For our third annual multi-family summer vacation, we created an amazing Oregon road trip itinerary. We had initially hoped to start in Portland and work our way around the state, but quickly realized how much there is to do in the US’s 9th largest state. Instead, we opted for a loop, focusing on the central and southern parts of the state, starting and ending in Eugene, Oregon. Taking in 3 national park/monuments, numerous rivers, forests and the coast, it proved to be an ideal itinerary for our outdoor focused families.
However, if you have time or your flight takes you through Portland, there are a ton of great things to do there to begin or end your visit.
Oregon really is a nature lovers dream come true. Snowy mountains, looming volcanoes surrounded by fields of lava rocks, fir forests, icy cold streams, lakes and let’s not forget the beautifully rugged coastline. Central and Southern Oregon’s diverse landscape is sure to please everyone.
We had an amazing time on our 10 day Oregon road trip that I thought I would share it here for anyone looking to do the same. Our itinerary was somewhat dictated by availability of accommodation, but overall I would do the same itinerary with only minor changes.
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Central & Southern Oregon Road Trip Itinerary
Eugene: 1st Stop on Oregon Road Trip Itinerary
Eugene, for us was merely our starting and ending point. We flew into and out of Eugene which was perfect. It’s a small airport that is easy to navigate, especially if you have children or those with mobility issues. Even thought this wasn’t a focal point of our Oregon road trip itinerary, it ended up being an amazing town for our first stop.
From the airport, we headed straight to the Cascades Raptor Center, a nature center and wildlife rehabilitation hospital. This is a must on any bird lovers itinerary and serves as a great introduction to some of the many birds of prey you will see during your visit to Oregon. We loved meandering the dirt paths checking out everything from snowy owls to bald eagles. Getting up close views to these majestic birds was the perfect start to our holiday. Don’t miss the cheeky resident crow!
Even with only a short amount of time in Eugene, it looked like a cute town with a very “green” feel. We stopped in at the Friendly Street Market for sandwiches and to stock up on some supplies before heading out of town, which we would highly recommend to anyone in the area.
McKenzie River: 2nd Stop on Oregon Road Trip Itinerary
The McKenzie River was also not our initial plan, however during our planning phase we found an amazing house on the river that was calling our name. It was beautiful and proved to the ideal spot for a family adventure. The house was perfectly located between Eugene and Bend, allowing easy access to much of the Willamette Forest.
There was so much to do in the McKenzie River area, from waterfall hikes to rafting to reviving aching bodies in natural hot springs, that we were definitely occupied for our few days. During our short time, we visited the Dee Wright Observatory made out of lava stones to resemble a castle, explored vast lava fields, hiked to several waterfalls and visited a hot springs. With more time, we would have also loved to do a rafting trip down the river, which is one of the most popular activities in the area.
— Looking for another beautiful landscape excursion? Consider a side trip to the Painted Hills of Oregon which are about 2 hours from Sisters, OR just a bit out of the way to Bend. —-
Bend: 3rd Stop on Oregon Road Trip Itinerary
Unfortunately our itinerary only allowed us a quick half-day stop over in Bend. Given more time, we could easily have spent more time in Bend to further explore the happening beer and foodie scene as well spend time at the Lava Lands Visitor Center at the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Our little ones were not happy to learn that we missed out on a potential junior ranger badge when we saw a kid with one later in our trip. Oops!
In our short visit to Bend, we fell in love with the High Desert Museum which was super kid friendly and is the perfect blend of nature, history and culture. We especially loved the meteorologist room with live camera action as well as taking a step back in time to learn about the history of the High Desert with excellent displays about who lived there through the years. Oh, and the river otters were pretty awesome too! It is well worth a visit while in or on your way out of Bend. Also don’t miss the Deschutes Brewery for lunch as well as one of their free guided brewery tours (during busy seasons, book ahead!).
Crater Lake National Park: 4th Stop on our Amazing Oregon Road Trip Itinerary
As usual in planning our summer vacation, we were late to the game (which is basically booking any time after Feb for a summer visit! If you want to camp, check out this guide on Crater Lake camping!) to secure accommodation at Crater Lake which is always in short supply and in high demand. Given it’s proximity to nothing but nature, we had to stay outside of the park about 45 minutes away at a wonderfully kitschy roadside motel. It was not the ideal location, but worked out in the end. And the kids loved the roadside motel experience!
During our visit in early July, much of the ring road and several trails were still closed due to snow. It was crazy to stand in snow, in shorts and get eaten alive by mosquitos! Due to the elevation and unpredictable weather, the ideal time to visit Crater Lake is during late July and early August when most of the snow has melted.
Tip: Bring lots of mosquito repellent or wear these mosquito bands.
If you are like most of Crater Lake’s visitors (including us!) and only have one day at the park, get up early to make the most of your time there. Spend some time driving around Crater Lake taking in various viewpoints, hike at least one short trail through meadows covered in flower blooms and take a boat ride around the lake. The beauty and blueness of the lake will enchant you like few other natural sites. It is absolutely mesmerizing.
Ashland: 5th Stop on our Oregon Road Trip Itinerary
The cute all American town of Ashland may not be on many people’s itineraries for a trip to Oregon, but it is worth the detour if you are passing through the area. Wanting to keep with our nature focused trip, allowing our kids plenty of access to explore the great outdoors, we decided to stay outside of Ashland up in the hills above the town. It was perfect!
Popping into Ashland for dinner, the 4th of July parade and fireworks and to meet our river rafting guide was easy enough with a beautiful drive through the hills. For those wanting the convenience of town, there are plenty of great hotel options in Ashland itself. While in Ashland, don’t miss their yearly summer Shakespeare Festival, a rafting trip on the Rogue River and delicious meals in the adorable downtown section of town. On the Oregon brewery theme, we loved the Standing Stone Brewery for the food, drinks and family friendly vibe. We loved the vibe of Ashland so much we were even checking out real estate. Surprisingly, not as cheap as we thought it would be!
Oregon Caves National Monument: 6th Stop on an Oregon Road Trip Itinerary
On the way to our next destination (the Oregon Coast), our route took us near the Oregon Caves National Monument, which we couldn’t pass up! We booked a ranger led tour of the caves and of course made time to get junior ranger badges. The caves are not the typical caves you might have in mind as these are marble rock caves versus the typical limestone. It was super cool to see the difference and to provide a unique first-time spelunking experience for my son. Be aware, the cave tours are not available to kids under 42 inches or for those with mobility issues. There are approximately 500 stairs to climb and lots of low hanging rocks to duck under. Also, the narrow road leading to the caves is super curvy and slow going.
If you want to delve in deeper, exploring the caves, hiking in the surrounding forests or just relaxing in nature, book an overnight stay at the log cabin Chalet. It is super cute and would offer an exciting over night experience. We had only a half day to explore, but it is on the list to return to if we are in the area again!
Jedediah Smith State Park & Redwood National Park: 7th Stop in Oregon & Northern California Itinerary
In order to drive the coastal route from Ashland, you have to dip down into California. For us, this was an added bonus to our itinerary as it meant we could take a detour to explore the California Redwoods National Park. Which also meant another junior ranger badge for the kids. Win-Win!
Confusingly, the Redwoods National Park is a national park, but also takes several state parks under its wing as well. Given this, we weren’t ever sure if we were in official Redwood National Park lands or Jedediah Smith State Park! Regardless, our detour to Jedediah Smith State Park/Redwood National Park was one of our favorite afternoons on the entire trip.
Drive to the Hiouchi Visitor Center to pick up junior ranger badge booklets, watch a short film on the California Redwoods and see what ranger programs are on offer. Once you have completed your booklets and received your junior ranger badges, head a few miles back to the Stout Grove Memorial Trail, which is hailed as one of the most scenic stands of redwoods. It’s a short .6 mile loop hike among enormous redwoods, but can easily be made into an entire afternoon excursion with time at the Smith River, and detours to run along the fallen redwoods. Pick up food and water in the small town of Hiouchi before heading out so you can stay as long as you can to soak it all up. It is magical.
I know you are asking, but where is the tree you can drive through? For this, you would need to venture over to the Avenue of the Giants part of the park near the coast.
Bandon: 8th Stop on a Oregon Road Trip Itinerary
Finally making our way up Oregon’s beautiful coast, we made our final stop in the small town of Bandon. Unfortunately, being the coast, weather is unpredictable, even in summer months. We were graced with a foggy cool day (yay!), a cold, rainy day (boo) and a beautiful sunny day! You never know what you will get, but luckily there is enough on offer in Bandon for all types of weather.
Spend time at Coquille Point searching for starfish in the tidepools during low tide and building forts from driftwood in the late afternoon. If you need something to do in the rain, check out the Washed Ashore gallery in town that is great for families interested in art and saving the planet! Don’t forget to book a sunset horseback ride along the beach. Bandon is the perfect place to introduce little ones to riding horses on trails.
We stayed in a small hotel, but there are so many great options for camping along the coast that it’s worth checking out before you go.
Bonus Stop on Your Oregon Road Trip Itinerary: Florence
If we had one more day, I would have spent it near Florence where there is a short .5 mile hike through beautiful mossy covered trees to the beach (Hobbit Beach Trailhead) as well as amazing off-roading opportunities in Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (and maybe even another junior ranger badge!). If you also don’t have enough days to fit it in, leave early for the airport and make a few stops en route!
If you have time, there is so much to explore along Oregon’s coast. From beautiful sand dunes, quaint towns and lots more. A wonderful 10 day trip, displaying so much of what Oregon is known for – beautiful scenery, friendly people and of course the beer and wine!
Have you visited Central or Southern Oregon? What are your favorite gems that we might have missed?
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