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9 Most Scenic Drives in Oregon for a Pacific Northwest Road Trip

9 Most Scenic Drives in Oregon for a Pacific Northwest Road Trip

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Are you planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest and want to explore the most beautiful places in Oregon? Keep scrolling to find out the most scenic drives in Oregon that are perfect for a PNW road trip!

As a Seattle local, we have spent a lot of time in Oregon over the years. It’s such a cool state to explore, especially by car!

Oregon is home to some of the most scenic drives in the United States. It features diverse terrain ranging from thick forests to expansive deserts and stunning coastal views of the Pacific.

If you’re looking to explore the state at your own pace and discover hidden gems along the way, there’s no better way than hitting the road and taking it slow.

The journey is just as important as the destination on an Oregon road trip. With so many beautiful byways and highways to choose from, you’re in for a real treat.

Whether you’re a nature lover or simply seeking some time away from the hustle and bustle of city life, these scenic drives in Oregon are not to be missed.

The Most Scenic Drives in Oregon

Journey Through Time Scenic Byway

The Journey Through Time scenic drive in Oregon lives up to its name. It takes you on a 286-mile trip through 54 million years of history.

Starting at the Columbia River in Biggs, an important Native American gathering and fishing spot, you’ll journey through river canyons and arrive at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Here, you’ll discover an awe-inspiring fossilized landscape with 54 million years of life.

Journey Through Time Scenic Byway in Oregon
Journey Through Time Scenic Byway in Oregon.

The monument has three units, and you’ll be able to drive through all of them. This includes the most well-known one, Painted Hills, with its Mars-like terrain of ancient, red-colored hills.

Along the way, you’ll also come across ghost towns, old mines and ranches, and even railway tracks, giving you a glimpse into Oregon’s rich heritage.

Colorful clay hills in the Painted Hills of Oregon, USA
Check out the colorful clay hills in the Painted Hills of Oregon.

Where to Stop:

  • John Day Fossil Beds National Monument: This stop offers a chance to explore the rich history of the area and learn about the geological wonders of the John Day Fossil Beds.
  • Painted Hills: This area is known for its colorful hills and unique geological formations, making it a must-see stop for nature lovers.
  • Shaniko: This historic ghost town is a fascinating stop for anyone interested in the Wild West.
  • The Dalles Dam: This impressive dam is a great place to stop and admire the beauty of the Columbia River.
  • Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area: This breathtaking gorge is a popular spot for hiking, sightseeing, and outdoor recreation.
  • Mount Hood: This iconic mountain is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the state, and a must-see stop on the Journey Through Time scenic drive.

Pacific Coast Scenic Byway

Oregon’s Pacific Coast Scenic Byway is a popular choice among tourists for its breathtaking views and stunning coastal landscapes.

Spanning an impressive 363 miles, the highway offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged Oregon coastline.

Oregon Coast Near Tillamook
Oregon Coast near Tillamook.

As you drive through this scenic byway, you’ll be treated to a visual feast of seaside cliffs, valleys, sand dunes, tide pools, quaint fishing towns, and more.

Although the drive is long, most visitors choose to explore a section of the route rather than the entire distance, depending on the time they have available.

Regardless of your itinerary, make sure to take frequent stops along the way to explore some of the best places to visit in Oregon.

Image of Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach
Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach

Where to Stop:

  • Cannon Beach: This beautiful beach is famous for its iconic Haystack Rock, which is a 235-foot tall monolith that rises from the ocean.
  • Ecola State Park: This park offers breathtaking views of the ocean, as well as hiking trails through forests and along the beach.
  • Cape Meares Lighthouse: This historic lighthouse is perched atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and offers panoramic views of the surrounding area.
  • Devil’s Churn: This narrow inlet is carved into the cliffs by the power of the Pacific Ocean and is a popular spot for viewing sea lions and seals.
  • Sea Lion Caves: This huge sea cave is home to a large colony of sea lions, making it a popular spot for wildlife viewing.
  • Yachats: This charming coastal town is known for its beautiful scenery, local art, and great food.
  • Florence: This historic town is located at the mouth of the Siuslaw River and is a popular spot for fishing, boating, and exploring the nearby sand dunes.

Trees to Sea Scenic Byway

Oregon offers diverse landscapes that cater to all preferences. If you can’t decide whether to focus on the coast or explore The Beaver State’s lush forests, this drive will give you the best of both worlds.

Cape Perpetua Oregon Scenic Drive
Cape Perpetua Scenic Overlook.

This scenic drive spans 68 miles, connecting the captivating Tualatin Valley to the rugged Oregon coast, and boasts spectacular views along the way.

Although you can complete the drive in just under 3 hours, it is recommended to dedicate a few days to fully appreciate the natural wonders along the way.

Some must-see stops on this drive include indulging in a wine-tasting session at Tualatin Valley, hiking in Tillamook State Forest, exploring farms in Tillamook, and spotting whales and puffins at Cape Meares State Park!

Umpqua River Lighthouse overlooking the entrance to the Winchester Bay near Reedsport OR
Umpqua River Lighthouse.

Where to Stop:

  • Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area: Get up close and personal with one of the largest herds of Roosevelt elk in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area: Explore the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America, with opportunities for hiking, off-roading, and beachcombing.
  • Umpqua Lighthouse State Park: Take in panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and the coast from this historic lighthouse.
  • Reedsport: Enjoy fishing, boating, and other water sports on the Umpqua River.
  • Winchester Bay: Explore the charming fishing village of Winchester Bay, with its marina, seafood restaurants, and local shops.
  • Oregon Coast Aquarium: Get up close and personal with marine life from the Pacific Ocean, including sea otters, seals, and sea lions.
  • Heceta Head Lighthouse: Tour this historic lighthouse and take in panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and the coast.
  • Cape Perpetua Scenic Area: Hike through the ancient forests of the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area and take in stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and coast.

Outback Scenic Byway

Looking to experience lush greenery and the vastness of the desert in Oregon? Look no further than this 171-mile scenic drive!

Cowboys along the Outback Scenic Byway in Oregon.
Cowboys along the Outback Scenic Byway in Oregon.

This Oregon scenic drive starts from the stunning Deschutes National Forest and ends at the California border. This relatively short Oregon drive offers an incredible range of diverse landscapes that will leave you in awe.

Beginning near La Pine and finishing near Lakeview, this drive takes you through plains, alkali flats, and rocky terrain after you leave the lush greenery of Deschutes.

Along the way, you’ll encounter numerous breathtaking sights. This includes Fort Rock, a towering set of rock walls, and an alkaline lake teeming with wildlife.

Additionally, the drive takes you past caves that hold the oldest evidence of human life in North America. So buckle up, and get ready to explore Oregon’s incredible scenery!

Colorful Painted Hills in Oregon
Colorful Painted Hills in Oregon.

Where to Stop:

  • Painted Hills National Monument: This breathtaking location is a series of hills with vibrant stripes of red, black, and yellow. It is one of the most popular attractions in the area and is a great place to take a hike or just enjoy the view.
  • Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument: This site features a museum and trails that lead to some of the best-preserved fossils in the world. You can also hike to the top of Sheep Rock for a panoramic view of the surrounding area.
  • The Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum: This museum is dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of Chinese immigrants in the American West. It is one of the most unique museums in the region and is a must-visit for anyone interested in history or culture.
  • Mitchell: This small town is the endpoint of the Outback Scenic Byway and is a great place to stop for a bite to eat or to explore the local shops and museums.

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway

If you’re looking to explore Oregon’s volcanic terrain, the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway is the perfect 140-mile drive for you.

The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway is a popular Oregon drive.
The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway is a popular Oregon drive.

Along the way, you’ll be treated to views of stunning alpine lakes and snow-capped mountains. All of them were formed as a result of the state’s volcanic activity.

The highlight of the drive is the famous 33-mile loop around the rim of Crater Lake. This is Oregon’s most iconic national park, offering panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding volcanic landscape.

Crater Lake is one of the most popular Oregon attractions.

Where to Stop:

  • Crater Lake National Park: This stunning lake was created by the collapse of the Mount Mazama volcano and is a must-visit for its crystal-clear waters and breathtaking vistas.
  • Lava Lands Visitor Center: Located near Bend, this visitor center is the perfect place to learn about the geology and history of the region’s volcanic activity.
  • Newberry National Volcanic Monument: This site is home to the Newberry Crater, a massive shield volcano that provides opportunities for hiking, camping, and fishing.
  • Mount Bachelor: This ski resort is located on the slopes of an extinct volcano and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park: This park is home to Lassen Peak, the largest plug dome volcano in the world, and features opportunities for hiking, camping, and fishing.
  • Diamond Lake: This stunning lake is surrounded by the peaks of the Cascade Range. It’s a popular spot for fishing, boating, and camping.
  • Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest: This forest features miles of hiking trails, pristine rivers, and breathtaking vistas of the Cascade Range.

Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge is considered one of the best scenic drives in Oregon because of its stunning natural beauty. This includes towering cliffs, lush forests, and cascading waterfalls.

Multnomah Falls and bridge, in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.
Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

The drive also takes visitors along the mighty Columbia River, one of the largest rivers in North America. It offers numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation, such as hiking and picnicking.

Additionally, the gorge is home to several historic sites, including the Bonneville Dam. It also features the Columbia River Highway, which was once known as the “King of Roads” and was the first scenic highway in the United States.

Overall, the Columbia River Gorge provides a perfect blend of natural and cultural attractions, making it a must-visit destination for anyone looking to explore the beauty of Oregon.

Gulick Homestead und indischen Shaker Church - The Dalles Oregon
Gulick Homestead in the Dalles.

Where to Stop:

  • Multnomah Falls: This iconic waterfall is the tallest in the state and offers stunning views of the Columbia River Gorge.
  • Vista House: This historic viewpoint offers panoramic views of the Columbia River and the surrounding mountains.
  • Hood River: This charming town is a popular spot for windsurfing and kiteboarding, as well as for enjoying local restaurants and shops.
  • The Dalles: This historic town is known for its history as a fur trading center. It’s home to a number of museums and cultural attractions.
  • Maryhill Museum of Art: This museum features a unique collection of art and artifacts, including a replica of Stonehenge.
  • Mosier Twin Tunnels: This scenic drive takes visitors through two historic tunnels along the Columbia River Gorge, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
  • Cascade Locks: This historic town is a popular spot for fishing, boating, and hiking. It’s also home to a number of waterfalls and scenic vistas.
  • Bonneville Dam: This historic dam offers visitors a chance to learn about the region’s hydroelectric power generation. You can also see the fish ladders that help salmon migrate up the Columbia River.

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is considered one of the prettiest drives in Oregon. That’s because it takes you through a breathtaking landscape of snow-capped peaks, shimmering alpine lakes, and lush forests.

Lava Lake Along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
Lava Lake along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.

The route takes you through the Deschutes National Forest. It offers stunning views of the Three Sisters peaks, Mount Bachelor, and Mount Jefferson.

Along the way, you can stop at various viewpoints, including the Dee Wright Observatory, where you can see panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

It also goes by Sparks Lake, where you can capture some of the most beautiful photos of the Cascade Range.

Additionally, the route offers opportunities for hiking, fishing, and camping, making it a perfect outdoor adventure for nature lovers.

An experienced fly fisherman wades in the water while fly fishing the Deschutes River in Oregon.
Deschutes River in Oregon.

Where to Stop:

  • Sparks Lake: This picturesque lake is surrounded by mountains and is a popular spot for fishing, camping, and hiking.
  • Cascade Lakes National Recreation Area: This vast wilderness area is home to many scenic lakes, including Elk Lake, Hosmer Lake, and Lava Lake.
  • Newberry National Volcanic Monument: This unique park is home to the Newberry Volcano, which is the largest volcano in the Cascades.
  • Deschutes River: This river is a popular destination for rafting and kayaking. There are several scenic overlooks along the byway that offer stunning views of the river.
  • Crater Lake National Park: This stunning park is home to the deepest lake in the United States. It’s surrounded by towering peaks and lush forests.
  • Mount Bachelor: This ski resort offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains. It’s a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts.
  • Sunriver Resort: This world-class resort is a popular destination for golfers. It offers a variety of recreational activities and dining options.

Hells Canyon Scenic Byway

Hells Canyon Scenic Byway is a unique Oregon road trip because it takes you through some of the most remote and rugged terrain in the state.

hells canyon scenic byway oregon
Hells Canyon Scenic Byway in Oregon.

The 218-mile drive offers breathtaking views of Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America, and takes you through charming small towns and historic sites along the way.

You’ll also get the chance to explore the Wallowa Mountains and experience the beauty of the Snake River.

The scenic byway is perfect for those seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure and a chance to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of Oregon.

Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

Where to Stop:

  • Hells Canyon Dam: This dam provides a great opportunity to see the Snake River and the surrounding canyon.
  • Hells Canyon Visitor Center: This center provides information on the history of the canyon and the local wildlife.
  • Wallowa-Whitman National Forest: This forest is home to several scenic trails, including the Hells Canyon Overlook Trail and the Snake River Overlook Trail.
  • Hat Point: This scenic viewpoint provides panoramic views of Hells Canyon and the surrounding mountains.
  • Hells Canyon Overlook: This overlook provides breathtaking views of the canyon and the Snake River.
  • Imnaha: This small town is a great place to stop for a break and grab a bite to eat.
  • Hells Canyon State Park: This park provides opportunities for hiking, fishing, and boating.

Blue Mountain Scenic Byway

The Blue Mountain Scenic Byway is a nice weekend road trip. It takes you through some of the most picturesque and remote areas of Eastern Oregon.

A beautiful overlook onto the John Day Burns highway
Strawberry Mountain Wilderness in Oregon.

The drive covers 130 miles and offers breathtaking views of the Blue Mountains, rolling hills, vast prairies, and rugged peaks.

Along the way, you can visit charming small towns and historic sites, hike through lush forests, and spot wildlife like elk and bighorn sheep.

This scenic byway is also known for its vibrant fall foliage, making it a popular destination for leaf-peeping in autumn.

Where to Stop:

  • The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument: This stop is a must-visit for history buffs and nature enthusiasts. Explore the Clarno Unit and see the fossil beds that date back millions of years.
  • The Painted Hills: This unique geological area is part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and offers stunning views of colorful layered hills.
  • The Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum: This museum is a restored Chinese store and medical clinic from the late 1800s. It is a unique and fascinating stop for those interested in history and cultural heritage.
  • The Strawberry Mountain Wilderness: This stop offers opportunities for hiking, fishing, and camping in a beautiful wilderness area.
  • The Anthony Lakes Recreation Area: This stop is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts who want to hike, fish, or simply enjoy the scenic views of the surrounding mountains and lakes.

What Are Some Tips for Driving on Oregon Scenic Highways?

Here are some tips for driving on scenic routes in Oregon:

Take your time

Oregon’s scenic roads are meant to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Plan for frequent stops and take your time to appreciate the views and attractions along the way.

Check the weather

Oregon’s weather can be unpredictable, especially on the coast and in the mountains. Check the forecast before you start driving and be prepared for sudden changes in weather.

Carry enough water and snacks

Some of Oregon’s scenic drives pass through remote areas where services may be limited. Carry enough water and snacks to keep you hydrated and energized during the drive.

Be mindful of other drivers

Oregon’s scenic roads are popular with tourists and locals alike. Be courteous to other drivers, give way when needed, and follow traffic rules and regulations.

Use pullouts and turnouts

Oregon’s scenic drives offer plenty of pullouts and turnouts for drivers to stop and enjoy the views. Use these areas to take photos, stretch your legs, and let faster traffic pass.

Stay on designated roads

Oregon’s scenic roads are well-marked. It’s important to stay on designated roads to preserve the natural beauty of the area.

Respect wildlife

Oregon’s scenic drives pass through areas where wildlife is often seen. Drive cautiously and be mindful of animals crossing the road. Do not feed or approach wildlife, as this can be dangerous for both you and the animals.

Scenic Places in Oregon FAQs

What is the best time of year to take a scenic drive in Oregon?

The best time to take a scenic drive in Oregon is typically during the summer months, from June through September. This is when the weather is generally the warmest and driest, making for better driving conditions and clearer views. However, certain scenic drives may have seasonal closures or restrictions, so it’s always best to check ahead of time.

Are there any fees or permits required to drive on Oregon’s scenic byways?

There are generally no fees or permits required to drive on Oregon’s scenic byways. But there may be fees associated with specific attractions or parks along the way. Some scenic drives may require a Northwest Forest Pass or Oregon State Parks Day-Use Permit. These can be purchased ahead of time online or at designated locations.

Are there any restrictions or special rules for driving RVs or other large vehicles on Oregon’s scenic drives?

RVs and other large vehicles are allowed on most of Oregon’s scenic drives. However, it’s important to check for any size restrictions or other special rules ahead of time. Some scenic routes may have narrow or winding roads that may not be suitable for larger vehicles. Additionally, some areas may have restrictions on overnight parking or camping for RVs. So it’s important to plan ahead and research the specific regulations for each scenic drive.

Oregon Scenic Drives Wrap-Up

I trust that this list of routes along Oregon scenic byways has inspired you to plan your next adventure.

Although there are many other Oregon scenic drives to consider, these ones are an excellent starting point for exploring the state’s diverse landscape.

If you’re into scenic drives, check out these amazing places to road trip with RVShare!

Looking for more Oregon travel content? Find out the best things to do in Astoria, adorable Oregon Coast towns, the best things to do in Cannon Beach, coolest Oregon small towns, cool things to do in Seaside, most beautiful places in Oregon, and unique places to visit in Oregon.

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