoints and rests at the base of the volcano, creating an ultimate water sport backdrop. There is a campground beside the lake, and dispersed camping opportunities in the nearby woods. The volcano is the heart of Mt. Hood National Forest, which boasts over 1,200 miles of hiking trails through more than a million acres of land. The Pacific Crest Trail winds its way around the volcano, joining the popular Timberline Trail which wraps around the treeline of the peak. I had the opportunity to backpack in a night from the Top Spur trailhead, camping at McNeil Point.
Little Zigzag Falls: Mount Hood, OR - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan
Oregon’s state motto is: “She flies with her own wings.” The magic of that phrase flowed through my body as I stood watching the lights of Portland flicker to life, while the bright orange sun faded below the Oregon Coast Range. Alpenglow lit up Mt. Hood above and to the north - Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier shimmered like diamonds begging to be explored. In this eternal moment, soaking in the beauty of Oregon - I was grateful for the adventure thus far… knowing that I witnessed only a fraction of what the Pacific Northwest has to offer, I was filled with an eagerness to see far more.
Deschutes National Forest, OR - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan
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