On any given day, rain or shine, you may see visitors walking between the trees at Fort Stevens State Park, tossing small discs that look like miniature Frisbees into chain-grid baskets. Some players keep score sheets, marking the number of tosses it takes to get in the basket. Others are more casual, simply enjoying the chance to trek along the rolling terrain, beside creeks and amidst all of the wildlife in the woods.
Welcome to the sport of disc golf — a long-underground pastime that’s quickly gaining steam among outdoors lovers in Oregon, thanks to the addition of beginner-friendly courses at several Oregon State Parks.
“It’s getting people out to the parks — not only to camp but to see the ocean and wildlife, and getting them to utilize the park in another way,” says Chad McHugh, a ranger at Fort Stevens who has played disc golf for the past 12 or so years. “Just seeing elk out there is amazing, and bald eagles flying over you on the shore of the Columbia River is always nice to see.”
Oregon is home to more than 180 disc golf courses, both community built and professionally certified, dotting every corner of the state. Players join up for casual or competitive games through one of many disc golf leagues or informal clubs, and many participate in a lineup of tournaments throughout the year. The largest is the annual Beaver State Fling in June, which draws top talent to the top-rated disc golf course at Milo McIver State Park in Estacada.
Whether you’re a pro or a beginner, anyone is welcome to play disc golf on Oregon’s public courses, with just a couple of discs to start (and typically a day-use fee for state parks). New discs cost less than $20 at most outdoor retailers, and some Oregon State Parks have them available for rent. You can even use an old Frisbee, just to try it out.
Playing a nine-hole course at a leisurely pace may take about 45 minutes, comparable to a short hike.
While the idea behind disc golf is quite simple, you can choose your level of competition, from casual to hardcore, carrying a specialized bag of of brightly colored discs — such as putters, midrange and drivers — that travel a variety of distances. The disc is a little heavier than a normal Frisbee and can handle a little more torque, meaning you can throw it harder and shape lines with it better as you decide how to aim it into the basket. Many courses have different tee-off areas for beginners or advanced players.
Don’t worry about wearing any special type of shoes or uniform; unlike traditional golf, disc golf is all about coming as you are and dressing for the weather (especially if you’re braving the cold and rain).
For McHugh, getting a hole in one is always exciting; he’s had just a few over the years. Just as hiking or fishing are a balm for the soul, he finds disc golf to be a great way to enjoy the tranquility of the outdoors and travels across the state to explore a new course whenever he can. He gives props to the thoughtful course designers, especially at Fort Stevens’ Columbia Shore Disc Golf Course, which he helped design. “I moved to the Coast in part because I enjoy nature in this area,” McHugh says. “I get to be out in the well-maintained [disc golf course] areas and do something fun.”
If You Go:
Oregon State Parks hosts a Let’s Go Disc Golfing! series in the summer that teaches the basics of the game, and loaner discs are included. Some courses are wheelchair accessible, but call ahead to be sure. If you’re new to the game, make sure to follow basic etiquette rules: Respect other players in the area by being quiet during their shot and giving them space; be aware of others around you when making a shot; and if your shot is way off course, yell “Fore!”
Here are several of the state’s top-rated disc golf courses to explore:
Columbia Shore Disc Golf Course at Fort Stevens occupies 30 acres of the northeastern corner of the park, with nine holes for players of all skill levels, and plenty of camping and activities on-site. Newport is home to two premier courses, Wilder Disc Golf Course — a hilly, wooded 18-hole course built on the former logging property donated by the Wilder family — and a short nine-hole course at South Beach State Park, ideal for beginners. The first course built in the Oregon Coast, Wilder is beloved for its coastal forest vibes, varying elevation and ocean views. The course at South Beach is nestled among seagrass beside sand dunes and offers a quick escape for Coast road-trippers.
Mt. Hood & Columbia River Gorge
During late spring and summer, you can soak up spectacular views of the mountain at the 18-hole or nine-hole course at Mt. Hood Adventure Park at Skibowl, both with tee-off areas for all skill levels. The longer course on the west side of the park requires a ride to the lower Scenic Sky Chair, halfway to the summit. The Adventure Park is open late spring through fall, depending on conditions. Off the mountain, the 18-hole Riverbend Course at Milo McIver State Park in Estacada is considered to be world-class, with rolling terrain, scenic hillsides and views of the Clackamas River. The 18-hole Tree Top Disc Golf Course at Sorosis Park in The Dalles features stellar views of Mt. Hood and orchards of sweet cherries.
One of the area’s largest and most popular spots for disc golf is the 18-hole course at Champoeg State Heritage Area in St. Paul, north of Salem. The flat, beginner-friendly course winds through the park’s tree-lined day-use area, sharing space with picnickers, dog walkers and other activities, with camping on-site as well. Another top-rated course is southeast of Eugene at Dexter State Recreation Site, featuring 18 holes along azure-blue Dexter Lake — a popular spot for boating, fishing and other water sports on the Middle Fork of the Willamette River.
If you’re looking to climb some hills, L.L. Stub Stewart State Park in Buxton is a disc golfer’s paradise, with an 18-hole and a 3-hole course winding through the forest. Both are certified by the Professional Disc Golf Association. In North Portland, the 18-hole course at Pier Park is an urban treasure, with different configurations for winter and summer to let the muddy slopes stay intact over winter months. Both courses wind through the trees with elevation changes. Look for blooming rhododendrons in the spring.
For more high-elevation disc golf, take the Pine Marten chairlift at Mt. Bachelor in the summer to reach the start of this 18-hole course, and wind your way through the trees downhill. The summer chairlift ride season pass is a good option for playing here during the warmer months (but note that there may be a bit of snow at the higher elevations, so dress in layers and wear sturdy footwear). In nearby Sisters, Hyzer Pines is the only year-round, permanent disc golf course in Central Oregon. Located at Sisters High School, the flat 18-hole course weaves through ponderosa pine and is recommended for intermediate to advanced players. Both courses are listed by the Professional Disc Golf Association.
Considered to be one of Oregon’s most beautiful courses, Whistler’s Bend County Park in Roseburg is partly wooded, partly open, with views of the Rogue River and an epic “Top of the Mountain” hole that looks down into the canyon. A riverside campground at the park is open year-round. In Grants Pass, Tom Pearce Park is another locals’ favorite, known for its range of terrain, from grass to rocks, also near the Rogue River.
A 9-hole course at Pendleton Community Park encompasses McKay Creek and provides recreation opportunities all year round. In La Grande, students and visitors enjoy an 18-hole course stretching across campus at Eastern Oregon University.