: Dylan VanWeelden

Oregon Rest Stops That Stand Above the Rest

Taking a break at these areas adds unexpected fun to your road trip.
December 20, 2023

Whether it’s to stretch your legs or hit the loo, stopping at a rest area is a part of any road trip. But rather than just being a place to pause and go, some of Oregon’s top rest stops encourage travelers to linger and enrich their journeys with history lessons, nature walks and even a very cool arboretum. 

The Oregon Travel Information Council manages 39 rest areas at 25 locations around the state, while many of Oregon’s State Parks also have restrooms and day-use areas that serve as great places to stop, often for free. The information council maintains an online interactive map showing a complete list of all of the areas that you can filter by amenities, like vending machines, an RV dump station or facilities that make it horse-friendly.

Elizabeth Boxall, Oregon Travel Information Council’s executive director, offers several noteworthy stops across the state to check out on your next adventure.

Rest stop information boards.
Courtesy of Oregon State Parks

Gaze Into an Airy Canyon in Central Oregon

Highway 97 runs the length of Oregon, north to south, along the east side of the Cascades, offering sweeping views of the volcanoes to the west and the high desert to the east. About halfway down the 291-mile-long corridor — 9 miles north of Redmond — you’ll find a perfect place to get out and stretch your legs at Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint.  

The highlight of the stop — which has accessible bathrooms and picnic tables — includes a paved, wheelchair-friendly path to an area with jaw-dropping views into the yawning basalt chasm of the Crooked River Gorge. A historic railroad bridge spanning the gap formed a key part of the Oregon Trunk Railway that connected Central Oregon to tracks running along the Columbia River in 1911. The railroad factored heavily into the region’s development and spawned one of the greatest railroad wars in the history of the west; interpretive signs at the site explain the drama. Stick around and you may even catch bungee jumpers freefalling for more than 250 feet into the 300-foot-deep canyon with Central Oregon Bungee Adventures, operators of the tallest commercial bungee jump in North America.

A small brook by a trail near a rest stop.
One of the short trails you'll encounter at rest stops along Sunset Highway, a part of Highway 26. Courtesy of Wandering Yuncks

Take a Short Hike at Sunset in the Coast Range

Stretching across the state from Eastern Oregon to the Coast near Seaside, Highway 26 dashes through picturesque places like Picture Gorge in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and around Mt. Hood, Oregon’s tallest peak at 11,249 feet. But the westernmost stretch of the road, from Portland to the junction with coastal Highway 101, is otherwise known as the Sunset Highway. The route is dedicated to Pacific Northwest veterans of the 41st Infantry, nicknamed the Sunset Division, first formed in World War I. About 31 miles east of Seaside, you’ll find Sunset, a rest stop that’s as close to a destination in its own right as a pull-off can be. 

The area has restrooms and covered picnic tables, but the real standouts are the trails and historical markers. Two short trails, Springboard Loop and the Dooley Spur Loop combine to make for about a mile of splendid leg stretching that takes you down to a small creek and along an old railroad grade where steam loggers worked in the 1920s. You can also see the charred stumps of a massive wildfire from the 1930s. Information signs explain the history and offer a map of trails, which can be particularly colorful in the fall.

A person walking along a grassy trail near a highway rest stop.
Courtesy of Oregon Travel Experience

Experience the Oregon Trail or Wander Among the Trees

Two other stops worth the time to get out of the car for history lessons — even if nature isn’t calling — include Baker Valley, north of Baker City on Interstate 84, and French Prairie, off Interstate 5 near Wilsonville, about 30 miles north of Salem. 

Baker Valley, which sits at milepost 295 along the Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway, has vending machines, picnic tables, accessible facilities and drinking water, as well as impressive views of the Wallowa Mountains and Blue Mountains, but it’s the collection of information panels that might draw you in. The Oregon Trail ran right through here, and signs explain the hardships the settlers faced, often with passages taken directly from their journals and letters. You can also learn the role gold played in the development of the area. 

French Prairie, meanwhile, counts as Oregon’s largest rest area at 40 acres, but it stands out for its unique collection of trees. Known as the Grove of the States, the rest area’s arboretum — believed to be the oldest of its kind in the country — was first created in the 1960s and showcased a tree from each state plus Washington, D.C. Though the Pacific Northwest’s climate has made it tough for some species to survive, a restoration project in 2017 helped to improve habitat and spruced up a walking path into the grove. 

For another historical stop, visit the Vista House along the Historic Columbia River Highway, a spectacular rotunda built in 1917 overlooking the Gorge from atop an exposed promontory. Originally constructed to give travelers a place to pause when traveling along the route, and a marvel of early 20th-century engineering, today the building continues that mission with a cafe, an interpretive center and restrooms accessible by a unique lift.

About The

Tim Neville
Tim Neville is a writer based in Bend where he writes about the outdoors, travel and the business of both. His work has been included in Best American Travel Writing, Best American Sports Writing and Best Food Writing, and earned various awards from the Society of American Travel Writers and the Society of Professional Journalists. Tim has reported from all seven continents and spends his free time skiing, running and spending time with his family.

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