Oregon Road Trips
By Kimberly Graf. Published on September 20, 2022
Oregon is home to many diverse landscapes. From coasts to volcanic formations and evergreen forests, there is something for everyone in Oregon. This often-overlooked state sits between California and Washington on the Pacific coast, and while it might not be an extremely popular tourist destination, there are a few excellent road trips to take if you are in the area.
Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
Many people think that the Grand Canyon is the deepest canyon in the United States, but that isn't strictly true. Hells Canyon in Oregon is America's deepest river gorge. There is so much to do and see in this area that it qualifies as one of the most worthwhile road trips in the state of Oregon.
This road trip starts in La Grande, Oregon. This historic town is known for being a stop on the Oregon Trail, and boasts a scenic downtown area that's interesting to explore. When you're finished running around in La Grande, you're going to want to go east on OR-82. It will behoove you to check the road conditions, as snow can easily close these mountain passes.
Nearly an hour away from La Grande is Minam, the turning point for the landscape. There are several recreation areas here that use the Minam River, and it's a beautiful place to stop and dip your feet in the water before continuing up to Hells Canyon. On the way, you're going to want to stop at Joseph, the last town with services for the next 75 miles at least. The drive from here is twisty and absolutely breathtaking.
You're going to want to go nine miles to the east on Oregon Highway 350 until you can turn off for the Forest Road 39. The landscape here speaks for itself, as it orients you for the drive directly into the mountains. From here, you're going to be going through elevations fairly rapidly, as you'll need to be at a full 9,400 feet to fully enjoy the approaching Hells Canyon Overlook. However, the drive is through the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest – even the discomfort from the elevation is so, so worth the views here.
Twenty miles and a lot of elevation later, you'll end up at Forest Road 3965. Turn there, and in just three miles you'll find the Hells Canyon Overlook. From this point, you can pull over and see the majesty and wonder of a canyon ten miles wide and deeper than the Grand Canyon. This isn't our final destination, but you're going to want to spend some time here for sure.
In fact, you can see more of the Canyon from the next leg of the trip. Get back on Forest Road 39 and drive until you can hop onto OR-86. From the road, you can see stunning vistas, the canyon and the mountains surrounding it. You can continue onwards through to Baker City on this road, and from there, you can re-enter La Grande to the north. This trip is 193 miles and takes a total of five and half hours, but you are definitely going to want to take your time in this gorgeous countryside.
Coastal Oregon Road Trip
Travelers are enamored with the Coastal California trip that takes you through a stunning variety of landscapes, but there is a smaller version in Oregon that is no less beautiful. The shoreline here differs from the California shore in that it is more heavily forested and the road lays lower. This seven-and-a-half mile ride is along US-101. Begin in Astoria, Oregon, a town on far northern border. Highway 101 crosses the Youngs Bay here by way of an amazing two-lane bridge. You're surrounded by water on both sides until you get to the other side of town.
After leaving Astoria, there are plenty of opportunities to stop and play in the water. A few of the closest areas are the Sunset Beach State Recreation Site and the Del Rey Beach State Recreation Site. There's an aquarium not far to the south that boasts a myriad different types of sea life. All of these options are within half an hour of Astoria.
After this stop, the road veers away from the coast for quite a ways, twisting through rugged forests and dense vegetation for a short while. Another thirty minutes of these views put you right back on the coast. Hug Point is a gorgeous beach with caves and groundcover backing right up to the water. Less than half an hour to the south of Hug Point are two state parks: Oswald West and Nehalem Bay, full of recreation options, tours, and interesting information.
To the south, Highway 101 rides the edge of Tillamook Bay and then plunges into deep forests with beautiful evergreens again. For about an hour you are treated to these views. The Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge is worth stopping at, and for more than just stretching your legs.
The middle part of your journey is two hours of coastal driving, which is beautiful in all types of weather. The coast is littered with public use beaches and recreation opportunities the entire way. You can take your time along this two-lane highway, soaking in the sun and the surf. Florence, Oregon is situated on the Siuslaw River, and it's an excellent place to get a bite to eat or stop and rest for the night.
Just south of the river begins an 80-mile stretch of sand-dunes, the jewel of this drive. The coast backs up to these amazing sand dunes, with campgrounds and hiking readily available. You can see them from the road most of the way, except where the road twists to overtake the Umpqua River. However, these dunes continue on the other side of the river and go for quite some distance. It's a unique feature of this coast, the desert meeting the shore.
You can stop anywhere along the way – if you've had your fill of the coast and forests, any town on this road is an excellent point to hang your hat. If you can't get enough, you can drive down to Brookings on the Oregon-California border, just to say that you've traveled the length of the coast!
Oregon might not be the top tourist destination in the United States, but there is so much to see and do here. The state has it all; redwoods in the south, the coast, forests, and the deepest canyon in North America. Next time you find yourself in this part of the country, consider Oregon as a destination.