Looking for the best states park in Oregon? In a state so full of breathtaking nature, finding the best is no easy task, but someone had to give it a try.
The list of natural wonders in Oregon alone can easily grow into a patchwork collection of trailheads, mountains, federal and state parks, and roadside attractions that people (and the internet) insist are must-sees.
And it’s true. The state is a nature enthusiasts dream, and with so many scenic Oregon state parks to choose from, you seldom have to travel far to find yourself in paradise.
To ensure I wasn’t too swayed by my own romanticized memories of these gems, I collaborated with my friend Jenn on this list of the best state parks in Oregon.
If you too are struggling with analysis paralysis and just can’t decide which outdoor spaces to visit this year, fret not, we’ve whittled down our personal lists of the best state parks in Oregon. These parks feature some of the most marvelous natural features in the state yet are easily accessible by adventurous wanderers of every age and ability.
Best State Parks in Oregon
Oswald West State Park
A relatively “small but mighty” day trip destination lies just south of the touristy town of Cannon Beach. For a more secluded day on the coast, check out Oswald West, one of the most beautiful state parks in Oregon.
This is my go-to when I want an easy day at the beach with options to hike if I’m feeling up for it. Park in the lot for Short Sands Beach and follow the trail beneath Highway 101 through dense, soggy forest.
The trail spits you right out onto a grassy overlook with picnic tables and a restroom. From here there are dozens of options: trek down a short series of stone steps down to the beach (called “Smuggler’s Cove”, though I’ve yet to find any buried treasure, and not for lack of trying), or take one of two trails that skirt each side of the cove.
Both of these trails, Elk Flats and Falcon Cove, are a few miles round trip and, while extremely muddy winter through spring, give hikers breathtaking views of the ocean. Just down the highway a few minutes south is another hike not to miss on Mount Neahkahnie.
This short and moderately easy climb will reward you with a picture-perfect view of the small town of Manzanita–one of the most photographed areas of the entire coastline–on clear days. The breathtaking beauty is one of the reasons locals consider this one of the best Oregon state parks and it’s hard to disagree.
Yaquina Bay State Park
While many of the Oregon state parks included in this list are on the coast, this is the only one that features one of the many historic lighthouses. Yaquina Bay Lighthouse is quaint with its bright white exterior and tidy orange shutters surrounding curtained windows.
The last wooden lighthouse still standing in the state, this building is a vestige of a time when people braved the wild coastal weather to live in lighthouses and patrol the surf, guiding ships safely to land.
The lighthouse is open for tours between October and February, but the entire state park is open year-round for day use.
Access the beach, hiking trails, and picnic tables at this park, stop by the nearby Newport Aquarium to see ocean life up close. Or, better yet, drive a few miles north on Highway 101 to the similarly named Yaquina Head State Outstanding Area.
You’ll get a chance to see a completely different lighthouse, as well as gain access to beachfront trails teeming with rich coastal history and all sorts of critters on both land and sea.
Read: The 11 Iconic Lighthouses at the Oregon Coast
Tryon Creek State Park
Did you know there’s only one Oregon state park within a metropolitan area? Portland, you lucky dog. Tryon Creek State Natural Area offers locals easy access to 14 miles of beautiful wooded hiking trails without even having to leave the city proper.
Loads of nature with minimal travel time? This place swells with locals on the weekends. Bring the family (including the pups, of course) for a couple of hours of strolling through a lush, mossy forest.
Despite being located smack dab in the middle of a large city the dense trees and peaceful trickling of Tryon Creek drown out most of the sounds of civilization, offering a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Sign the kids up for summertime nature camps or head out on your own to learn about the local trees and wildflowers that thrive in the area. Open to horseback riders, cyclists, and everyday folks just looking for a walk in nature, there is something for everybody at this beloved Oregon state park.
Beverly Beach State Park
Nothing speaks to the perks of living in Oregon like a sunny day strolling barefoot along the Oregon coast, admiring the raging waves and dramatic coastline. If the weather is cooperating (hey, it happens sometimes) settle down on a blanket with a sun hat, a titillating book, and plenty of indulgent snacks.
Breathe easy, this is Oregon and you have the privilege of enjoying a slice of one of the best state parks in Oregon, Beverly Beach State Park.
Offering the a wide expanse of smooth sand to bask on as you take in the smell of the salt-crusted sea breeze and meditate to the lull of the roaring ocean punctuated by lofty caws of shorebirds in the distance. Can you imagine a better way to spend a calm weekend afternoon?
This Oregon state park even features a stretch of beach studded with tens of thousands of easily visible shell fossils in the cliff faces just a short walk from the beach access trail.
Stay to watch the sunset melt into the sea and linger long enough for the stars if you can brave the inevitable coastal winds. Or make a campfire at the park’s large campground, which offers full amenities and short interpretive hiking trails through the coastal forest of sitka spruce and cedars.
Note: Beverly Beach campgrounds will be closed Sept. 5, 2023 through May 24, 2024. The area will still be open for day use and beach access
Smith Rock State Park
Reigning over the high desert of rugged Central Oregon is Smith Rock State Park. Notable as a hotspot for avid rock climbers, this park is a whole lot more than “just rocks.”
A quick hop, skip, and a jump away from the town of Bend, Smith Rock is the ideal destination for folks seeking sunshine and wide open sky.
While the rock climbers have their fun traversing cliffs with funky names like Monkey Face, hikers can wander a number of trails with a range of difficulty levels–my favorite being the Misery Ridge trail. Aptly named but I promise it’s not quite as, well, miserable as most think.
If climbing and hiking aren’t in the cards for your visit, Smith Rock State Park has been developed in such a way that stunning vistas and plenty of photo ops along short, paved paths are readily accessible to every visitor, sometimes without even leaving your vehicle.
Camping is open spring through fall, and wildlife viewing opportunities abound.
You may enjoy reading: How to Hike the Misery Ridge Trail at Smith Rock State Park
Cottonwood Canyon State Park
Eastern Oregon often gets overlooked by travelers seeking the more iconic forests of the western region, but a visit to this dry, sunshine-filled Oregon state park is bound to evoke joyful memories for years to come.
Cottonwood Canyon, the second-largest state park in Oregon, is full of interesting landscapes and fauna. Walk beside the wild and scenic John Day River and admire sweeping views of the rugged canyon walls set against a backdrop of an impossibly deep blue sky.
Visitors can recreate to their heart’s content here with plenty of amenities for camping, fishing, rafting, kayaking, hiking, cycling, and more.
If you’re lucky you may even catch sight of the resident Bighorn Sheep (who knew Oregon even had Bighorn sheep?) The peckish herd is known to roam the rocky cliffs in search of tender grasses and fruits to nibble on.
To round out the day be sure to catch the stunning colors at sunset, and maybe even stay overnight for the incredible stargazing that the desert’s pitch-black sky is perfect for. The sheer variety of recreational opportunities is reason alone to include this gem on a list of the best state parks in Oregon.
Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area
The Devil’s Punchbowl is an easily accessible opportunity to see one heck of a unique rock feature right from the parking lot. The Punchbowl refers to the rock–a sea cave whose top has, well, caved in on itself, allowing visitors standing above a glimpse inside.
While this vantage point gives you a chance to marvel at the wet and colorful rocks swirling with reds, browns, and ochres, a small opening on the ocean-facing side of the formation lets water inside of the cave as the tide ebbs.
Occasionally the water will flood the cavern in such a way that results in a geyser-like explosion, or a “punch” if you will, as the water sprays upward from the force of the ocean rushing into the small cave.
While the punchbowl is typically known for being viewable from the top, folks can access the lower beach walk inside the cave at low tide. These unique geological features make Devil’s Punchbowl one of the most interesting state parks in Oregon.
*Use extreme caution here: never turn your back on the ocean and be VERY mindful of the tide tables on the day of your visit, as they regularly flood the punchbowl.
Fort Rock State Park
Those wondering about the most scenic state parks in Oregon can’t afford to overlook Fort Rock State Park. Despite its incredibly on-the-nose name, Fort Rock is actually full of surprises.
This rock formation is basically the result of what happens when hot magma meets cold groundwater. The result is a giant explosion that causes fragments of magma/ash/etc. to careen through the air then fall back to earth, get tightly compacted, and form rock (called a ‘tuff ring’, if ya wanna get all technical, but who does?).
Fork Rock used to be in the middle of a giant lake that is now obviously very dried up. Add a few ancient powerful waves and you get this heavily eroded structure — which is still a treat to admire (and climb!).
The sun shines over impressive rock peaks and large lizards dart between the cool shade of boulders spackled with rust-red lichen. Sunscreen and water are vital out in this dry and barren region, so come prepared!
Be sure to also check out the nearby ghost town (Fort Rock Valley Homestead) to see some old 1900’s era buildings and a cemetery that is most definitely haunted (according to locals), but this place doesn’t hold a candle to my mother in law, for what its worth.
Ghosts or not, this is still one of the coolest state parks in Oregon and you won’t want to miss it.
L.L. Stub Stewart State Park
One of my favorite options for a quick day trip is without a doubt Stub Stewart State Park. A park that’s only 45 minutes west of Portland and jam-packed with hiking trails, a giant hill with views of the coast range, and private campsites? What’s not to love?
This park is truly multipurpose: visit for a day trip or stay for a week at one of the campgrounds, cabins, or yurts. Whether on horseback, bicycle,mountain bike, or foot, the 30 miles of trails winding through this park accessible by all.
The beloved Banks-Vernonia trail, a separate 21 mile paved path that stretches between the small towns of Banks and Vernonia (go figure!) crosses through the park and is a favorite among locals as a smooth route for longer adventures.
For the night owls who love adventuring outside after dark, head up to the Hilltop parking lot and get a largely unobstructed view of the night sky, making this one of the best stargazing state parks in Oregon.
Milo McIver State Park
Nestled in pastoral Estacada just 45 minutes east of Portland lies Milo McIver State Park, an excellent area to bring the family year-round.
Easy access to the Clackamas River makes this the ideal spot for water lovers who can swim, canoe, or rent kayaks for the day. Plenty of parking, bathrooms, and picnic tables tucked throughout provide places to gather and eat lunch between hiking the park’s many trails.
Camp, play disc golf at the large 27-hole course, and spend time fishing or visiting the on-site fish hatchery to learn about the strange and awesome life cycle of the salmon who call this river home. It’s a great Oregon state park for families to explore (especially with younger children).
Bonus: by far my favorite place to visit in this park is an old barn. “An old barn?” you say? Yep. The defunct barn is now a protected home to three species of native bats. Thousands of these small flying mammals roost and raise their young in the rafters of the barn and come out at dusk.
Plan to spend some time enjoying the park at sundown and watch these nocturnal furry friends emerge, flying out over the open field hunting insects well into the night.
Fort Stevens State Park
The skeleton of an old shipwreck lying offshore is the icon of this coastal state park. Found just south of Astoria is one of the most visited state parks in Oregon, Fort Stevens. A former military base, Fort Stevens now boasts one of the largest campgrounds in the country as well as a never-ending list of outdoor activities.
Walk along the beach to get a closer look at the historic Peter Iredale shipwreck, one of many ships that fell victim to the treacherous waters along this stretch of the coastline back in the early 1900s.
Comb the sand in search of discarded crab shells, sand dollars, and agates while keeping a lookout for migrating Grey Whales as they feed close to shore.
Kayak tours are offered on trestle bay (sea kayaking is definitely a thrilling thing to add to your bucket list!), hike 15 miles of trails that wind through the park, and take in all of the sweet beachy views from numerous overlooks.
The overlooks and vantage points are perfect for those iconic family photos where there’s a 12% chance the grouchy kid may fake a smile (but only after being bribed with ice cream).
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
Do you ever feel in the mood for nature but don’t always want to leave the comfort of your car? Enter Malheur National Wildlife Refuge: auto tour-friendly Oregon state park AND famous mecca for bird lovers from around the world.
Hardcore birders flock over to catch a glimpse of hundreds of bird species throughout the year. However, for the more casual nature lovers like me, sometimes viewing nature from my car window is just as fulfilling as being out in the elements.
Hey, I’m just being honest. Some days are like that!
A few main roads crossing through the refuge means you can putter around all day, pulling over to scout the desert terrain for birds like swallows, killdeer, cranes, herons, owls, hawks, and songbirds galore.
While the more experienced bird-lovers may be able to ID by sight or sound, the casual daytripper by no means needs to have encyclopedic knowledge of our fine feathered friends to delight in the chance to get fairly up close and personal to these amazing wild birds.
Bring your binoculars, this is one of the best state parks in Oregon for birding!
Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park
Sci-fi meets nature at Honeyman, an Oregon state park adjoining the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area where a stunningly alien-like landscape of massive sand formations steal the show.
These windswept dunes tower over the landscape before gently sloping to meet the sea, and their formidable size and stark contrast to the forested landscape surrounding them could easily be the setting for George Lucas’ next space epic.
While no alies lurk under these giant sandpiles (right, right?), the wildlife who call the dunes home are a unique group in their own right: the rare Humboldt Marten is a cute weasel-like critter that roams the dunes alongside eagles, deer, bobcat, and the Western Snowy Plover, a fuzzball of a bird who nests right on the sand.
Two freshwater lakes provide many opportunities for water activities, hiking trails abound, and there is plenty of room to camp at the second largest campground in the state which also has showers. Because after a day on the dunes you might find you’ve got sand in some, ahem, interesting places.
Anyway you slice it, this is one of the best state parks in Oregon and shouldn’t be missed.
Silver Falls State Park
The largest and perhaps most well known state park in Oregon lies in the foothills of the Cascade mountain range. Silver Falls boasts a large number of waterfalls, most of which are easily accessible on the 7-mile Trail of Ten Falls.
This trail meanders through an old growth forest draped with a green cloak of moss, lichen, and ferns, taking you alongside, over, and even behind 10 different waterfalls. If you needed any further evidence that Oregon truly is a magical land straight out of a fairytale, this is it.
The sound of the bubbling creek gently cascading over polished boulders fills the silence as you peacefully hike between towering Douglas fir and big leaf maples.
Be sure to look down at the fallen leaves and logs to find mushrooms, wildflowers, and perhaps amphibians like salamanders and frogs, for whom this wild and watery environment is perfect habitat for.
But heads up, Silver Falls is one of the best state parks in Oregon and locals know it! Crowds are all but guaranteed during spring, summer and fall weekends.
Valley of the Rogue State Recreation Area
This is my go-top stop when I’m traveling south toward California. A safe and easy place to simply sleep in your car overnight or choose as a destination for days of adventure, Valley of the Rogue is a well-rounded state park chock full of things for travelers to see and do.
The most visited Oregon state park, Valley of the Rogue gives visitors a peek at the sensational Rogue River via a 1.25 mile trail that meanders alongside its waters.
Camp in the large developed campsite and yurts, throw large group gatherings in the reservable meeting hall, and hike the short interpretive trail or at nearby trailheads all while basking in the glory of the impossibly green forest surrounding you.
This state park in Oregon is also the ideal home base if you’re planning on exploring nearby Ashland, Crater Lake National Park, or the Oregon Caves over a few days.
Darlingtonia State Natural Site
Less an actual recreation area than “just a really cool place to see”, this Oregon state park on your way to nearby Florence is the only developed place in Oregon to view the extremely rare pitcher plant Darlingtonia californica.
Also called the Cobra Lily, this is the only pitcher plant species native to Oregon and is one of only four species of plants in the state that are actually carnivorous! Pitcher plants grow in upright, tubular shapes along warm shallow bogs.
They thrive by feeding on a diet of insects and even mammals (so watch your fingers! Just kidding, but please don’t touch these fragile plants) who get stuck in the base of the plant’s “pitcher” while seeking its sweet, sticky nectar.
A short and easy stroll on a boardwalk leads you out to a viewing platform to see these beautifully bizarre plants, and you can catch them blooming with purple flowers in the spring. It’s hard to top this Oregon state park for plant lovers.
Best Oregon State Parks (Post Summary)
In sum here’s a quick list of the best state parks in Oregon.
- Tryon Creek State Park
- Beverly Beach State Park
- Cottonwood Canyon State Park
- Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area
- Fort Rock State Park
- L.L. Stub Stewart State Park
- Milo McIver State Park
- Fort Stevens State Park
- Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
- Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park
- Silver Falls State Park
- Smith Rock State Park
- Oswald West State Park
- Valley of the Rogue State Recreation Area
- Yaquina Bay State Park
- Darlingtonia State Natural Site
Map of the best state parks in Oregon
There’s too many options! And while the variety is a dream for a nature nut like myself, it’s also easy to feel overwhelmed having to choose just ONE place to visit each time I plan a trip. I want to see them all right now at once, work schedule and life responsibilities be damned. But at least this list of the best Oregon state parks is a good place to start!
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What do you think?