Oregon is a land forged long ago from the machinations of geological metamorphosis, today covered in a carpet of lush green and thick fir. It is often considered one of the natural gems of the American wilds, loaded with wonders to boot; from the startling formations of the Rocky Mountain spine, to the wild coastal enclaves of the Pacific. What’s more it’s one of the continent’s undisputed outdoors destinations, offering skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer and surfing all year round.
Here are five of Oregon’s best-loved state parks, where visitors can discover some of the state’s most amazing natural wonders and even get a taste for its unique historical story.
Perched dramatically on the high desert plateaus of Central Oregon, this conglomeration of monolithic outcrops and rugged protrusions remains the undisputed king of climbing sports in America. Since the activity exploded here in the 1980s more and more ascents have been discovered, and today there are hundreds of high-difficulty cliffs waiting for the more intrepid climber. Smith Rock is also home to some breath-taking walking routes and a number of campsites, where visitors can stay in the shadow of the canyon where John Wayne once rode as Cogburn.
For those finishing off the Civil War history trail west of the Midwest, the Fort Stevens State Park is a site that simple can’t be missed. Since construction in 1863 it served as one of the main lines of defence on the mouth of the Columbia River, where it was actually intended to prevent raids from the British Navy in the wake of disputes over the San Juan Islands. Today, there’s not only a melange of various gun batteries and fortifications to explore, but also a natural patchwork of Oregon beaches, lakes and woodland.
Dense woodlands of soaring pines and misty forest floors of lichen and leaves await at Oregon’s largest state park of all. Most visitors come to make the famous hikes that wind their way amongst the waterfalls that gave the park its name. Of these, there are no fewer than 17 on-site, with the majestic 54-metres South Falls featuring as the pièce de résistance. The park also comes complete with a rugged biking track and some great riding trails for horses.
As one of coastal gems on the western seaboard’s Oregon Trail, the Ecola State Park rarely fails to impress. Sheer beachside bluffs rise against some of the state’s most alluring sand stretches, providing hikers and bikers stunning panoramas of the Pacific coast. From atop the eponymous Ecola Point it’s possible to spot surfers riding the wild swells of Cannon Beach, while further inland, the park opens up into swathes of coastal spruce and fir forest that feather out high into the Oregon Mountains.
Surfers flock en masse to the rugged coves and wide beaches of the Oswald West State Park; they come in search of some of Oregon’s most secluded breaks, where dramatic cliffs of misty rainforests envelop on all sides. For walkers this park offers a range of different trails, from day-long treks through the primeval forests, to easier nature walks that pass the pretty Necarney Creek, winding their way down to the postcard-perfect Sand Beach on the Pacific. For some of the best views of the park though, consider taking the longer hike to the peak of Neahkahnie, which soars high above Manzanita and Nehalem Bay to the south.