Astoria Megler Bridge with bicycles in the foreground in Astoria, Oregon. Image credit Jess Kraft via Shutterstock

9 Most Charming River Towns in Oregon to Visit in 2024

Oregon, a state in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, is distinguished by its extensive waterways, including the Columbia River and the Willamette River, which carve through landscapes ranging from lush forests to rugged basalt canyons. Oregon's network of rivers has historically supported both its ecology and economy, but what makes these river towns must-visit destinations in 2024, and which ones are the most charming to visit? Read on to find out.


Astoria, Oregon and the Columbia River
Astoria, Oregon and the Columbia River.

Astoria, Oregon, with a population of 9,924, sits at the mouth of the Columbia River, where it meets the Pacific Ocean. Established in 1811, it is recognized as the first permanent United States settlement on the Pacific Coast. The town's economy has evolved from fur trading, fishing, and canning to focus more on tourism. Its geographical positioning at the confluence of river and ocean, combined with its historical backdrop, makes Astoria a notable point of interest in Oregon's landscape.

Among Astoria's attractions, the Columbia River Maritime Museum stands out, giving insights into the region's maritime history through exhibits on navigation, fishing, and the dangers of the Columbia River Bar, known as the "Graveyard of the Pacific." Another significant landmark is the Astoria Column, a towering monument decorated with murals that narrate Oregon's history. On August 10, 2024, Astoria will host the annual Astoria Regatta, a historic event celebrating the community's maritime heritage with parades, boat shows, and cultural festivities.

Hood River

The gorgeous town of Hood River, Oregon.
The gorgeous town of Hood River, Oregon.

Hood River, Oregon, has a population of 8,300 and is located at the confluence of the Hood River and the Columbia River Gorge in the northern part of the state. The town's economy thrives on a mix of agriculture, tourism, and outdoor recreation, underpinned by its orchards and vineyards, as well as its status as a premier destination for windsurfing and kiteboarding due to the consistent wind patterns funneled through the Gorge.

Among Hood River's key attractions is the Hood River Fruit Loop, a scenic drive that winds through the area's fertile orchards, vineyards, and farms—visitors will have a chance to see the region's agricultural bounty firsthand. The Columbia River Gorge itself is a natural landmark, providing a plethora of outdoor activities, from hiking and biking to views of waterfalls, including the Multnomah Falls. Additionally, the town hosts the Hood River Valley Harvest Fest in October 2024, an event that celebrates the region's rich harvest with local produce, crafts, and live music.

Cascade Locks

Cascade Locks, Oregon.
Cascade Locks, Oregon.

Cascade Locks, nestled on the banks of the Columbia River in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, is a small community with a population of 1,398. Established around the site of the historical Cascade Locks and Canal, which were built to navigate past the Cascade Rapids, the town plays a significant role in the region's history and development. 

The town is known for several key attractions. The Bridge of the Gods, a cantilever bridge that spans the Columbia River, offers views of the surrounding landscape and serves as a gateway for the Pacific Crest Trail hikers. The Cascade Locks Marine Park is a recreational area with access to the river, picnic spots, and a historical museum dedicated to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Additionally, the town hosts the Pacific Crest Trail Days on August 16 and 17 in 2024, an event celebrating outdoor recreation and conservation, featuring gear demonstrations and workshops.

Gold Beach

Approaching the legendary roadside rock formation "Kissing Rock" in Gold Beach, Oregon
Approaching the legendary roadside rock formation "Kissing Rock" in Gold Beach, Oregon.

Gold Beach, located on the southwestern coast of Oregon, serves as the seat of Curry County and boasts a population of 2,426. Positioned at the mouth of the Rogue River, the town is a nexus of natural ecosystems and maritime history, established in the mid-19th century during the Oregon Gold Rush.

Among the attractions that define Gold Beach, the Rogue River is perhaps the most significant, with jet boat tours for an exhilarating way to experience the region's wildlife and scenery. The Otter Point State Recreation Site presents another natural landmark, with hiking trails that meander through dense forests to cliffside views overlooking the Pacific. In August 2024, Gold Beach will host the Annual Rogue River Salmon Derby, a celebrated event that draws salmon anglers from across the country.


Riverwalk in Siuslaw River in Florence, Oregon
Riverwalk in Siuslaw River in Florence, Oregon.

Florence, Oregon (population 9,190) is situated along the Oregon Coast on the banks of the Siuslaw River. Established as a port city in the 19th century, Florence has evolved from its timber and fishing industry roots. Its economy is now diversified, supporting local businesses, arts, and cultural events, with a focus on preserving its natural and historical assets.

One of Florence's notable attractions is the Sea Lion Caves, America's largest sea cave and year-round home to a wild sea lion colony, located just 11 miles north of the town. The historic Siuslaw River Bridge, an art-deco structure completed in 1936, serves as a gateway to Florence and is an engineering marvel of its time. Additionally, Florence hosts the Rhododendron Festival in May 2024, one of Oregon's oldest floral festivals, celebrating the blooming of wild rhododendrons with parades, flower shows, and a carnival.

Oregon City

Historic Sternwheeler Docked Along Willamette River in Oregon City
Historic Sternwheeler Docked Along Willamette River in Oregon City.

Oregon City has a larger population of 36,709 and holds the distinction of being the first city in the United States west of the Rocky Mountains to be incorporated, in 1844. Strategically situated at the confluence of the Willamette and Clackamas rivers, the city's geography significantly influenced its early development as a place of trade and the endpoint of the Oregon Trail.

Today, the city is further enriched by several attractions and landmarks. The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center provides interactive exhibits and live demonstrations that vividly recount the pioneers' arduous journey and settlement. Another notable landmark is the Municipal Elevator, one of only four in the world, with views of the city's downtown area. In 2024, the Willamette Falls Viewpoint continues to be a relevant attraction due to its status as one of the largest waterfalls by volume in the Northwest. Despite the passage of time, its impressive natural beauty and grandeur remain unchanged.

The Dalles

The Dalles Bridge crossing the Columbia River between The Dalles, Oregon, and Maryhill, Washington
The Dalles Bridge crossing the Columbia River between The Dalles, Oregon, and Maryhill, Washington.

The Dalles, Oregon, with a population of approximately 16,000, is a town located along the south bank of the Columbia River. Established as a major trading post for pioneers during the 19th century, The Dalles is one of Oregon's oldest settlements. Its geographic position at the eastern end of the gorge provides a climate that is drier than much of the state, supporting a diverse range of flora and fauna.

Key attractions in The Dalles include the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum, which gives insights into the natural and cultural history of the Columbia River Gorge through exhibits and trails. The Fort Dalles Museum, housed in one of the oldest buildings in Oregon, provides education on the life of early settlers and the military history of the region. In April 2024, The Dalles will host the Northwest Cherry Festival, an annual event that celebrates the region's cherry orchards. This festival features a parade, a classic car show, and various cherry-related activities.

St. Helens

St. Helens Marina, St. Helens, Oregon
St. Helens Marina, St. Helens, Oregon.

St. Helens, Oregon, named after the nearby Mount St. Helens volcano, hosts approximately 14,743 residents. Located along the southern bank of the Columbia River in Columbia County, this city has a history deeply rooted in the timber industry and river trade. The downtown area, characterized by well-preserved Victorian-era architecture, hosts a variety of specialty stores, such as 2Cs Vendor Mall. 

St. Helens is famous for its Halloween festivities, inspired by its role as a filming location for the Disney movie "Halloweentown." Sadly, the annual Spirit of Halloweentown event is cancelled for 2024, due to mounting safety concerns. A year-round attraction in St. Helens is the Waterfront Loop Hike, which guides visitors from the historic 1906 courthouse across a spacious waterfront area, formerly occupied by the Boise Cascade Veneer Plant. Additionally, check out the historic Columbia Theatre in St. Helens, featuring a diverse array of live performances, movie screenings, and community events. 

Grants Pass

Downtown Grants Pass, and the Rogue River.
Downtown Grants Pass, Oregon, and the Rogue River.

Grants Pass, with a population of 38,327, is a town in Josephine County, Oregon, known for its strategic location along the Rogue River. The city's climate is characterized by mild winters and warm summers, conducive to year-round outdoor pursuits. Grants Pass's economic landscape is supported by sectors such as healthcare, retail, and manufacturing, with tourism playing a significant role due to its proximity to natural attractions.

Among the city's attractions, the Rogue River allows for whitewater rafting, fishing, and scenic boat tours that highlight the river's natural beauty and biodiversity. The Hellgate Jetboat Excursions are an exhilarating way to experience the river. Meanwhile, the Grants Pass Museum of Art, located downtown, showcases regional and national artists. In May 2024, Grants Pass will host the Boatnik Square Dance Festival, a lively event where attendees can enjoy traditional square dancing and live music.

Oregon's river towns offer charming experiences for visitors in 2024. From the historical insights provided by Astoria's Columbia River Maritime Museum to the outdoor recreation facilitated by the Rogue River in Grants Pass, these attractions exemplify Oregon's heritage and natural resources. Key events such as the Northwest Cherry Festival in The Dalles and the Boatnik Square Dance Festival in Grants Pass highlight the local culture and community spirit. These destinations, each with their own activities, like the ancient Sea Lion Caves near Florence or the marvel of the Hood River Froot Loop in Hood River, make them essential visits for those exploring the state in 2024.

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