Oregon is one of the most beautiful states in the country. With vast wilderness that has yet to be interrupted by civilization, it’s become an ideal location for road trips. It’s also one of the best ways to discover the state’s magnificent landscapes. So, here are some of the best scenic drives in Oregon.
- Pacific Coast Byway
- Historic Columbia River Byway
- Hells Canyon Byway
- Volcanic Legacy Byway
- High Desert Discovery Byway
- Blue Mountain Byway
- Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway
- Oregon Outback Scenic Byway
1. Pacific Coast Scenic Drive
Nothing quite beats the sound of the roar of the ocean. One of the first scenic road trips in Oregon you should take is along the Pacific Coast byway. This stretch of road runs all the way down the coast in Oregon.
On one side, you’ll witness incredible forests and mountains. On the other, you’ll have an endless ocean with cresting waves and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. There are a ton of beaches and tide pools for you to explore should you decide to stop.
Because the trip is quite long, you’ll want to stop off at the many towns that dot the coast. One such location is Astoria. It’s an ideal place to either begin or end your road trip. It features Victorian homes with Scandinavian heritage.
You’ll also want to stop off at Fort Stevens State Park. Although it was once used as the primary defense for the area, it is now a great place for camping, learning about the local wildlife, and learning more about Oregon’s history.
- Road Trip Miles: 363 Miles
- Length of Journey: 10-12 hours
2. Historic Columbia River Scenic Byway
Called the “King of the Roads,” the Historic Columbia River byway is the first scenic highway ever created in America. It’s also a National Historic Landmark.
The byway runs along the Columbia River Gorge. The main part of the gorge doesn’t just offer a beautiful roadway either. You’ll find plenty of restaurants that serve farm-fresh food, wineries, and hidden waterfalls.
There are several stopping points along this byline that allow you to take in the natural beauty of the area. A few also allow you to hike down paths with waterfalls and overlook residents as they windsurf down the river.
Eventually, your drive will end at the Dalles. It was once a place where indigenous people did their trading and selling. Today, it marks a cultural seat of history. You can enjoy murals of those who once called the area their home. You can also visit several different museums and enjoy local wineries.
- Road Trip Miles: 70 Miles
- Length of Journey: 3-5 Hours
3. Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
With a name like Hell’s Canyon, there’s no question why this byway is one of the best of Oregon’s scenic drives. This scenic drive cuts through what was once the homeland of the Nez Perce people. This is a drive that few visitors know about. Yet it’s worth every mile.
During this road trip, you’ll encounter the staggering and incredible peaks of the Wallowa Mountains. The river gorge itself, Hell’s Canyon, is also America’s deepest gorge. The drive begins in the bustling city of La Grande. Historically, this was an area where the first settlers to Oregon halted their journey. They were enamored with the freshwater from the river and the rich valley that was ideal for crops and grazing.
One of the best places to eat in La Grande is the Ten Depot. It uses local farms to fill its kitchen for the day. You’ll enjoy fresh food that’s cooked the same day.
The scenic tour continues through the ranching town of Elgin. You’ll notice mint crops and other fine crops along the way. Elgin is a must-stop for those that want to see the famous Elgin Stampede. All rodeos eventually come to Elgin.
Eventually, the roadway will take you to the Minam State Recreation Area. This is a great place to get out and try your hand at fishing.
- Road Trip Miles: 208 Miles
- Length of Journey: 7-8 Hours
4. Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway
If you love volcanos, then this scenic tour has to be on your list. The Volcanic Legacy byway takes you through a few different volcanic areas where past eruptions have made their mark on the environment.
This route begins at the Diamond Lake Junction and takes you into the Crater Lake National Park. You’ll want to stop off to see Crater Lake. It was formed by Mt. Mazama during one of its eruptions. The eruption was so intense that most of the area formed a crater. You can still notice how the eruption changed the environment with its desert landscape thousands of years later.
Crater Lake is known for its deep depth and incredibly blue water.
One of the spots you’ll want to stop off during the trip is Wizard Island. This island rests at the center of Crater Lake. You can also take a boat tour there.
Eventually, the roadway will also take you to the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Reserve. This reserve features some incredible wildlife and stunning scenery. It’s also home to Lake Klamath which is Oregon’s largest lake.
You can also rent a boat for a self-guided tour along its waterways.
Your journey will eventually lead you to Klamath Falls. This city has a ton of restaurants for you to enjoy. It also has some famous golf courses if you feel like playing. It’s also one of the oldest locations for birding festivals.
- Road Trip Miles: 140 Miles
- Length of Journey: 5-7 Hours
5. High Desert Discovery Byway
If the Wild West has your fancy, then you need to put the High Desert Discovery byway on your list. It passes through the Steens Mountains and throws you into the Alvord Desert. You can also travel to a few other different scenic tours along this stretch for a full exploration of the Wild West of Oregon.
The journey begins in the city of Burns. This town has a rich heritage and history that’s worth exploring in itself. One of those locations that you should visit in Burns is the Crystal Crane Hot Springs. You’ll enjoy rare wildlife views and appreciate the rarities of hot springs.
Once you’re fuelled up, you’ll head down the road and into the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. It will start off as luscious wetlands and lakes, but then it will quickly switch into an arid desert.
You’ll notice a few marshlands along the way as well. The area is renowned for its bird watching. The road will take you to the headquarters of the refuge where the staff can help you determine the best areas for bird-watching.
You’ll also be taken to the historic ranching community of Frenchglen. You can learn more about the area’s history there and enjoy freshly made food.
At this point, you’ll start to witness the incredible Steens Mountains. Traveling on through this area to Fields will allow you to eventually reach a transition point if you wish to take part in the East Steens Tour route.
- Road Trip Miles: 127 Miles
- Length of Journey: 5-7 Hours
6. Blue Mountain Scenic Drive
If traveling through your mountains is your idea of one of the best of Oregon’s scenic drives, then you should mark the Blue Mountain byway on your map. It passes through the Blue Mountains after coasting along the Columbia River. You’ll end in another historic town known as Baker City.
The start of the byway is deeply entrenched in ranching communities. One of the first wildlife areas you’ll encounter is the Willow Creek Wildlife Area. Here you’ll find plenty of birds and wildfowl.
You also have the opportunity to follow the original Oregon trail on this byway. A small detour can offer you a glimpse into the past by visiting Well Springs. At this location, you can see wagon ruts that still burrow into the earth.
Continuing on the byway will eventually lead you to the Umatilla National Forest. There’s a campground within it named Cutsforth Park that allows you to camp and ride horses along equestrian paths.
As you continue on through the mountains, you might spot elk and other wildlife that make their home in the mountains. The scenic byway eventually comes to a stop at the North Fork John Day Campground. It’s an ideal place for fishing. You can also set up for your next scenic drive by following the Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway next.
- Road Trip Miles: 145 Miles
- Length of Journey: 3-4 Hours
7. Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway
This scenic byway begins in Baker City. Back in the 1800s, it was a flourishing agricultural center. However, the discovery of gold quickly drew attention to it. The gold boom brought everyone to the area to try their hand at finding gold. Once the boom ended, the area was noted for its natural beauty. A scenic drive can be enjoyed winding through the Elkhorn Mountains.
Before you start your drive, you should visit the Geiser Grand Hotel. It’s a restored hotel that shows how opulent the late 1800s could be. Once you’re ready to hit the road, you’ll be driving alongside the Powder River.
The landscape features the river as well as stunning juniper hills. Eventually, the grasslands transform into a rich pine forest. If you want to go hiking alongside your drive, then you’ll want to stop at Phillips Lake. Not only does it have waterfront camping, but you can also fish and rent boats for the lake. The area also has a huge network of trails.
As you continue the drive, you may notice the Sumpter Valley Railroad. This will be one of your blasts from the past in the days of the gold boom. You may also notice other signs like mountain scarring and trails.
The drive will continue to send you upwards to the top of the Blue Mountains. At this location, you have a great view of the Elkhorn Mountains. They have a unique beauty in that their formation is a mix of sedimentary rock, volcanic rock, and granite.
Speaking of granite, you’ll also come to the town of Granite. It’s a town that is mostly abandoned and has been abandoned since the end of the gold rush. Some of those abandoned buildings exist to this day.
Finally, the byway takes you to the Lakes District. One of the areas you might want to stop at is the Eastern Oregon Museum that goes into the bootlegging history of the area.
- Road Trip Miles: 106 Miles
- Length of Journey: 3-5 Hours
8. Oregon Outback Scenic Byway
When you think about vast deserts and grasslands, you may think about the Australian Outback. There’s a similar landscape but it’s much closer to home. The Oregon Outback Scenic byway takes you through the Great Basin. It’s a large area made up mostly of the desert and grasslands. You’re able to see pronghorns and other arid-loving wildlife on this trip. It’s a route that few take or even know about.
The byway begins in La Pine. You’ll notice that the trees start to thin and the area becomes arider as you go along. This is due to the presence of the Cascade Range. It soaks up the moisture in the air.
One of the first great sights you’ll see is Fort Rock. It used to be a volcanic center. Now it’s a strange and otherworldly circle of rocks that are clumped together. They almost resemble a fortress. You’re able to actually slip between the walls to gain access. This area was also home to human life 10,000 years ago.
The journey will take you through a marshland area where birds love to gather. You’ll also find a basin that rarely fills with rainwater. This path will also take you to Summer Lake. This water is alkaline in nature and doesn’t support fish life. It often completely dries up.
Throughout the drive, you’ll cross the Chewaucan River. This river is ideal for anglers and others who want to ride down the river. You’ll eventually end at the town of Lakeview which boasts as being the tallest town in Oregon for its elevation. Here, you’ll want to pay a visit to the Old Perpetual Geyser.
- Road Trip Miles: 171 Miles
- Length of Journey: 4-6 Hours
Start Your Drive
Oregon is a state teeming with scenic views and adventures. Perhaps one of the coolest aspects about them is that many of the scenic drives in Oregon link together. Fill up your car with plenty of fuel and start your adventure today.
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Mins Lukas Savela is a travel writer whose main focus is adventure travel. His passion for wildlife and nature has carried him to many countries in the world. He loves hiking the best trails on earth and sharing his experiences through writing. He hopes his experiences will help more people to start their own adventures and appreciate the world surrounding them a little bit more.
Mins Lukas Savela (also known as Lukas Saville) has written numerous articles that have been published on websites like Wandrly magazine, Go Nomad, Osprey.com, RAD Season, Wilderness Society, The Los Angeles Beat, California.com, Nature Conservancy, and many others.