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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 nearly 200 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.
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.”
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 a newly expanded 23 holes for players of all skill levels, and plenty of camping and activities on-site. Newport is home to three premier courses. The first course built on the Oregon Coast, Wilder Disc Golf Course is beloved for its coastal forest vibes, varying elevation and ocean views. It is a hilly, wooded 18-hole course built on the former logging property donated by the Wilder family.
At nearby South Beach State Park, beginners can play a short nine-hole course nestled among seagrass beside sand dunes. The park is also home to the new Twisted Pine Disc Golf Course, which runs along ocean dunes through twisted pines. There are two full 18-hole layouts, one for amateurs and one for pros.
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 chairlift ride halfway to the summit on the Scenic Sky Chair. 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.
Fuel up: Pair a pint with your favorite grub at Mt. Hood Brewing Co. in Government Camp, Bent Shovel Brewing or Fearless Brewing in Estacada, and Freebridge Brewing or Sedition Brewing Company in The Dalles.
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.
Fuel up: Share a pint at the outdoor beer garden at Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery in Newberg, 7 miles north of Champoeg, or Plank Town Brewing Company, 15 miles north of Dexter Lake in Springfield.
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 three-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 some 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.
Fuel up: Explore the all-natural flavors at The Ale Apothecary, 10 miles west of Bend, which sources local grains and hops and naturally carbonates the beer with Oregon wildflower honey. Fill your belly with nachos, tacos, burgers and some of the best beer in Sisters at Three Creeks Brewing.
Considered to be one of Oregon’s most beautiful courses, Whistler’s Bend Park in Roseburg is partly wooded, partly open, with views of the North Umpqua 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, along the Rogue River.
Fuel up: Sample some of the region’s best food-truck fare (on-site on a rotating basis) at Two Shy Brewing in Roseburg, or sit down to a wood-fired pizza and full menu at Wild River Brewing Co. in Grants Pass.
A nine-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.
If You Go:
Some courses are wheelchair accessible, but call ahead to be sure. If you’re new to the game, make sure to follow basic rules of etiquette: 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!”