Oregon in the US Pacific North West is a state abundant in natural beauty. Offering a wonderful variety of landscapes, from snow-capped mountains to rugged cliffs overlooking spectacular seas, volcanoes, lakes, and dense forest sit aside deserts and arid shrublands.
The 9th largest US state really packs a lot in and is the perfect place to head for a scenic road trip at any time of the year.
There are more than three dozen scenic byways in the state of Oregon. Here we take a closer look at the top twelve best scenic routes, perfect for your next family road trip through the Beaver state.
1. Scenic Drive in Oregon: The Oregon Coast
- Distance: 363 miles
- Time needed: 10 to 12 hours with only photo stops, but to fully appreciate 3 days to a week to make your way slowly through the highlights
The Oregon Coast is one of the most scenic drives not just in the state but in the whole of the United States and is always the first place that comes to mind when anyone mentions epic Oregon scenery.
Highway 101 stretches for more than 300 miles from Astoria to Brookings, offering amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and its rocky coastline. There are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the view, including beaches, lighthouses, and parks; it’s no wonder this route was named one of the World’s “Best Drives” by National Geographic.
Expect spectacular coastal cliffs, charming seaside towns, and past miles of pristine beaches. The drive from Cannon Beach to Oswald West State Park is especially beautiful, with views of Haystack Rock and Cape Kiwanda.
Another popular detour is the Three Capes Scenic Loop, taking in Cape Meares, Cape Lookout State Park and Cape Kiwanda.
Continue heading south along the coast for more stunning scenery at Devil’s Punchbowl, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, and Gold Beach, to name a few of the Oregon coast highlights.
- You can continue this spectacular scenic drive into California using our Portland to San Francisco road trip itinerary
If this drive isn’t enough for you, there are plenty more scenic drives around every corner in Oregon, let’s take a deeper look:
2. Scenic Drive in Oregon: Columbia River Gorge
- Distance: 70 miles
- Time needed: 2 to 5 hours
The Columbia River Gorge is one of the most picturesque drives in Oregon. This 70-mile drive from Portland to Hood River winds its way along the Columbia River, providing stunning views of the river and surrounding mountains.
There are plenty of places to stop and explore, so be sure to allow plenty of time for this drive – you will need at least 2-hours without stops.
This winding road passes by waterfalls, cliffs, and river valleys. It offers scenic lookouts in many areas that may not even be on your radar until you see them!
The most famous point is at Crown Point where a small parking area allows visitors to walk out onto an old viewing platform with amazing views overlooking two states; Washington state across the gorge and Oregon’s Mt Adams in front.
The highlight of this route though is undoubtedly the waterfalls, the most popular of which is Multnomah Falls. These spectacular falls attract 1.2 million visitors a year, accordingly in the summer peak a timed ticketing system needs to operate.
3. Scenic Drive in Oregon: Mount Hood National Forest
- Distance: 105 miles
- Time needed: 3 hours
The Mount Hood National Forest is a beautiful area of Oregon covering more than a million acres. Starting from Fairview, just east of Portland, this beautiful Oregon scenic byway takes you around Oregon’s tallest mountain and offers stunning views of glacier-covered peaks, alpine lakes, and dense forestlands.
There are plenty of things to do along the way on this Mt Hood Scenic Loop, including hiking, fishing, and camping, but if you’d prefer to stick inside 4-wheels, you’ll still be spoilt with spectacular views throughout.
Do make sure to visit one of Mount Hood’s charming village communities though along Highway 26, some favorites include Welches and Rhododendron.
4. Scenic Drive in Oregon: Oregon’s Wine Country
- Distance: 60 miles
- Time needed: 2 hours to a full day with winery stops
Oregon’s wine country is a great place to visit if you’re looking a scenic driving near Portland. This area is home to dozens of wineries, as well as rolling hills and picturesque vineyards. The roads here are twisty and windy, making for a fun scenic drive.
The Willamette Valley is one of the most popular destinations in Oregon’s wine country, and for good reason. This area is home to world-famous wineries like Pinot Noir producer Willamette Valley Vineyards and Chardonnay specialist Sokol Blosser Winery.
There are also plenty of smaller, family-owned wineries in the valley that offer great wine tastings (and at a fraction of the sot of the big guys) – a good day for being the passenger!
If you’re looking for a scenic drive with some amazing views, make sure to check out the Dundee Hills AVA. Even if you’re a non-drinker, the views are undeniably spectacular. This area is known for its beautiful rolling hills and vineyards. You’ll find dozens of charming wineries here, as well as a few art galleries and restaurants.
You can continue your journey southwards of the West Cascades Scenic Byway which follows the Clackamas River to Detroit Lake, before winding your way through the Willamette National Forest and ending at the small town of Oakridge. This is a great alternative route to Eugene if you want to avoid the I-5.
5. Scenic Drive in Oregon: Crater Lake National Park
- Distance: 33 miles
- Time needed: 2 hours to one day
Crater Lake National Park is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Oregon. This drive takes you deep into the heart of this majestic park and provides breathtaking views of Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States.
The park is open all year, but the best time to visit is late spring and in the summer when the wildflowers are in bloom and all roads are re-opened.
There are several routes you can take through the park, but the most popular is the classic Rim Drive. This road circles the edge of Crater Lake and provides amazing views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Note that the Rim Drive is not possible in winter due to snowfall.
Make sure to stop at various points along the drive to take photos or just soak in the beauty of this place. Some of our favorite stops include Cloudcap Overlook, Watchman Peak Viewpoint, and Wizard Island Overlook. If you have time, we also recommend taking a hike or boat tour on Crater Lake – both are definitely worth it!
- Extend your scenic drive with this incredible itinerary Seattle to Crater Lake
6. Scenic Drive in Oregon: Umpqua River Scenic Byway
- Distance: 66 miles
- Time needed: 3 to 5 hours
The Umpqua Highway is a beautiful drive that takes you from Reedsport and the Pacific Ocean and across the Coast Range to Oakland. The route winds its way along the Umpqua River, providing stunning views of the river and the surrounding hillsides.
There are several wineries and vineyards to sample in the area, as well as lovely rural towns with distinctive charm. The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Reserve awaits at the conclusion of the journey – another natural marvel to discover.
This is one beautiful and completely underrated scenic drive in southern Oregon not to be missed.
7. Scenic Drive in Oregon: Deschutes National Forest
- Distance: 34 miles
- Time needed: 1 hour drive but allow a half day with hikes and photo stops
If you’re looking for a breathtaking drive through Oregon’s gorgeous nature, be sure to check out Deschutes National Forest.
This forest is located in central Oregon and offers stunning views of the Cascade Mountains. There are plenty of things to do here, including hiking, fishing, and camping. Many people travel through this area on their way to Bend or Sunriver, but you shouldn’t miss out on stopping at some awesome lookout points along the way!
Some of the best lookout points in Deschutes National Forest include Lava Butte, Pilot Butte, and South Sister. All offer amazing views of the surrounding landscape!
8. Scenic Drive in Oregon: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
- Distance: 286 miles
- Time needed: Full day allowing at least 8 to 10 hours
The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a great place to experience the diverse landscape of Oregon. The drive through the park offers stunning views of the Painted Hills, the Blue Mountains, and the Sheep Rock Unit.
There are several important stopping points along the way where you can explore different aspects of this fascinating area. Fossilized plants and animals here provide evidence of life between 6 million and 54 million years old!
The John Day River is a popular destination among rafters and kayakers due to its series of rapids as well as its historic importance. The river was used by Native Americans in this area for thousands of years before it became part of an important transportation route
9. Scenic Drive in Oregon: Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
- Distance: 66 miles
- Time needed: 3 to 5 hours
If you’re looking for a shorter scenic road trip in Oregon that will take your breath away, be sure to check out the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. This 66-mile route winds its way around some of Oregon’s most beautiful lakes, including Sparks Lake and Cultus Lake.
There are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the scenery along this drive, including Davis Lake viewpoint, Sparks Lake viewpoint, Scout Camp Road (which leads to a beautiful alpine lake), and Timothy Lake. Be sure to stop at Mt Bachelor Ski Resort for incredible views of the Three Sisters Mountains!
Note this is a seasonal route only open from June to October due to winter snow.
10. Scenic Drive in Oregon: Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
- Distance: 213 miles
- Time needed: Full Day
The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway is one of the best scenic drives in Oregon. The 213-mile loop highlights the deepest canyon in North America and passes by some of the most beautiful scenery in north-eastern Oregon, through the Wallowa mountains.
There are a number of great stops along the way, including Oxbow Bend, Hat Point, and Hells Canyon Dam.
11. Scenic Drive in Oregon: Silver Falls State Park
- Distance: 55 miles
- Time needed: 3 hours to a full day with hikes
If you’re looking for an easy scenic drive near Portland, be sure to check out Silver Falls State Park, near Salem. Silver Falls State Park is one of the most popular destinations in Oregon, and it’s easy to see why.
The park features ten waterfalls, including South Falls, which is the tallest waterfall in the park at 177 feet and possible to walk behind.
As well as scenic driving, there are also plenty of hiking trails and picnic areas within easy access to the road, making Silver Falls State Park perfect for an easy day trip from Portland. Make sure to stop in at one of the small rural towns along the way, we love the family-friendly Silver Falls Brewery in Silverton.
12. Scenic Drive in Oregon: Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway
- Distance: 223 miles
- Time needed: Full Day
The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway will take your breath away! A 223-mile drive that takes you from Klamath Falls in California then through the heart of Oregon’s volcanic past. This route showcases more than 25 volcanoes, cinder cones, and lava flows.
You’ll also pass by crystal clear lakes, rushing rivers, and lush forests. Plan on spending at least two days exploring this scenic drive which can be combined with Crater Lake National park above!
The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Drive, an All American Road, can be extended into northern California to include Mount Shasta, Lava Beds National Monument, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and many other beauty spots based around the area’s incredible geothermal activity.
Oregon is a nature lover’s dream, with its dramatic landscapes and evergreen forests. These 12 scenic drives are just a taste of all that the state has to offer. So, if you’re looking for an unforgettable family road trip, Oregon should be at the top of your list!
Before You Set Out on Your Oregon Road Trip
You can plan an Oregon road trip at any time of year but a few things to be mindful of when it comes to the weather:
- The weather in Oregon can change quickly – no matter the season! – Be aware of sudden changes in driving conditions, particularly through the forests and mountains. You can check current road conditions here.
- Invisible “black ice” can be an extreme hazard in winter – take note of our winter driving tips before you set out.
- Look out for “Snow Zone” signs as these will let you know about requirements for snow chains or traction tires.
- Visiting any of the state’s Sno Parks? You need a Sno Park Parking Permit from November 1st through April 30. They’re not sold at the trailheads so make sure you purchase in advance – annual, 3-day, and daily passes are available. NB – they’re also valid for California and Idaho!
- Despite the states reputation for being green and lush, bushfire threats in summer are real. Have a plan in place if your route needs to change and listen for news broadcasts on changing conditions that may affect your journey.
- Be prepared for a daily parking fee of $5 at forest and state parks in Oregon. You may prefer to invest in an Annual Northwest Forest Pass if you’ll be in Oregon for more than a week. Also good for Washington state if you’ll be continuing north on your family road trip.
- Check out these scenic drives you could add to your west coast trip in Washington
- Never forget an important item again for your next family road trip using our Ultimate Family Road Trip Checklist.
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