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6 Best Oregon National Parks

The United States National Parks are parks that have designated protected places and are operated by National Park Service. The beautiful National parks are known for their natural surroundings, geological features, ecosystems, and lovely recreational activities.

National Parks of the US aim to protect the natural beauty of its environment. It focuses on the safety of plants and wildlife without harming them in any manner. It seeks to provide access to recreational facilities and educational programs so that many can learn from the natural habitats.

The Oregon National Parks are synonymous with the state of Oregon’s forests, volcanos, fossils, and historic sites. With many areas of interest to explore, the state of Oregon can help you experience the Pacific Ocean, the mountains, the forest, the desert, lakes, and wildlife.

Although Oregon has only one national park, it has significant scenery with a lovely stretch of about 360 miles of public beach, gorges wild rivers, and forested peaks. Although different from the South Dakota National Parks, one must understand that Oregon national parks are packed with natural wonders that are both beautiful and historic.

Oregon National Parks
Image by ID 15079075 from Pixabay

Oregon National Parks are limited to only 6 units, and the “Crater lake National Park” is the only park with “National Park” in its title. The other 5 units do not have the same title in any of their names.

6 Best Oregon National Parks

1. Crater Lake National Park

The Crater Lake National Park is one of the Oregon National Parks that came to exist several years ago with the volcanic eruption of Mount Mazama. The volcano sent in large amounts of ash, lava, and other debris all over the atmosphere and the land.

1.1. How was the Crater Lake Formed?

Crater Lake is central to Crater Lake National Park as it dominates most parts of it. It is nearly 2000 feet deep and is named one of the deepest lakes in North America.

The magma pocket under the mountain ceased to remain, causing the top of Mount Mazama to cave into the empty magma pocket, creating a huge depression.

Since this was high on the Cascade Mountains, there were tremendous possibilities to receive enough quantities of precipitation. The Crater Lake was thus formed as it received enough water in the form of heavy snowfall.

Oregon National Parks
Image by Don White from Pixabay

The water is crystal clear and is in its purest form and giving the lake the lovely deep blue color when seen from the rim of the Caldera. The lake itself is breathtaking and many visitors return to this scenic location several times a year.

Crater Lake is much smaller when you compare it with other national parks in the Western US. Although small, the Crater Lake National Park is one of the most beautiful Oregon National Parks.

The Crater Lake National Park is filled with beautiful plants that include Ponderosa, sugar pines, hemlocks, honeysuckle, huckleberries, and others. During the nature trail, visitors are treated to Castle Crest Flower Gardens where many wildflowers are grown. It offers travelers to enjoy splendid nature trails, and lovely views of the lake that includes streams, waterfalls, and many more.

1.2. Things to do at the Crater Lake National Park

  • Taking a rim drive of Crater Lake is a must because it offers many views of the park and a single way to reach other destinations.

  • Boat tours are usually arranged for an awesome encounter time at Wizard island. Taking a guided tour would be an added advantage as most tour operators are quite experienced and will help to give a full account of the creation of one of the most beautiful of all Oregon national parks and its unique history.

  • Have a fun time snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing during the winter season at the Crater Lake National Park.

  • Take a much-needed stop at the Rim village for food, and information on stay options.

  • The waterfalls at Crater Lake are simply out-of-world so viewing them would be an experience you would never forget. The meadows look spectacular during spring and the fully bloomed wildflowers will also be a great sight.

  • Stay overnight at the two well-maintained campgrounds or if you prefer a more luxurious accommodation then Crater Lake Lodge would be a good option.

CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK Tour & Hike in OREGON | Oregon Travel | RV Travel | National Parks

1.3. Hiking Trails at Crater Lake National Park

i) Cleetwood Cove Trail

The Cleetwood Cove Trail is the easiest way to reach the beach part of the lake. Boat tours are arranged from here. The trail is considered the best among the Oregon national parks.

ii) Mount Scott Trail

Mount Scott Trail is one of the most sought-after trails. This leads to the highest peak on the Crater Lake Rim. The view from here is terrific and you can take awesome pictures.

iii) Plaikni Falls Trail and the Annie Creek Canyon Trail

Plaikni Falls Trail and the Annie Creek Canyon Trail are some of the other hikes that can be taken at the Crater Lake National Park.

2. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, located in east-central Oregon is one of the few Oregon national parks that is famous for its extensive fossil collection. It is a must-place to visit if you love to look at fabulous layered landscapes and enjoy digging into the prehistoric past.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is filled with rugged, rocky terrain and colorful badlands and paleontologists have unearthed fossils of hundreds of plants and mammals since 1864.

Oregon National Parks
Image by allycatfoxtrot from Pixabay

Initially a warm and rainy place, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was teeming with crocodiles and palm trees. It is now a high desert, a direct result of fluctuating climates and volcanic eruptions.

The units within the protected area are divided as follows:

  1. The Sheep Rock Unit – Home to the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center.

  2. The Painted Hills Unit.

  3. The Clarno Unit.

All units have beautiful sites that are unique and epic for all visitors to explore. The visitor center has fossilized animals that include horses, giant birds, crocodiles, camels, sloths, and bear dogs.

2.1. What can you do at The John Day Fossil Beds?

  • Head to the Sheep Rock which also has the headquarters and main visitor center.

  • Check out the Cant Ranch Home at the peak monument built by a Scottish Family.

  • Take a look at the plant and animal fossils hidden below the lahar mudflow cliff at the Clarno Unit.

  • Take your time at the brightly colored Painted hills that are vibrant and beautiful on a sunny day. Visitors are encouraged to watch the changing shape of the sun during sunrise. This brightens up multiple hues with long shadows allowing you multiple great photo shots.

John Day Fossil Beds - the most colorful place in America (Oregon)

2.2. Hiking Trails at the John Day Fossil Beds

i) Painted Hills Overlook 

A short trail of just 1 km takes 15 minutes to complete and is quite popular for birdwatching, hiking, and walking.

ii) Blue Basin Overlook Trail 

A moderately challenging route of about 2.6 km and quite popular for hiking.

iii) Carroll Rim Trail 

A 2.6 km trail near Mitchel Oregon takes around 47 minutes to complete.

3. Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park is found in the Northwestern region of the state of Oregon. It is around 90 miles northwest region of Portland, Oregon.

In May 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set off to explore the northwestern region of America under the guidance of President Thomas Jefferson.

The Lewis and Clark expedition led to historical discoveries in geography, natural history, and climatic conditions. Much of the winter of 1805-06, Lewis and Clark spent along the Columbia River and built a historical site called Fort Clatsop.

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
By Thye-Wee Gn from Shutterstock

3.1. Activities at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

  • Get to know the living conditions for the Corps of Discovery by visiting the replica of Fort Clatsop. Park Rangers give information about the historic sites during the summer season.

  • Visit the Lewis and Clark park headquarters to get to know about Native American History. Shop at the visitors center for videos, books, and gifts.

  • Encourage kids to fill out an activity book to become honorary Junior Rangers.

  • Look out for programs within the park that bring history to life through multiple demonstrations such as loading and firing a flintlock, quill pen writing, survival skills, and candle making

  • Have an adventure ride by paddle boarding and canoeing on the water. Make sure to take a guide.

3.2. Lewis and Clark National Historic Park Trails

To know more about the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark expedition, visitors are given an option of 14 miles of connecting trails.

The Trail called The Deer and Old Growth Forest is considered an easy route. It is a 2.7 Km loop trail that is close to Chehalis, Washington. The 41 minutes popular trail is known for bird watching, hiking, and walking.

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
By Zack Frank from Shutterstock

4. Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve

Situated in the northern Siskiyou Mountains of southwestern Oregon, Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve is a 4554-acre park that includes a marble cave.

The Caves were discovered by Elijah Davidson, a resident of Williams in the year 1874. After a streak of unsuccessful tourist ventures, Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve was managed by the United States Forest Service till 1933.

Since 1933, the national monument is managed by National Park Service and is considered one of the best Oregon national parks.

As a Solutional Cave, the Oregon Caves have passages totaling about 15000 feet formed in marble. The limestone formation is nearly 190 million years ago and the cave itself is a few million years.

Tourists are treated to breathtaking views of the Parent Rock which has formations of Stalactites and Stalagmites. All are naturally formed before the cave creation took place.

Storytime: The Discovery of Oregon Caves National Monument

Oregon Caves Chateau is a six-story rustic hotel built in 1934 and is considered one of the top attractions at the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve.

4.1. Activities to do in Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve

  • Take a tour of the Oregon Cave.

  • Hiking, photography, and wildlife watching would be another set of fun activities to do at the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve.

  • Stay at the Chateau and in the Cave junction.

  • Camp at the Cave Creek Campground or any of the available private sites in the area.

4.2. Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve Trails

i) Cliff Nature Trail

A 1.3 miles trail that is short and steep.

ii) Big Tree Trail
This trail is nearly 3.33 miles but will take 2.1 km to Big tree. Considered a steep climb that winds into mountain meadows and forests, past the widest-girthed Douglas-Fir Tree in Oregon
iii) Old Growth Trail

It is a short Trail of 1 mile.

iv) No Name Trail

Covers 1.3 miles and is both short and steep. One comes across streams, mossy cliffs, and dense forests.

v) Cave Creek Trail 

3.6 miles offense forest, splashing streams, and rock outcrops.

vi) Bigelow Lake- Mt Elijah Loop Trail

A full-day hike covers nearly 9.2 miles and takes you past meadows and lakes.

Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve

5. Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

The Fort Vancouver NHS is located just north of Portland, Oregon. As a replica of the 19th-century trading post, this is one of the few Oregon national parks with weapons demonstrations.

Hudson Bay Company built a headquarters in 1825. This doubled up as a supply depot for the operations in the pacific northwest.

As a significant trade center influencing cultural, political, and commercial developments in the Oregon Territory, Fort Vancouver has a terminus of the Oregon Trail for immigrants.

It has the first hospital, library, school, sawmill, gristmill, and shipbuilding site. Visitors are treated to amazing living history programs at the Fort Vancouver NHS.

5.1. What can one do at the Fort Vancouver NHS?

  • Explore the four major sites at the Fort Vancouver NHS, the reconstruction of the Hudson Bay Company’s Fort Vancouver, the US Army Vancouver Barracks, Pearson Air Museum, and the Mcloughlin House in Oregon City.

  • Pay a visit to the Visitor’s Center to see some of the most creative historic stories come together and hands-on exhibits

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
By Zack Frank from Shutterstock

5.2. Fort Vancouver NHS Trails

i) Officers Row 

A short trail of 0.8 km takes 30 minutes.

ii) Spruce Mill Trail

A walking trail covering 0.6 km can be completed in 20 minutes.

iii) Columbia River Waterfront

A 40-minute trail that covers nearly 1.2 km distance.

6. Perce National Historical Park

The Perce National Historical Park is an Oregon national park that extends to Idaho, Montana, and Washington. The park stretches to nearly 4 states and most of it can be covered in a day.

The Nimiipuu or the Nez Perce people were extremely headstrong and survived the harsh conditions of settling in the United States and chose to adapt to the changing world.

The Perce National Historical Park has over 38 places that are related to the history and culture of the Nimiipuu.

Nez Perce National Historic Park - Across Northern Idaho

6.1. What to do at the Perce National Historical Park?

  • Take a look at the main visitor center and other historic sites at Spalding Idaho.

  • Don’t forget to visit the Big Hole National Battlefield and the Bear Paw Battlefield.

  • Watch a movie about the information on the historical park at the headquarters.

Tips to Explore Oregon National Parks

  • Weather is extremely unpredictable and it tends to change every few hours.

  • The mountainous regions are generally cold and wet and the desert areas are hot and dry. So it is of utmost importance to dress accordingly.

  • Have a map of the area at all times and remember to bring water.

  • Mobile services are not guaranteed in all areas so be prepared for an alternate mode of communication.

The state of Oregon is both diverse and contrasting in many ways. While it is a high desert with thousand feet elevations in the east, you will find the Oregon Coast on the west. These contrasting extremes are mainly due to the Cascade Mountains that form a dividing line between them.

The Cascade Mountains are roughly around 5000 to 7000 feet high, blocking the Pacific Ocean’s moisture, and forming the desert.


As you head towards Oregon’s national historic trail, you will be forced to remember the struggles of an emigrant that had huge hopes and dreams of lush farmland. Oregon national parks serve as a wonderful reminder of the sacrifices, struggles, and triumphs of all those who wanted to call America their home.

So don’t forget to explore these majestic places of Oregon. Follow the footsteps of one of the explorers of the past as you navigate through Oregon National Parks.

Last Updated on March 16, 2023 by Ananya Sreen