Driving along Oregon’s roads and highways is an excellent way of experiencing the state’s grandeur. It is a front-seat ticket to watch some of its iconic historical landmarks, unique cultural sites, and stunning natural beauty. From jagged snow-capped peaks and sprawling high deserts to bottomless gorges and picturesque shorelines, the scenery is breathtaking, and road-trippers can look forward to encountering dazzling natural wonders like the Columbia River Gorge, Hells Canyon, and Crater Lake.
This awesome adventure is also a journey through time, with several sites along the way chronicling Oregon’s evolution, from being originally inhabited by indigenous Native American tribes like the Burns Paiute Tribe through when the first European settlements in the 1800s to the urban juggernaut the state is today. From modern coastal cities to small backcountry towns still stuck in time, these lovely drivebys present a rare opportunity for travelers to experience Oregon’s different personalities.
Buckle up and set the stage for a riveting rendezvous along the most scenic road trips to take in Oregon.
Rogue- Umpqua Scenic Byway
This picturesque 172-mile route features two nationally recognized Wild and Scenic Rivers and places travelers in the heart of Oregon’s natural beauty, with gorgeous waterfalls, lush forests, deep gorgeous, and imposing mountains highlighting the trip. The Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway starts at the timber town of Roseburg, and 5 miles into the journey, drivers can stop at the Winchester Dam to watch trout, steelhead, and salmon, then stop by the Douglas County Museum to explore the region’s past.
As explorers venture into the Umpqua National Forests, hikers and bikers will love the 79-mile North Umpqua Trails, which snake along the river banks. Several marked trailheads lead to gorgeous cascades, including the 272-foot Watson Falls and Toketee Falls, after which travelers can briefly stop at Lemolo Lake Resort to catch some brown trout. Once past Diamond Lake, check out Crater National Park and the Rogue Gorge, a jaw-dropping collapsed lava tube with a 40-foot abyss. Finally, cap off the trip by relaxing at the Joseph H. Stewart State Recreation Area in the Upper Rogue River section.
Mount Hood Scenic Byway
This 100-mile pathway loops around the majestic 14,000+ foot Mount Hoods, treating drivers to the stunning scenes of Oregon’s highest peak. Take off from Hood River, a prime spot for windsurfers and parasailers on the Columbia River, and climb the Hood River Valley to the Mount Hood National Forest, where hikers can explore several trails leading to alpine lakes, lush meadows, and mountain creeks in the area.
As the road bends west to Government Camp, stop at Mt. Hood Cultural Center & Museum for a short history lesson or head to Mt. Hood Ski Bowl Adventure Park for some fun on the alpine slides and race karts. Descend the steep Oregon Trails to Wood Village, with the next stop at Wildwood Recreation Site for a lazy stroll along the boardwalk and Salmon River. After admiring the rich underwater life at the Cascade Streamwatch, bikers can take on the rugged 11-mile Sandy Ridge Trail System. At the same time, sightseers savor the breathtaking views of the sprawling Sandy River Valley from Jonsrud Viewpoint.
Cascade Lake Scenic Byway
Spectacular alpine lakes highlight this 66-mile drive across Central Oregon against the perfect backdrop of the snow-capped Cascade Range. Starting at the vibrant city of Bend, explorers can sample the town's lively craft brewery scene or pop into the High Desert Museum to glimpse the area’s history. Also, the Newberry National Volcanic Movement is ideal for sightseers to admire intricate volcanic formations.
The route turns west from Bend, leading to Deschutes National Forest, where travelers can fish and kayak on the Deschutes River or marvel at the exquisite Dillon and Benham waterfalls. Later, hit the slopes at Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort, where 3,700 acres of powdered terrain and a 3,650-foot vertical drop await thrill seekers. Continue south to Three Sisters Wilderness, which houses the Elk Lake Recreation Area, perfect for campers looking to spend the night.
McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway
This delightful 82-mile loop takes road-trippers past majestic volcanic peaks and mountainous lava fields, with vivid vistas of the Cascade Range. Begin at the charming town of Sisters and admire the area's 1800s architectural style of structures. Moving counterclockwise around the loop, marvel at the 10,000-foot volcanic peaks of the Three Sisters on the way to Camp Sherman, where adventurers can stop by Metolius River to fish and soak in panoramas of Mt. Jefferson.
Continue to Santiam Pass, explore the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, and peak at the mysterious Lost Lake, alternating between a full lake in spring and an empty lava tube in fall. Take the McKenzie Highway to the Lava River National Recreation Trail and head to the Dee Wright Observatory to view Cascade peaks from a 5,000-foot elevation.
Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway
If chasing volcanoes is the top priority on the Oregon itinerary, this 140-mile trip presents adventurers with the opportunity to spot them. It starts at Diamond Lake Junction, snaking through the Fremont-Winema National Forest to the popular Crater National Park. Visitors can witness the first evidence of past volcanic activity at the Mt. Mazama site.
At Cloud Cap Overlook, sightseers will love the views of the lake as hikers brave the challenge to the summit of Mt. Scott. Meanwhile, animal lovers are in for a treat at the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, and birdwatchers can witness the migration of over a million birds along the Pacific Flyway, with species such as white-faced ibis, sandhill cranes, northern harriers, and American kestrels represented.
Historic Columbia River Highway
The Columbia River Highway boasts the distinction of being America’s maiden scenic highway, established in 1913, and among the best road trips to take in Oregon. Aptly nicknamed the “King of Roads,” this 70-mile route offers access to the highest waterfall concentration in the country, with the chance to spot the beautiful 620-foot Multnomah Falls for the perfect photo opportunity. Along the corridor, tourists can stop at the Women’s Forum State Viewpoint for a unique perspective of the Columbia River Gorge.
However, waterfalls take the day as the path drifts from Crowd Point, with a series of magnificent cascades proving a dream come true for sightseers. The most prominent include Shepperd’s Dell, Bridal Veil, Multnomah, Wakheena, and the kid-friendly Latourell Falls. Meanwhile, walkers, bikers, and joggers can stretch along the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.
Oregon Outback Scenic Byway
Looking to go off-the-beaten path to explore Oregon’s backcountry scenery? It doesn’t get better than the Oregon Outback Scenic Byway. This stunning 171-mile road straddles the high desert country, starting from La Pine to the California border. A short drive into the journey, explorers will encounter Fort Rock, a volcanic crater rising 325 feet, before stepping back in time at the Fort Rock Cave, where an archeologist discovered evidence of human activity from ten centuries before.
Stop by the Fort Rock Valley Historical Society Homestead Museum to check out how the early inhabitants lived and, later, the Paulina Marsh in Silver Lake, which attracts bird species like waterfowls, herons, and eagles. At Picture Rock Pass, examine Native American petroglyphs engraved in rocks before taking the Medicine Man Trail for a light exercise.
Journey Through Time Scenic Byway
On this 286-mile journey across northeastern Oregon, road-trippers enjoy a trip down memory lane as they pass through prehistoric fossil beds, ancient ghost towns, and iconic landmarks like the Painted Hills and Scenic John Day River. It also showcases the area’s unique landscape, staring at Biggs on the Columbia River. In Moro, tourists can stop by the Sherman County Historical Museum to check a vast collection of artifacts showcasing Native American culture, wheat farming, and the Oregon Trail migration.
The route heads east to the John Day Fossils Beds National Monument, which houses over 2,000 species of ancient animal and plant life from over 50 million years ago. Farther ahead, enjoy the colorful views of the Painted Hills, and stop to check out the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site and Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area.
Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway
The 106-mile Elkhorn Dive Scenic Byway takes travelers past the jagged peaks of the Elkhorn Mountains and through forgotten gold-mining towns in northeast Oregon. Numerous sights await along the corridor, including the starting point, Baker City, which became a prominent mining town upon discovering gold in 19th-century Oregon. More history remains uncovered at the Baker Heritage Museum and the 1889 Geiser Grand Hotel.
The highway turns west from here, running along the Powder River, through the Blue Canyon, and to the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, which thrusts nature lovers into the heart of lush grasslands and thick forests. Towards the end of the byway, Elkhorn Crest National Recreation Trails offers the ideal relaxing setting before camping at Anthony Lakes Campground.
Blue Mountain Scenic Byway
Delve into the mountainous splendor of Oregon’s backcountry as this 145-mile journey on the southeast corner of Washington state takes explorers through the forested areas of the iconic Blue Mountains. Best taken during the flurry of fall colors, the trip begins in Heppner Junction, where the Willow Creek Wildlife Area welcomes trophy hunters to stake out elk, waterfowl, and other game birds. At Historic Heppner, guests can visit the Morrow Country Museum to explore the agricultural heritage of the bygone eras.
The route then ventures into the Umatilla National Forest, which offers a diverse range of trails and trailheads perfect for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Those yearning for a breather can spend the night at the onsite campground. Otherwise, proceed to the Ukiah Basin, where more accommodation awaits at North Fork John Day Campground.
Over The Rivers And Through The Woods Scenic Byway
On this 66-mile route, travelers explore the lush scenery along the Willamette Valley on their way to the West Cascade Mountains. In Brownsville, they can delve into the history of the state’s third-oldest town at Linn County Historical Museum, featuring replicas of medieval stores and a pioneer wagon. Taking the Wagon Route, campers will pass by Cascadia County Park, which harbors swimming holes and hiking paths to the beautiful Soda Creek Falls.
More adventures await at the Willamette National Forests, a vital wildlife spot with several trailheads and campgrounds. Proceed to the Menagerie Wilderness for an adrenaline-inducing rock-climbing adventure before settling for incredible views at Tombstone Pass.
High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway
The High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway introduces adventurers to the beautiful landscapes of the Alvord Desert and Steens Mountain. Exploring what can be called Oregon’s Wild West, the route starts at Burns, and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge hosts a mix of wetlands that draw diverse bird and animal species. Not too far away is the George Benson Memorial Museum, which exhibits taxidermy mounts for interested birdwatchers.
The road turns south, heading past the Frenchglen Ranch, and a stop at the 1924 Frenchglen Hotel will come in handy for overnight accommodation. Later, continue to the Steens Mountains Wilderness to catch stables of wild horses and flocks of bighorn sheep.
Discover Oregon's Scenic Wonders
There's nothing quite like the thrill of a safari adventure that guides first-timers through the untamed backcountry routes of a new region. For those plotting a tour of the Pacific Northwest, these are the quintessential road trips to embark upon in Oregon, providing an unparalleled opportunity to immerse yourself in the state's multifaceted natural splendor.