Travel

The Most Beautiful Places in Oregon You Never Knew Existed

Get some fresh air.

most beautiful places oregon
Hells Canyon | Zack Frank/Shutterstock
Hells Canyon | Zack Frank/Shutterstock

Those who haven’t visited Oregon or the greater Pacific Northwest area may have a skewed view of the state. It’s hard to truly appreciate the varied beauty of the Beaver State without visiting it, from the high deserts east of the Cascades to the untamed, wild coastlines dotted with geological marvels. Even those that do visit might only know of some of the more famous icons: Haystack Rock, Crater Lake, Timberline, and Multnomah Falls tend to dominate discussions about Oregon’s natural wonders. But there is so much more to the state than those famed locales. Here are 10 of Oregon’s less visited sites, as well as current information regarding COVID-19 and wildfires regulations.

Alvord Desert

Harney County
Hidden in southeastern Oregon next to Steens Mountain, the Alvord Desert is more Burning Man than Enchanted Forest. Forget everything you thought you knew about Oregon's lushness and its record-setting precipitation. The Alvord Desert is miles and miles of dusty mountain ranges, limitless sunsets, dry lake beds, and remoteness that will invoke a fear that you're the last man on Earth. And it’s mesmerizing.
COVID-19 and wildfire info: Alvord Desert is currently open for visitors. 

Lava River Cave

Bend
Formed from a volcanic eruption about 80,000 years ago, the mile-long Lava River Cave in the Deschutes National Forest allows for self-guided tours in a cold, drippy environment. Though spending an hour and a half walking several feet underground might sound eerie, it’s definitely a unique and marvelous experience. To explore this cave, you'll need to descend 55 stairs to a combination of flat boardwalk, uneven surfaces, and more stairways. All that work isn’t for nothing; once in there, you’ll be rewarded with a picturesque sand garden and an array of ice crystals.
COVID-19 and wildfire info: The Lava River caves are currently closed due to COVID-19 precautions, but very well may reopen later in 2021. Find up-to-date information here.

Stein’s Pillar

Prineville
Oregon's all-natural, glorious beacon, Stein’s Pillar is a more curious site than Multnomah Falls, and with far fewer tourists blocking the paths to take selfies. The 350-foot tall pillar has some fun history to it, as it was named for one Major Enoch Steen, whose name was so often misspelled that even the name on his pillar is incorrect. It's known to some as “nature’s skyscraper,” and you’ll find this geological wonder right smack down in the middle of a lush forest. It also marks the trailhead of the Stein’s Pillar Hike, appropriately. 
COVID-19 and wildfire info: Stein’s Pillar and the surrounding area are open for hiking.

Thor's Well

Yachats
The oceanic sinkhole on the Central Coast known as Thor’s Well is both magnetic and terrifying. Visitors witness waves colliding, water shooting up, and a never-ending whirlpool of salt water, all glimmering in the Oregon sun. But take heed—it’s also dangerous. The surrounding Yachats area is also a testament to the wild, anarchic beauty of the Oregon coast. We may not have the white sand beaches of California, but what we do have in pure, unrestrained natural beauty more than makes up for it. 
COVID-19 and wildfire info: Thor’s Well is currently open for visitors.

devil's punchbowl
Adventures on Wheels/Shutterstock

Devil's Punchbowl

Central Coast
Similar in ways to Thor’s Well, the Devil’s Punchbowl is a red stone formation along the coast. Located along the Oregon coast between Newport and Depoe Bay, it’s a fascinating, action-packed marine area with water rushing through the dungeon-esque punchbowl as the tide goes in and out. As waves rip through the devilish rock’s cracks, salty seawater is launched into the area, misting and splashing everyone in the area. It’s an unadulterated, chaotic look at where the land meets the sea, and a testament to Oregon’s incredible volcanic geographic history. 
COVID-19 and wildfire info: The Devil’s Punchbowl is currently open for visitors.

little crater lake
davidkrug/shutterstock

Little Crater Lake

Mount Hood National Park
While every Oregonian, and most tourists, know of the gorgeous and inaccurately named Crater Lake (it’s a caldera, not a crater), its smaller sister lake has far less notoriety. Just slightly less crystal clear but even brighter blue than its namesake, Little Crater Lake has other great qualities such as its proximity to Portland and the smaller crowds. With trails left and right from the lake, there’s plenty to do here, including camping at the nearby Little Crater Lake Campground. Located in Mount Hood National Forest, it’s hidden by dense forest and offers seclusion to take it all in without all the tourists and commotion.
COVID-19 and wildfire info: Little Crater Lake is currently open for visitors.

angel's rest
Aaron Nicholas Stansberry/shutterstock

Angel's Rest

Bridal Veil
The Columbia Gorge is one of the most stunning views in the entirety of the Pacific Northwest, a region absolutely stacked with beautiful competition. If you make it up this moderately difficult hike, you have a prize waiting for you: "Jaw-dropping" does not even begin to describe this incredible view of the Gorge. From Angel's Rest, you see the winding Columbia River, the near-infinite trees, and rolling mountain ranges including the Cascades beyond, all at an incredible height.
COVID-19 and wildfire info: Angel’s Rest is currently open for visitors.

hell's canyon
Jeffrey T. Kreulen/Shutterstock

Hells Canyon

Baker County
Home to parts of the Snake River, Hells Canyon Wilderness area has North America’s deepest river gorge at nearly 8,000 feet deep.That depth translates to wild river rapids and beautiful, distinct rock formations. Since this area is so remote, and the river gorge so deep, there’s something to discover around every bend. Just don’t wander off, get lost, and contribute to the place deserving its name. Bonus tip: like Crater Lake, Hells Canyon also has a Little Hells Canyon, located in Washington County near Chehalem. It’s not quite as impressive. 
COVID-19 and wildfire info: Hells Canyon is currently open for visitors. 

Wreck of the Peter Iredale

Warrenton
Oregonians pride themselves on being weird, and that goes for our idea of beauty, too. The Peter Iredale shipwreck, found right along the Oregon coast, is enchanting and mesmerizing. This is one of the shipwrecks of the "Graveyard of the Pacific," so ship enthusiasts and desperate Goonies fans can walk in and out of the ship that’s still tilted up and appears to be bursting out of its beach grave. Just don’t expect any buried treasure. 
COVID-19 and wildfire info: Guided tours are cancelled, the beach is currently open for visitors.

yaquina head lighthouse
Andrew S/Shutterstock

Yaquina Head Lighthouse and tide pools

Newport
The Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is fittingly named. Located in Newport—home of the fantastic Local Ocean tuna mignon—this Bureau of Land Management site is home to Oregon’s tallest lighthouse (93 feet) as well as a vast array of tide pools. Driving up to the bluff, you might feel like you’ve seen this lighthouse before, as it was featured in the classic 2002 horror film The Ring. Luckily, there are no black-haired pale ghosts here… usually. 
COVID-19 and wildfire info: The Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area Interpretive Center and lighthouse are temporarily due to COVID-precautions. Outdoor areas, including tide pools, are open for visitors. 

Alex Frane is a Thrillist contributor.
Michelle Udem is a Portland-based writer who is keeping a couple places you've never heard of to herself, thank you very much. DON'T follow her to hidden gems @mudem.
Our Newsletter
By Signing Up, I Agree to the Terms and Privacy Policy.