Crater Lake is the only national park in the state of Oregon, but if you think that’s all this pretty Pacific Northwest state has going for it, think again. In fact, you could easily base a very manageable Oregon vacation around visits to other federally protected areas from national monuments to national historic trails and get a fine introduction to the “Beaver State” in the process.
Since the West Coast was, historically, the end of the road for pioneers and explorers bound this way it should come as no surprise to find there’s not one but three historic trails that penetrate state lines. Best known is probably the Oregon Trail (aka the Oregon National Historic Trail), which meanders along the north side of the state but finds a finish at the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, just outside of downtown Portland; nearby is the McLoughlin House National Historic Site, an easy detour for more on early Oregon history. Another byway worth following in the general area is the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, which comes to an end at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park where the Columbia River meets the Pacific.
Oregon is home to only two national monuments, but they’re both intriguing. Close to the California border find Oregon Caves National Monument, marble caves in the Siskiyou Mountains; if you’re trying to hit every site and monument in Oregon you’ll want to note that part of the California National Historic Trail also cuts up through the southern side of the state. From here it’s a serious drive northeast through an arid stretch of Oregon, but the units of the John Day Fossil Beds provide fascinating contrast to the well-watered attractions of the coast. Between the painted hills and the paleontology we think you’ll find the trip entirely justified.
And finally, while the Nez Perce National Historic Site actually takes in thirty-eight separate locations across four different states (with the the most exciting ones in Idaho and Montana), you can at least visit the Old Chief Joseph Grave Site, the Lostine Homesite and the Joseph Canyon Viewpoint without crossing Oregon lines.
Yes, Oregon has some stunning natural assets, from shining sea to verdant mountains, but leave time between landscape gazing and sunset spotting on your next Oregon vacation to take in a few fossils, caverns and early American history. You’ll leave with a much better appreciation of what makes the Beaver State so special.