“What are the best hikes in Oregon?” It’s one of the most difficult and most frequently asked questions I get. This state is so diverse that picking favorite hikes is hard. I decided that the best way to answer the question was to come up with 20 different hikes that, in my opinion, are the best in their category. I have a lot more exploring to do, and eventually I would like to expand this list to five hikes per category. Until then, here’s my favorite list:
Best hike for kids: Sweet Creek Falls Trail (near Mapleton/Central Oregon Coast)
The next time you’re driving the Oregon Coast Scenic Highway and want to take a side trip with the kids, follow the Siuslaw River near Florence to Sweet Creek Falls. The trailhead is easy to find, and the trail is mostly flat. I love this trail because of its numerous waterfalls. Kids of all ages will be impressed with waterfalls around every bend. In the summer, take off your shoes and wade in the cool water. This is a kid favorite!
Best hike for a scenic view: The Watchman Peak Trail at Crater Lake National Park (Southern Oregon)
Everyone’s bucket list should include Crater Lake. If you’re a hiker and want to find one of the best views in the park, follow the Watchman Peak Trail to the top. The trail is steep but not terribly long, and there are places to rest along the way. At the top of trail, you’ll find an active fire lookout tower and a spectacular view of the lake.
Best waterfall hike: McKenzie River Trail (Central Oregon)
This isn’t just the best waterfall hike — this is the best hike for ancient lava flows, crystal clear water, hot springs, natural wonders… I’ve been on this trail as a hiker and a mountain biker and every person I have ever come across was friendly. It is the iconic forest trail. It’s one of the most popular trails in Oregon, yet it’s never crowded. Just west of Clear Lake is Sahalie Falls, a stunning waterfall with a wheelchair-accessible viewing platform just off the parking lot. Those who are up for hiking can venture down the 1-mile-loop trail to Koosah Falls.
Best historic hike: Fort Stevens (Astoria, North Coast)
Built near the end of the Civil War to guard the Columbia River from rogue Confederate ships, Fort Stevens is now an 11-square-mile state park that is rich in history. You can explore everything from a military museum to the shipwreck of the Peter Iredale and also watch Civil War re-enactments. This is a must for history buffs of all ages.
Best Oregon Coast hike: Cape Perpetua (Yachats, Central Coast)
Picking a best hike on the Oregon Coast is similar to picking a favorite color of M&Ms (by the way, blue is the best). The coast hike that stands out to me as iconic is Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. You can explore tide pools, watch for whales, enjoy the power of a winter storm, and hunt for agates and floats in the most natural setting.
Best hike among the tallest peaks: South Sister (Central Oregon)
No matter where you are in Oregon, you can’t help but notice the Cascade Range. Many of the peaks can be climbed, but none should be attempted without taking the proper precautions and without being fully prepared. With that said, the third-highest peak in Oregon is South Sister, and there is a trail to the top. You can hike to the top in a day or hike up to the meadow, camp and summit the next day. You don’t need technical climbing gear, just a lot of perseverance, water, snacks and a clear weather outlook. From the top you can see 360 degrees of Oregon. When I made it to the top for the first time, I applauded myself for defeating the voice in my head that kept telling me it was too hard.
Best multi-day hike: Three Sisters Loop (Central Oregon)
This hike is for those who enjoy the wilderness, backpacking and camping under the stars. There are numerous options for hiking in the Three Sisters Wilderness. I recommend a loop that starts at Driftwood Campground near Sisters. The trail is slightly easier if you go counterclockwise, so head northwest from the campground. You’ll hike through meadows full of wildflowers, past creeks and viewpoints and a trail that leads to some glacial lakes on Broken Top. Expect a 23+ mile hike.
Best snowshoe hike: Odell Lake Overlook (Central Cascades)
Snowshoeing is one of my favorite winter activities in Oregon, and hands down my favorite trail is out of Gold Lake Sno-Park (near Willamette Pass). The Odell Lake Overlook trail is good for families and those looking for great exercise, beautiful scenery and an option to snow camp in one of the shelters. The overlook offers an unforgettable panorama. You can hike to the overlook and return the way you came, or extend the hike to the PCT for an epic loop. The warming shelters are stocked with wood for the wood stoves.
Best hike in the Gorge: Eagle Creek Trail (Columbia River Gorge)
If you love waterfalls and have ever wanted to hike behind a 120-foot waterfall, this is the trail for you. In addition to Tunnel Falls, you will pass numerous waterfalls such as 36-foot Punch Bowl Falls. Expect a 12-mile round-trip hike if you want to visit Tunnel Falls. The trail is not for those with fear of heights. Hikes in this area are very popular, so make sure to check out our tips for touring the Gorge before you go.
Best hike in Salem area: Silver Falls State Park
One of the best year-round hiking destinations is Silver Falls State Park, just outside of Salem, where you’ll find a variety of trails that range in difficulty from easy to moderate. The trails pass 10 waterfalls, five of which are over 100 feet high. In the spring, wildflowers are in abundance and in fall, the changing leaf colors are as soothing to the soul as a warm cup of hot cocoa by the fire.
Best hike in Eugene area: Tire Mountain (Oakridge, Central Cascades)
This trail could double as the best wildflower hike in June, when the meadow below is flooded with blooms. This trail is rated easy and is about 7.6 miles round-trip if you go all the way to the top — but you won’t need to go that far to enjoy the most stunning scenery. The trail is rarely crowded, but it’s shared with mountain bikers and has some very steep sides in places.
Best hike for the off-season: Smith Rock State Park (Redmond, Central Oregon)
There are numerous trails and hikes in Central Oregon, but this is my favorite because the surroundings are so unusual. The trail is really easy with lots of places to sit on benches, relax and watch fearless climbers tackle seemingly insurmountable vertical traverses. The river is an inviting place to cool your feet after hiking, and leashed dogs are welcome on most trails. Smith Rock is an incredibly busy destination in the summer, which is why it’s best to visit during other seasons.
Best hike in Eastern Oregon: Steens Mountain
One of the tallest mountains in Oregon at 9,700 feet, Steens Mountain is also one of the easiest to summit. You can practically drive to the top and then scramble up the rest on a trail. There are other hikes around here, and a multitude of trails in the area.
Best hike in Southern Oregon: Oregon Caves (Cave Junction)
This hike can also be considered the best hike for spelunking. The only way to see inside the cave is to pay for the guided tour (an easy 1-mile hike). Another hike from The Chateau (the Oregon Caves’ lodge) is out to Big Tree, one of the tallest Douglas firs in Oregon. This 3+ mile hike is a great way to burn off calories after lunch.
Best challenge hike: Pacific Crest Trail from Ashland to Bridge of Gods in Hood River (Mt. Hood/The Gorge)
The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail extends from the border of California and Mexico to the Canadian border. Every year people hike the entire length. Many more hike sections of the trail. If you feel up for the challenge, you can spend a month or so hiking the Oregon section of the PCT and see the wild side of Oregon on foot.
Best day hike on the PCT: Rosary Lakes (Crescent, Central Cascades)
I discovered this stretch of trail while snowshoeing. Just east of Willamette Pass Ski Area, you’ll find the trailhead and PCT signs. Hike through the forest to beautiful Rosary Lakes. You can also opt to take the Willamette Pass Gondola to the trail. Given the altitude, you’re best off waiting until late summer to hike this unless you don’t mind mosquitoes.
Best hike to pretend you’re Lewis or Clark: Tillamook Head (North Oregon Coast)
In search of whale blubber, Lewis and Clark’s expedition hiked 20 miles from Cape Disappointment to Cannon Beach. This trail is a fun way to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what the coast was like back in the 1800s. Start at the trailhead located in Ecola State Park.
Best hike for hot springs: Terwilliger Hot Springs/Cougar Reservoir (Willamette Valley)
Just off the McKenzie River Highway 126, a short hike from Cougar Reservoir leads to the steaming pools of Terwilliger Hot Springs. This area is also a great starting place for the beautiful, seasonal Aufderheide Scenic Drive, part of the West Cascades Scenic Byway that leads south past the Three Sisters Wilderness.
Best hike for birding: Zumwalt Prairie Preserve (Enterprise, Northeast Oregon)
Zumwalt Prairie has one of the highest concentrations of breeding hawks and eagles in the world and is the largest remaining grassland of its kind in North America. Most of the preserve is closed to hikers, but a few short trails give you access to viewing sites.
Best hike for people who are alter-abled: Oregon Garden Resort (Willamette Valley)
The Oregon Garden is a treasure for those who are interested in flowers and plants of the northwest. The Garden can be explored by foot or by tram, making this an ideal destination for those who have limited mobility. Happy travels!