With vast, gorgeous landscapes stretching throughout the state, the best way to explore all that Oregon has to offer is via road trip. The Oregon Cascades to Coast Road Trip courses through the snow-capped Cascade Mountains, several national forests, Crater Lake National Park, and the Oregon Dunes.
Your road trip will begin at Bend, which rests along the Deschutes River and serves as a gateway for lots of recreational activities. It’s the sixth largest city in Oregon with a population of around 105,000. Due to its convenient location near ski resorts, lush forests, rock climbing, scenic drives, hiking trails, and pristine lakes, Bend has become one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. Bend also has one of the highest breweries per capita in the country.
Deschutes National Forest
Next, continue on to Deschutes National Forest, which sits along the Cascade Range and consists of over 1.6 million acres of alpine wilderness. Protected for more than a century, the forest contains year-round activities for outdoor enthusiasts and thrill-seekers. The views atop South Sister, Diamond Peak, and Mount Thielsen entice mountaineers, while cavers gravitate to the hundreds of spooky caves within the forest. Altogether, there are five distinct areas of wilderness inside Deschutes National Forest that each boast panoramic shots of the mighty Cascades, adventurous hiking trails, shimmering lakes, and dozens of campgrounds.
Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway
Your road trip will continue onto Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway. Stretching for 66 miles, the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway passes several crystal-clear lakes. Starting in Bend, the central Oregon route gives you sensational views of Mount Bachelor, Broken Top, and South Sister. The byway leads directly to Mount Bachelor Ski Resort, one of North America’s largest expanses of powdery slopes. Bend residents venture to the unspoiled lakes for summer getaways to lakeside resorts and peaceful days in the outdoors. Elk Lake sits beneath the slopes of Mount Bachelor, and its shores attract boaters, kayakers, paddlers, and anglers. Campers bask in the splendor of Lava Lake, and hikers can start the trek to Three Sisters. In total, the route gives you access to 14 alpine lakes for endless recreation in the Cascades.
Crater Lake National Park
After the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway, the next stop along your journey will be Crater Lake National Park. Roughly 7,700 years ago, Mount Mazama blew its top and transformed the surrounding landscape. The remnants of the volcanic blast reveal the striking images of Crater Lake and offer a glimpse into Mother Nature’s raw power. Rim Drive encircles the caldera and gives you dramatic images for 33 miles. The engineering feat offers multiple observation points to peer into the deep-blue waters filling the lake and the surrounding Cascade peaks. Several hiking trails hug the crater rim, and it’s possible to reach the shoreline to sail towards Wizard Island. The Rim Visitor Center features intriguing exhibits that delve into the geologic history that formed America’s deepest lake.
Umpqua National Forest
Next up on your road trip is the Umpqua National Forest. The violent eruption that formed Crater Lake created the diverse ecosystem residing in the adjacent Umpqua National Forest. Situated on the western side of the Cascades, Umpqua houses tumbling waterfalls and fascinating geologic wonders. The grandest of Umpqua’s many cascades is the 293-foot Watson Falls, the third-tallest waterfall in Oregon. Ringed by mesmerizing basalt columns, Toketee Falls plunges into a turquoise pool for a breathtaking portrait. The thundering waters of the Umpqua River create some of Oregon’s best whitewater rafting excursions, and the surrounding forest is home to hundreds of native species.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Continue on to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, a unique 40-mile stretch of the Oregon coast known for its multitude of ecosystems. Wind-sculpted dunes tower above the Pacific Ocean, while a series of lakes and marshlands sit on the other side. Wildlife abounds in the area, and visitors will find animals such as birds of prey, snowy plovers, and black-tailed deer here. Three areas are open to off-road vehicles and ATVs, dune buggies, and other all-terrain vehicles to ride around the dunes. Other parts of the dunes reserve access for hikers and numerous day trails lead through the dunes and wind through coastal forests.
As you continue on your road trip, you’ll come to Eugene, Oregon. One of Oregon’s major cultural hubs, Eugene presents a fantastic opportunity to delve into arts, history, and an eclectic dining scene. Eugene is home to the University of Oregon, and sports fans can witness some of the country’s greatest collegiate athletes. The Museum of Natural and Cultural History studies the archaeological evolution of the Pacific Northwest, and the Eugene Science Center offers interactive exhibits for children. Alton Baker Park and Skinner Butte Park are two beautiful green spaces to unwind in nature.
Willamette National Forest
Finally, your road trip will conclude at Willamette National Forest. Head back to the Cascades and lace up your hiking boots for this trekker’s paradise with more than 1,700 miles of trails. Douglas-firs dot the 1.6 million acres of pristine forest, and seven rugged mountains overlook the landscape. Mountaineers make the daring quest to summit the craggy peaks of Mount Jefferson and The Three Sisters. Adventurous backpackers tackle the 50-mile Three Sisters Loop for multi-day hiking trips. Detroit Lake draws kayakers and campers for sweeping views of the evergreen forest. Anglers flock to the sparkling waters of the North Santiam River to catch trout, steelhead, and chinook salmon.
When to Go
Due to seasonal road closures on Crater Lake’s Rim Drive and the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway, the summer is the appropriate season for this expedition. The Cascades receive a tremendous amount of snowfall, and it takes a long time to clear some of the roadways for drivers. Portions of this route won’t be accessible until June, and could be even later depending on the weather conditions. Summer is also the driest season in Oregon to give you more time to enjoy the great outdoors. Realistically, this route is doable within a week, but give yourself upwards of two weeks if you want to fully explore each destination.