I believe that every human should experience an Oregon road trip at least once in their lifetime. This is an American state full of lush fairy tale forests, hidden waterfalls and secret natural hot springs.
There is so much natural beauty to explore that it can feel nearly impossible to create an itinerary for your Oregon road trip that fits in everything you want to do and see!
Here is the itinerary I personally created and followed for my own most recent Oregon road trip. I created my entire itinerary around hitting the most stunning waterfalls, the prettiest natural hot springs to soak in, and most beautiful viewpoints to photograph in Oregon. I ensure you’ll see the best of what Oregon has to offer!
Disclaimer: This trip was supported by Toyota USA, Travel Portland, Kimpton Hotels, and various other local partners. As always, the opinions expressed are completely my own, honest and unbiased, based on my own experience. I will continue to only recommend and endorse establishments with my readers that I truly enjoyed and believe others should experience as well.
Oregon Road Trip Itinerary:
I had a LOT I wanted to see and photograph on this Oregon road trip. A LOT.
Since I only had 3 full days for this Oregon road trip, I planned an itinerary that would hit all of (what I deemed to be) the best natural hot springs, most beautiful waterfalls, and prettiest natural viewpoints.
Note: There are a TON of additional spots you can add onto this itinerary if you have more time, or would rather swap one of these spots for something else. Oregon is truly spectacular, so feel free to adjust this itinerary if other sights tickle your fancy more than my selects!
Map to my Oregon Road Trip Itinerary:
Some ideas for additional Oregon waterfalls and hot springs to research, and add/swap into this itinerary:
- Multnomah Falls
- Lavender Valley Farms
- Bagby Hot Springs
- McCredie Hot Springs
- Panther Creek Falls
- Breitenbush Hot Springs
- Paulina Lake Hot Springs
Day 1: Portland to Koosah Falls, Deer Creek Hot Springs, Proxy Falls
Day 1, Stop 1: Koosah Falls (& Sahalie Falls)
Hike: 2.6-mile loop, easy
Fees: No fee
A family-friendly loop trail connects the dynamic duo of Oregon’s accessible waterfalls, Koosah Falls and Sahalie Falls. There is a parking lot for both waterfall, depending which you decide to visit first in your loop.
This hike borders alongside the McKenzie River and winds its way on an easy trail through lush forest. The Sahalie Falls viewing platform is less than 100 feet (30 m) from the Sahalie parking lot and is wheelchair accessible.
Koosah Falls drops 70 feet into a large pool below, and Sahalie Falls drops 100 feet over a lava dam in a mass of foam. (Fun fact: Sahalie Falls was featured in the Disney movie “Homeward Bound”!)
We skipped Sahalie, as we wanted to scramble down to the base of Koosah Falls. On the trail starting from the Koosah parking lot, you will quickly see an unofficial side path that veers away from the main trail and into the forest. This trail is often extremely muddy and slippery as it is sprayed with water from the roaring falls – you WILL get muddy if you take this route. (I wore baby-pink colored shorts – not a brilliant idea.)
Once you come to an opening where you can see a view of Koosah Falls, the trail requires hands-on scrambling to get down to the base of the waterfall. This route is NOT recommended for children or pets.
There is a parking lot for each of the waterfalls. Koosah’s parking area is larger and may be less congested. If you plan to forgo Sahalie and venture to the bottom of Koosah like we did, park in the Koosah lot as it will get you here quickest.
Day 1, Stop 2: Deer Creek (Bigelow) Hot Springs
Hike: No hike; just a couple minutes’ walk from the parking area
Fees: No fee
Temperature: Hot pool temperature ranging from 102 degrees to 104 degrees in summer and autumn; cooler in the winter
Deer Creek (or also known as Bigelow) Hot Springs is a gorgeous, primitive rock-walled pool along the McKenzie River, with a gravel bottom.
This hot springs is clothing-optional, and receives a lot of foot traffic during the summer months.
The river next to the hot springs pool is a great cold plunge option. The pool is small but can hold 6-8 comfortably. There is also a cave you can explore at this hot springs (just behind me in the picture below).
To find this hot spring, simply navigate to Deer Creek (or Bigelow) Hot Springs parking area, then walk down to the river via the obvious foot path. You’ll quickly see the pools along the river within just a few minutes of your walk.
Day 1, Stop 3: Proxy Falls (Lower)
Fees: $5/vehicle per day, or Annual Northwest Forest Pass
Hike: 2 miles round-trip, easy for most, but a scramble down to the lower falls
Proxy Falls is often considered one of Oregon’s most stunning hikes. The hike to the impressive, 225-foot, multi-tiered Proxy Falls itself is a short loop that winds its way through lava fields and dense forest full of lichen and green moss. You can choose to go to the Upper Falls viewpoint, or scramble your way down to Lower Falls for a truly spectacular photography opportunity. If you hike the route in a counter-clockwise direction (opposite what the trailhead directs), you will encounter the trail leading off to Lower Proxy Falls first, where you will find this beautiful spot to photograph from:
Accessing Lower Falls:
Getting down to Lower Falls is a bit of a scramble with hands-on climbing required for a short, steep section. Once down on the same level as the falls pools (note – the trail is now nonexistent), there are plenty of fallen logs you need to jump over or walk across, and shallow water you’ll need to walk through. The path can be very slick and slippery, so definitely use caution. The lower falls trail is not recommended for children or pets.
Where to Stay, Night 1:
I’d recommend to stay close to Cougar Hot Springs, if you wish to get there early in the morning the next day to beat the crowds. Some campsites in the area:
- Cougar Crossing Campground – $15 per night
- Sunnyside Campground – $15 per night
- French Pete Campground – $18 per night
- Slide Creek Campground – $18 per night
Or, if you’re wanting to stay in a hotel, lodge, cabin, etc. check out this list of nearby hotels:
Day 2: Cougar Hot Springs, Crater Lake, Hike to Watchman Peak
Day 2, Stop 1: Cougar (Terwilliger) Hot Springs
Hike: Easy, 0.5-mile round-trip hike
Fees: $6/day fee or purchase a season pass for $60/year (note: Northwest Forest Passes are no longer accepted here)
Temperature: Hot pool temperatures ranging from 90 degrees to 112 degrees
Located deep in a forest recently affected by a wildfire, Cougar (Terwilliger) Hot Springs features a chain of beautiful, cascading rock-walled hot pools. The pool at the top of the hill is the hottest, and the pools become cooler as they go down the hill. There is also a cold pool located near the top pool, tucked to the right side of it (when looking downhill).
Cougar is closed from sunset to sunrise and patrolled day and night. Hefty fines are given out to violators. Cougar is also closed each Thursday from 8 am to 12 pm for cleaning.
The hot springs are clothing-optional, and many soakers do decide to soak naked, so don’t be surprised if you arrive and see plenty of bare bums (or more!)
This is a popular and busy hot spring; we arrived around 8 am on a non-weekend and the place was already pretty busy. Locals mentioned that the springs get very busy starting at around 9 am, all days of the week, so go early if you’re seeking solitude!
Day 2, Stop 2: Crater Lake
If you’re going to head as far South as Umpqua Hot Springs area (and you’ll want to!), a stop at Crater Lake is a MUST-do. This beautiful lake was formed when Mt Mazama erupted roughly 7,700 years ago, which resulted in a massive, deep hole where the volcano once stood. Over time, accumulated rain and snow have filled the hole with water. There is no incoming water from any surrounding source.
The Rim surrounding the lake is a 33 mi/53km circular road that gives unique views from each vantage point. To drive around the whole lake, with stops, it can take anywhere between 2-3 hours. At the very least, do the drive! However, if you have time, grab a pamphlet at the gates and choose a couple of hikes to do (like my recommendation for sunset, below).
Tip: Check out the free informational movie at the Visitor Center – it’s dated in production, but tells the amazing story of Crater Lake’s formation!
Day 2, Stop 3: Hike Watchman’s Peak for sunset
Hike: Easy, 1.6-mile round-trip hike, 387 feet elevation gain (rated as moderate difficulty on some rating scales)
When your day at Crater Lake is coming to an end and the sun begins to set, take a hike up to the top of Watchman’s Peak to witness an amazing sunset over the lake, with a great view of Wizard Island (a volcanic cinder cone that forms an island at the west end of Crater Lake). I think this is one of the best views in the park, and the easy and short hike provides an amazing reward!
Start from the Watchman Overlook pullout, 3.7 miles north and west of Rim Village on West Rim Drive. The trail starts from the south end of the parking area and switchbacks up to The Watchman fire tower. It leaves you with panoramic views of Crater Lake and Wizard Island.
Tip: Stick around until after the sun sets, into “blue hour”. The crowds left once they thought the color was gone, but the sky later erupted for us into a sea of pinks and purples!
Where to Stay, Night 2:
I’d recommend to stay close to Umpqua Hot Springs, if you wish to get there early in the morning the next day to beat the crowds. Your best option to stay nearby:
Or, if you’re wanting to stay in a hotel, lodge, cabin, etc. check out this list of nearby hotels:
Day 3: Umpqua Hot Springs, Toketee Falls, Rowena Crest Viewpoint
Day 3, Stop 1: Umpqua Hot Springs
Hike: Easy but steep, 0.6-mile round-trip hike (add on an additional hour of walking in winter, as the Forest Service access road is not plowed during winter months)
Fees: Day use fee of $5/vehicle per day (or Northwest Forest Pass)
Temperature: Hot pool temperatures ranging from 100 to 115 degrees
Gorgeous Umpqua Hot Springs is year-round accessible and features 3 hot pools (one that is covered) located in a gorgeous stretch of hilly forest above the North Umpqua River. The natural tubs are made up of the travertine deposits surrounding the springs.
A short but steep hike brings soakers to the pools, starting at the signed parking area (payment of day fees required).
The hot springs are clothing-optional, and many soakers do decide to soak completely naked, so don’t be surprised if you arrive and see more than you bargained for! 😉
This is a popular and busy hot spring with a very chill vibe; we arrived around 8 am on a non-weekend and the place was already pretty busy.
Day 3, Stop 2: Toketee Falls
Hike: Easy (to viewing platform), difficult scramble (down to the falls), 0.8 round-trip hike
Toketee Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in Oregon, known for its rocky column-like formations that frame the falls. This 113-foot, two-tier waterfall is a result of a gorge in the lavaflow carved out by the North Umpqua River. The waterfall flows consistently all year long, thanks to the Toketee Pipeline near the start of the trailhead, which diverts most of the water volume to a powerhouse located downstream.
An easy, short trail takes you to a pretty (and popular) lookout spot above the waterfall.
Getting down to the waterfall pools:
To get down to the waterfall pools, you need to somehow get around the fence at the lookout platform. People have created a hole in the fence on the right side of the lookout platform. It is an extremely steep, exposed scramble down to the waterfall pools below, not for the faint of heart or those afraid of heights. The scramble down to the falls pools is NOT recommended for people without prior experience scrambling. I have heard that at one time there were ropes/wires put in place to hang onto, but when I was there in August 2019, I didn’t see any. You need to use your hands for basically the entire scramble down, and up, from the lookout platform, hanging onto roots or rocks. Making a wrong move and falling here could result in serious injury.
Day 3, Stop 3: Rowena Crest Viewpoint
On your way back to Portland (or even on your way out of Portland to start the trip), consider making a pit stop in the Columbia River Gorge area. It’s beautiful, and there is a LOT to see (just Google Multnomah Falls or Wahclella Falls!)
We had limited time in this area, so we chose the spot with the biggest bang for the buck – the iconic Rowena Crest Viewpoint.
It’s a perfect spot that requires minimal effort to get to, with an amazing viewpoint of a horseshoe curve along the road. This unique road is one of the most photographed roads in Oregon, and for good reason. The view is a very short walk from the parking lot, and you’re greeted with sweeping views of the cliffs and gorge below.
Where to Stay, Night 3:
It’s an easy drive back to Portland! Stay a night or two (or more!) and explore this super cool and quirky city with a great food and music scene.
My Personal Recommendation for Portland Hotels:
I enjoyed staying at the following hotels in Portland and can highly recommend both:
This stunning, lodge-inspired hotel is nestled close to downtown Portland on a pedestrian river walk. The entire hotel exudes elegance and comfort, with tasteful rooms and impeccable service.
This boutique hotel is fun, whimsical, trendy and eccentric – just like Portland! The decor in the hotel will have you needing to pick your jaw up off the floor – I’m talking duck-feet lamps and bird wallpaper. The beds here were extremely comfortable and you’re located right downtown, a close walk from many Portland hot spots.
Book your Oregon hotels and save money on Expedia:
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AirBNB: save $47 with my link
My Recommendation for the Perfect Road-Trip Vehicle:
We chose to road-trip in a Toyota 4Runner TRD, which was the perfect vehicle for this Oregon road trip adventure. The 4Runner’s roomy back seats folded down, allowing us to sleep in the back of the vehicle. We loved the leather seats, moon roof and navigation system as well! The 4Runner had a lot of power and agility that helped us explore Oregon’s many forestry back roads. If you’re looking for a specific vehicle perfect for this road trip, I highly recommend a Toyota 4Runner.
My Recommendation for Renting Your Camping Gear:
As mentioned, we chose to sleep in our vehicle on our Oregon adventure, and we rented our camping gear with the company Xscape Pod. It couldn’t be easier to rent your camping gear upon arrival – they even deliver right to your hotel if you wish, or ship via FedEx! They have a large assortment of high-quality camping items to choose from so you can put together the perfect camping (or car-camping!) pod for you.
If you do decide to bring your own camping gear, here are some of my recommendations for lightweight tents.
My Recommendation for Flight Routes:
I recommend to fly in and out of Portland’s PDX airport. Portland is a really cool city and there is a ton to explore there to find out what makes “Portland weird”.
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Questions or comments about my Oregon road trip itinerary? Some other topics you’d like me to cover? I’d love to hear from you, just leave me a comment below!