Back in the summer of 2015, I set out on a road trip through Oregon to capture the amazing diversity of birds for my Master’s project. From my photographs and my written guide, I created a book (available for purchase here). Since then, I moved my focus from wildlife photography to landscape photography. I’ve spent countless days, months, and now years exploring the state I grew up in. I have adapted that same road trip I did in 2015 to incorporate more photography stops and focus on the amazing scenery Oregon has to offer. From oceans to forests, deserts to mountains, Oregon is one of the most diverse states in America. I invite you to explore some of the amazing sites in one fell swoop, The Ultimate Oregon Photography Road Trip.
Begin your excursion by flying into the Portland International Airport, or if you are a local, start anywhere along the path. You will definitely need a car and depending on the season, I recommend a four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle. Portland has a myriad of craft beers and restaurants to try in between shoots, and you definitely have to grab some donuts on your way out to the photography spots. Nature photography abounds from the Japanese Garden to Forest Park, and there’s plenty of architectural photography in any of Portland’s 14 bridges.
Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood
Next, you’ll be heading east out from Portland to the Columbia River Gorge. There is an entire scenic waterfall corridor, including the famous Multnomah Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Latourell Falls, and more. Be aware and respectful of current trail closures (as of fall 2018 many trails remain closed due to the 2017 Eagle Creek fire) but hikes range from walk-up viewpoints to longer, backpacking-worthy lengths. From here, you will head out to Mt. Hood, where you can enjoy hiking, skiing, snowboarding, waterfall chasing, or lake picnicking.
Bend and John Day
Head south from Mt. Hood to venture into the Bend area. A long detour option is to explore the Painted Hills in John Day, a spectacular geological phenomenon. Please be respectful of trails, as walking on the delicate sands of the Hills will take YEARS, yes years for your footprints to fade away, if they do at all. Bend has plenty to offer all on its own though as an outdoor-focused city. Hiking, swimming, rock climbing, caving and more await. Smith Rock State Park is a must-see and is a place that is very special to me personally. Sparks Lake is another fantastic photography spot, but make sure to bring your bug spray!
Crater Lake and Oregon Caves
South from Bend is one stop you can’t miss: Oregon’s only National Park, Crater Lake. It is the deepest lake in the entire United States (1,949 feet/594 meters), as it is a long-ago collapsed volcano. It is often covered in snow, and winter is especially beautiful and enjoyable to snow-shoe around. One gate is often closed in winter though, so make sure to check out the park’s website for informations on the current conditions. Even further south is a spot that is challenging for photography, but a must-see regardless because of how amazing it is to explore: the Oregon Caves National Monument. Never in my travels have I yet been to caves as spectacular as these!
Yaquina Head and Newport
Circling back up north and west, you’ll begin to head up the coast. The Oregon coast is one of the most beautiful and unique coastlines you will ever see. Erosion has led to amazing sea stacks that host local and migratory bird populations. If you are lucky, you may even see a tufted puffin, a close cousin of the penguin. Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is a must-see along the coastline, as it has a little bit of everything photography-wise: landscape, seascape, wildlife, birds, and macro. You can spend hours exploring the diverse sea life of the tide pools, watch sea lions bark at each other, take in a sunset at the lighthouse, or capture one of the many birds flying in to roost. When you are finished, enjoy some well earned seafood and beer in Newport.
There are countless stops along the coast you can take; I recommend taking as much time as you can to fit in as many stops as you can. Take advantage of viewpoints and hikes, and let yourself get nice and sandy. One piece of advice for those who are from out of state though: the Oregon coast is usually windy and cold, even in summer, so don’t forget to layer up. One stop you absolutely cannot miss though is Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach. These three monoliths are a popular sunset spot, and also host bird populations (so please do not drone around these and other sea stacks that have roosting birds!). Other beaches around the north coast are great to explore, so if you have more time, don’t hesitate to go past the typical tourist route.
Bonus: Oregon’s Seven Wonders
This guide barely scratches the surface of what Oregon has to offer. Eastern Oregon, for one, has much to explore but is more difficult to get to due to long drive times, hot weather, and a deficit of gas stations. This guide does, however, take you to all but one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders:
- Columbia River Gorge
- Crater Lake
- Mt. Hood
- Painted Hills
- Oregon Coast
- Smith Rock
- The Wallowas
Feel free to add your own stops onto this guide, and explore as much as you can.
Comment below with what you thought of this road trip, what topics you would like to see in the future, or what else you would love to know about other destinations in Oregon, other states, or abroad! And definitely don’t forget to sign up for my mailing list to be notified of future blog posts, upcoming workshops, shop sales, and more!