Oregon typically evokes images of green firs and ferns that are constantly drizzled upon by damp rain. While cloudy days and wet weather do dominate, it is not always so. Encompassing over 97,000 square miles of land, Oregon is the 10th largest state in the country. A land of such sheer size would surely boast more than mere firs and ferns, and it does. Snowcapped mountains often penetrate the clouds to fill the state's horizon, rivers stream through gorges like the Columbia, waves crash thunderously against rocky shores, and desert stretches paint skies of sun in the east. Oregon, like its northern neighbor Washington and like Northern California, is a natural wonderland of scenic beauty. If Washington is the “Evergreen State” and California is the “Golden State”, Oregon is best described as a hybrid – somewhere between green and gold.
Today, millions of tourists come each year to this beautiful state for the outdoor recreational opportunities it avails. You can hike through the breathtaking Columbia Gorge with its mountains, rivers, and waterfalls; ski the slopes of Mount Hood; surfboard the vicious Hood River; mountain-climb the spires of craggy Smith Rock; yacht and sail along the Pacific coast; build sandcastles on an ocean beach; camp out around the lakes and reservoirs of the Cascade Locks Marina Park and the Crater Lake National Park; or fish the rich streams of the Willamette and Rogue which teem with trout, cod, and salmon. Oregon has something for everyone, offering every kind of outdoor experience, both wild and tame.
Oregon was originally inhabited by Native Americans. There is evidence of settlements along the Columbia River, the valleys, and the coast dating as far back as 15,000 years ago. The area was first explored in 1778 by Captain James Cook, who was looking for a passage to the Orient. It was for intensively surveyed in the early 19th century by Lewis and Clark in their expedition after the Louisiana Purchase. Settlements were established along the Columbia River, like Fort Astoria which served as fur trading post.
Oregon soon saw an influx of migration in the mid-19th century, as it was the endpoint of the Oregon Trail, a route taken by pioneers in wagons traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. In 1848, the Oregon Territory was established. Eleven years later, Oregon became a state. Unlike other states in the West, the settlement of Oregon was not triggered by a gold rush but by hard-working pioneers looking for opportunities out west. When they arrived, they cleared much of the land to make it suitable for farming and brought cattle and sheep to graze it. Many of the early settlers were attracted to the moist climate and rich forests of the region west of the Cascade Mountains. The forests were lumbered for their wood, the rivers fished, and the woods harvested for nuts and berries. In the latter half of the 19th century, the construction of a railroad that reached Portland allowed Oregon to begin exporting these products the early settlers survived on – wheat, fish, lumber, livestock, and grain – to other states and countries. Today, Oregon’s economy remains heavily dependant on its natural resources, reliant on agriculture, logging, and the exporting of hydroelectricity, harnessed from the damming of its vast rivers.
Oregon consists of various regions. Its coast features wild and rocky beaches as well as numerous state parks. While it is not ideal for sunbathing or swimming, the Oregon coast are great for long beach walks, hikes out to the headlands, and scenic drives along highway 101.
The Willamette Valle sits in Oregon’s northwest, home of the state’s major metropolis, Portland. The Willamette Valley is where the majority of pioneers settled. The valley’s hillsides are planted with vineyards, and you’ll find numerous local wineries you can tour. The western Cascades are also part of the region and feature pockets of old growth rainforests.
The Hood Loop region is just north of the Willamette Valley and east of Portland, home to Mount Hood. It is Oregon’s highest mountain, attracting skiers and mountain climbers from all over the world. The region is also home of the Columbia River Gorge, around which you’ll find numerous hiking trails and waterfalls – it is one of the most scenic sights you’ll find in Oregon.
Central Oregon features the peaks of the Cascade Mountains and skiing at such mountains like Mount Bachelor and Bend. You’ll also find pockets of lakes and rivers where you can enjoy some fishing.
Northeast Oregon is largely undeveloped. It is a rugged backcountry that served as part of the Oregon Trail, once traversed by pioneers. You can still see traces of wagons and other remains that testify to its past transportation role. The highlight of the region is the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, world-renowned for its fossil beds of plants and animals dating to the Cenozoic Era (45-60 million years ago).
Southern Oregon features the wild rapids and pools of the North Umpqua River and the mystical caves of the Oregon Caves National Monument, filled with stalagmites and stalactites as well as old fossils of bears and jaguars. You can also enjoy eagle-watching in the Klamath Falls area. The heart of Southern Oregon is probably Ashland, noted for its popular Shakespeare Festival.
Southeast Oregon is the least visited of the regions, characterized by open spaces and prairies. However, it does offer bird-watching, fishing, and hiking at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where you can also enjoy the hot springs at Malheur and Harney Lake.