No other state in the U.S. has as many designated scenic drives as Oregon, placing it firmly among America’s best states for road trips. In fact, the Oregon Department of Transportation lists sixteen Oregon Scenic Byways and ten Tour Routes, for a grand total of 26 scenic drives in Oregon.
What sets Oregon apart from many other states (aside from the number of officially designated scenic routes) is its sheer diversity in landscape. From the surf-battered coast to thundering waterfalls, from snowcapped volcanoes to the high desert, road tripping through Oregon is occasionally mountainous — but never monotonous.
Snaking their way from one natural attraction to the other, linking historic sites and wonderful parks, these Scenic Byways in Oregon offer some of the best excuses to roll down the windows, play some tunes, and drive.
6 Stunning Oregon Scenic Byways
All 26 Oregon Scenic Byways and Tour Routes are divided into categories. At the top are four world-class All-American Roads, followed by six National Scenic Byways, six State Scenic Byways and, lastly, the ten Oregon Tour Routes.
In this overview, you’ll find all four All-American Roads—they truly are sensational—and our two favorite National Scenic Byways. As you’ll certainly want to camp along the way, we’ve included suggested campgrounds on each of these routes.
1. Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway
The 140-mile Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway takes you to Oregon’s only national park, Crater Lake National Park, traversing a landscape created by volcanic eruptions. Cinder cones, old-growth forests, pumice plains and magnificent lakes characterize this awesome drive in southern Oregon.
The obvious highlight is Crater Lake—Oregon put it on its quarter—and you should spend at least two days here. The best place to pitch your tent is Mazama Village Campground, just south of and below the crater rim. Make sure to reserve a site well in advance if you’re planning on visiting in summer.
The route then continues to Klamath Lake and Klamath Falls, passing by a few wildlife refuges, before crossing the border into California. If you have the time, you can follow it all the way to Lassen Volcanic National Park, making it a fun volcano-to-volcano road trip.
2. Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
It may surprise you, but the Grand Canyon is not the deepest canyon in America. This distinction is reserved for a relatively unknown place in northeastern Oregon. Hells Canyon is a staggering 7,993 feet deep—almost 2,000 feet deeper than its much more famous cousin in Arizona.
The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway runs through the ancestral homelands of the Nez Perce and spectacular landscapes. Hells Canyon itself is a major highlight, but the towering peaks of the Wallowa Mountains are a sight to see, too. The contrast of the canyon’s depth and the impressively high mountain range is what makes this landscape so dramatic.
Set aside a few days for this gorgeous 208-mile drive in Oregon’s rugged east. We suggest setting up camp at Wallowa Lake State Park Campground. This puts you well within a two hour drive of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, the vast Eagle Cap Wilderness and the Wallowa Mountains.
3. Pacific Coast Scenic Byway
By far the longest of all Oregon Scenic Byways, the 363-mile Pacific Coast Scenic Byway parallels the wonderfully diverse Oregon coast. Running from the Washington to the California border, it takes road trippers past sea stacks, mighty headlands, lighthouses, sand beaches and welcoming coastal towns.
You can opt to drive a section of this world-class road or just tackle the whole thing. Highlights are numerous along the way, including Haystack Rock and Ecola State Park in Cannon Beach, whale-watching excursions from charming Depoe Bay, and the wind-swept Oregon Dunes.
4. Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway
Probably the most famous of Scenic Byways in Oregon is the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway, which starts just east of Portland. It follows the mesmerizing Columbia River Gorge for 70 miles, winding its way through tall forests, past viewpoints and countless waterfalls.
This was the very first designated scenic highway in the United States. Strongly interlinked with the Lewis and Clark Expedition and Native American culture, this drive is awe-inspiring in both landscape and history.
Waterfall enthusiasts will be hard pressed to find a better selection than the cascades that sparkle and spray all over the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. There are five major falls along an 8-mile stretch of road, including Latourell, Bridal Veil and famous Multnomah Falls. Road trippers can get even closer to the falls and trees by lacing up their hiking books and exploring the many trails that start just off the road.
The Columbia River Highway is on the Oregon side of the gorge, but you can also venture out and go for side trips into Washington. That’s also where some of the best campgrounds are found. We recommend the Panther Creek Campground in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which offers easy access to Panther Creek Falls, one of the region’s most spectacular waterfalls. On the Oregon side, the Wyeth Campground offers basic campsites in an old-growth forest.
5. Mount Hood Scenic Byway
Above-mentioned Historic Columbia River Highway runs through the outdoorsy town of Hood River, which is also the gateway to the Mount Hood Scenic Byway. This route presents the chance to combine two of the greatest Oregon Scenic Byways and create a sublime loop drive from Portland.
The 100-mile Mount Hood Scenic Byway essentially swings around the base of Mount Hood. Drivers can enjoy thriving fruit orchards and popular ski resorts, along with shimmering glacial lakes and waterfalls.
Cutting through the heart of Mount Hood National Forest, the route has no lack of great places to camp. Pitch your tent at the Trillium Lake Campground, offering tons of recreation opportunities and great views of Mount Hood.
6. Oregon Outback Scenic Byway
The Oregon Outback is the Oregon that remains unknown by many tourists. This region stands in stark contrast to the rivers, waterfalls and lush forests that most people are familiar with. Instead, the Oregon Outback Scenic Byway crosses a landscape of rocky buttes, endless desert plains and grasslands.
The Oregon Outback lies in the rain shadow of the Cascade Range, creating desert-like conditions. Here, sagebrush and juniper dominate the vast landscape of golds and browns. The 171-mile route leads past ancient Native American sites, various lakes, hot springs, ranches and wildlife refuges.
A plethora of campgrounds, from primitive to developed, dot the area. Comfortable options include the Hot Springs Campground in Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge (which, by the way, is not home to antelope but to pronghorn) and the Mud Creek Campground.
If you’re interested in exploring even more tour routes and scenic byways in Oregon, you can view all of them in this publication by the Oregon Department of Transportation.