Historic Sites In Oregon. More Than Just Parks has 10 incredible must-see sites for you to visit.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I’m going to give you my list of the Top 10 Historic Sites In Oregon that you’ll want to see.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as well as national parks.
If you’re planning a trip to Oregon then one book I recommend is: Oregon Bucket List Adventure Guide & Journal: Explore 50 Natural Wonders You Must See & Log Your Experience!
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
Historic Sites In Oregon
10. California National Historic Trail
We begin our list of the top ten historic sites in Oregon at #10 with the California National Historic Trail.
During the 1840s and 1850s, over 200,000 emigrants traveled to the gold fields and rich farmlands of California. It was the greatest mass migration in American history.
The California National Historic Trail retraces this historic migration. It’s over 5,000 miles long and covers portions of 10 states.
What is a national historic trail? That’s a great question.
A National Historic Trail is a long-distance route that follows and commemorates a historic path of travel that changed the history and character of the United States.
Today these routes offer opportunities to visit surviving sites, trail segments, and defining places of history and learn about the diverse stories they tell. (Source: NPS)
The California Historic Trail In Oregon
Known in Oregon as the Applegate Trail or Cut-off, the Southern Emigrant Road, and the South Road, the trail entered the state west of Lake Miller, crossed the Klamath River and Cascade Mountains, and after entering the Rogue River Valley turned north to its terminus in the Willamette Valley. (Source: BLM)As a retired history teacher I’m always on the hunt for a story with an interesting history. If you’re following the California Historic Trail in Oregon then I recommend a stop at the Douglas County Museum in Roseburg, Oregon.
Check Out Oregon’s Largest Natural History Collection
While you’re at this wonderful museum you can check out Oregon’s largest natural history collection. More than 7,500 items are used to help tell the ancient and contemporary stories of the Umpqua River Valley.
You’ll also find one of the Northwest’s most comprehensive plant collections in its research herbarium with nearly 3,000 catalogued specimens.
CHECK OUT: 15 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In California
Historic Sites In Oregon
9. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
At #9 on our list of the Top 10 Historic Sites In Oregon we have the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
Imagine a world formed up to 40 million years ago. You can see that world on display at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. It’s a world of which preserve a world class record of plant and animal evolution, changing climate, and past ecosystems. And it’s all waiting for you to explore.
Before you go there, check out some truly amazing films. These recently released films includes dynamic animations, interviews from scientists, and amazing footage of the park.
Check Out The Amazing Hiking Trails At John Day
At John Day, there are some truly amazing hiking trails. They include the Clarno Unit Trails, Painted Hills Unit Trails and Sheep Rock Unit Trails.
At the Clarno Unit, you can explore an incredibly diverse range of plant life. This includes leaves, fruits, nuts, seeds, and petrified wood from 173 species of trees, vines, shrubs, and other plants which have been found there thus far.
The Painted Hills Unit contains a myriad of leaf fossils aging 39-30 million years old called the Bridge Creek Flora, and a small outcropping of rock containing animal fossils from 30-27 million years ago.
At the Sheep Rock Unit you will see fossils of plants and animals are found in a number of geological layers dating from 33-7 million years ago.
Other Outdoor Activities At John Day
There is no overnight camping at John Day, but river rafting is a popular activity there since portions of the John Day River system, including those travelling through John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, are designated as a National Wild and Scenic River as well as an Oregon Scenic Waterway.
Fishing is another activity that is legally permissible. Smallmouth bass and rainbow trout are abundant, but you will need an Oregon fishing license.
Biking is also permitted within the monument grounds on approved roadways.
Or you may just want to grab your camera and get some incredible shots of a place that’s truly out of this world.
CHECK OUT: 10 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In Georgia
Historic Sites In Oregon
8. Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail
Coming in at #8 on our top ten list is the Ice Ages Floods National Geologic Trail.
Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail tells the incredible story of how some of our most amazing natural wonders were formed. It’s a region with a variety of places and activities for people of all ages to enjoy.
Did you ever wonder how these amazing geologic formations came into being. When I went to college, I always wanted to take a geology course so I did. Of course, being that it was a California school the course I took was all about earthquakes. It gave the expression “shake, rattle and roll” a whole new meaning for me.
Back to my geology story. These amazing places were formed by an incredible network of routes connecting natural sites and facilities. This provides geologists and laypeople with an interpretation of the geologic consequences of the Glacial Lake Missoula Floods of the last glacial period.
This occurred about 18,000 to 15,000 years ago. It includes sites in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. School’s out!
There Are Some Wonderful Museums For You To See
Well, maybe school’s not entirely out. There are some wonderful museums for you to visit to learn more about this amazing story. They include the following:
- Idaho-Museum of North Idaho, 115 Northwest Blvd, Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814, (208) 664-3448
- Montana-Montana Natural History Center, 120 Hickory St # A, Missoula, MT 59801, (406) 327-0405
- Oregon-Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, 5000 Discovery Drive, The Dalles, OR 97058, (541) 296-8600
- Washington-Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, 990 SW Rock Creek Drive, Stevenson, WA 98648, (509) 427-8211
CHECK OUT: 5 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In Missouri
Historic Sites In Oregon
7. Nez Perce National Historical Park
At lucky # 7 on our amazing list is the Nez Perce National Historical Park.
The conflict between the U.S. government and the Nez Perce was one of the most tragic of the many Indian wars of the 19th century. The same Native Americans whose forefathers had befriended and helped Lewis & Clark would find themselves forced off of their ancestral lands.
The U.S. Government’s efforts to force these Native Americans off of their lands produced a backlash. This backlash became known as the Nez Perce War of 1877. A small band of warriors fought American soldiers at four major battles.
In the third of these battles at the Big Hole Basin in present-day western Montana ,Colonel John Gibbon attacked the sleeping Indians with a force of 183 men. The army body count found 89 Nez Perce dead, mostly women and children.
Two months later, Colonel Nelson Miles defeated the Nez Perce at the Battle of the Bear Paw Mountains. It proved to be the final battle for the Nez Perce. Those who were not killed surrendered and agreed to return to the reservation.
Things To Do At The Nez Perce National Historical Park
Nez Perce National Historical Park has thirty-eight sites spread across Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. Of the 38 different historic sites in Nez Perce, four are in Oregon.
The most noteworthy site within is the Old Chief Joseph Gravesite. Old Chief Joseph was a Nez Perce leader who refused to sell his Wallowa homeland and sign the 1863 Treaty.
Another site worth visiting is the the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland Visitor Center. It’s located in the town of Wallowa. It’s a 320-acresite.
It includes interpretive markers along a trail which lead past the traditional longhouse and dance arbor to a stunning overlook of the confluence of the Lostine and Wallowa rivers and sweeping views of ancestral lands.
CHECK OUT: 10 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In New York
Historic Sites In Oregon
6. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
Rounding out the top of the bottom five on our top 10 list at #6 is the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail.
The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail follows the historic outbound and inbound routes of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. As a retired history teacher, I get goosebumps just thinking about the Corps of Discovery and their incredible trek.
Commemorating the Lewis & Clark Expedition (1804-06), the Lewis & Clark Trail connects 16 states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon).
The trail is administered by the National Park Service. It’s not a hiking trail, but does provide opportunities for hiking, boating and horseback riding at many locations along the route.
It’s a great opportunity to see the USA while learning about the brave men (and one woman) who weren’t able to make the journey in an air-conditioned SUV.
The Lewis & Clark Trail In Oregon
Places of interest to visit in Oregon include:
- The Youngs River Falls was originally discovered by Lieutenant William Broughton of the Vancouver Expedition in 1792. He named it for Admiral Sir George Young of the Royal Navy. It would be rediscovered fourteen years later by Sergeant Patrick Gass, a member of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery.
- Tansy Point in Warrenton, Oregon, is where, on November 24, 1805, that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s Corps of Discovery paused to take a vote on their next campsite. At the time it was a series of Chinook Indian Villages.
- At North Gateway Park on December 9, 1805, William Clark took three men and set out from their camp on a reconnaissance excursion. They visited a location where 12 families of the Clatsop Nation dwelled in three houses.
- At the Netul Landing & Netul River Trail Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, paddled up a river that the local peoples called Netul. Today it’s called the Lewis & Clark River. On December 5, 1805, the expedition established their winter camp at a site on the riverbank that had been selected by Lewis.
- The End Of The Trail Lewis & Clark Statue was installed in 1990 to commemorate Lewis and Clark’s 4,000-mile, 18-month journey. (Source: NPS)
CHECK OUT: 5 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In Oklahoma
The Top 5 Historic Sites In Oregon
5. Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve
We kick off the Top 5 Historic Sites In Oregon with Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve.
Oregon Caves National Monument preserves a spectacular cave system hidden deep within the Siskiyou Mountains. In addition to the caves the monument offers extensive hiking trails into the beautiful surrounding forest as well as hunting and opportunities to see wildlife.
One of the most popular sites at Oregon Caves National Monument is the Marble Cave which, as the name suggests, is a fantastical cave made of marble.
This park is truly a gem as there is so much to see and do. If you love to watch wildlife then you can see black bears, bobcats, cougars and the Columbian black-tailed deer. If you prefer smaller animals there’s also chipmunks and ground squirrels too.
Check Out The Amazing Hiking Trails At Oregon Caves
There are seven different hiking trails to choose from. They include:
- Cliff Nature Trail: It’s a one mile trail which features marble outcrops, fir forests and panoramic views of the Illinois Valley.
- Big Tree Trail: It’s a 1.3 mile trek up a steep climb that takes you through mountain meadows and forests. You can also see the widest-girthed Douglas-fir tree known to exist in Oregon.
- Old Growth Trail: From the visitors center you can climb past oak trees, over marble outcrops, and through old growth forests on this one mile trail.
- No Name Trail: Here you’ll encounter streams, mossy cliffs, and dense forests. Hikers can walk underneath the covered bridge along Cave Creek.
- Cave Creek Trail: This one’s a longer trail at 3.6 miles. Remember, however, that it’s not the destination, but the journey as you’ll be treated to dense forest, splashing streams, and rock outcrops.
- Bigelow Lakes – Mt. Elijah Loop Trail: This one is not for the faint hearted. It’s a 9.2 mile trek to the summit of 6,390 foot Mt. Elijah. Along the way you’ll see gorgeous meadows and pristine lakes.
CHECK OUT: 10 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In Pennsylvania
Historic Sites In Oregon
4. Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
We’re on to the Final Four and at #4 we have Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
Imagine a place where you can learn about archeology, aviation, colonization and settlement, explorers and expeditions, forts, industry, westward expansion, Native American heritage and so much more.
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site includes four major sites for visitors to explore: a reconstruction of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Vancouver, the U.S. Army’s Vancouver Barracks, Pearson Air Museum, and the McLoughlin House in Oregon City, Oregon. ( Source: NPS)
I always recommend that first-timers begin their adventure at the visitors center. There you will be able to gather information, have all of your questions answered and check out some fascinating hands-on exhibits.
There are also some wonderful outdoor activities which include a scenic walk to the Fort Vancouver Village, a stroll through the Vancouver Garden, a picnic on the historic grounds of the site or a self guided tour (and hike) along the Spruce Mill Trail which connects two of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site’s most iconic attractions: the reconstructed Fort Vancouver and Pearson Air Museum.
CHECK OUT: 10 BEST Revolutionary War Sites In America
Historic Sites In Oregon
3. Oregon National Historic Trail
We’re down to the final three and at #3 is Oregon National Historic Trail.
Westward Ho! The Oregon Trail was a 2,170-mile emigrant trail which connected the Missouri to valleys in Oregon.
The original trail was established by fur traders and trappers. Shortly thereafter, wagon trains began the westward trek all the way to the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
From the early to mid-1830s (and particularly through the years 1846–1869) the Oregon Trail and its many offshoots were used by about 400,000 settlers, farmers, miners, ranchers, and business owners and their families. A lot of folks were on the move!
Experiencing The Oregon Trail Today
Oregon Trail sites in Oregon include:
- Keeney Pass Interpretive Site: It’s named for pioneer trader Jonathan Keeney, is located on the outskirts of Vale in Eastern Oregon. Today, you can still walk along the original wagon ruts at Keeney Pass and reflect on the famous journey.
- Farewell Bend State Recreation Area: Here you can experience a beautiful desert experience on the banks of the Snake River’s Brownlee Reservoir. Historic markers and interpretive displays provide visitors with information on Farewell Bend’s significance on the Oregon Trail.
- The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center: It dramatically tells the story of the hopes, dreams, joys, and heartaches of Oregon Trail-era pioneers.
- Hilgard Junction State Park: It offers camping and daytime activities amongst the cottonwood and ponderosa pine. While you’re there you can see ruts of the historic Oregon Trail at the nearby Blue Mountain Crossing Interpretive Park. (Source: Travel Oregon)
Historic Sites In Oregon
2. Crater Lake National Park
The runner-up for Best Historic Site In Oregon is Crater Lake National Park.
The deepest lake in America is one of the seven wonders of Oregon and is surprisingly the state’s only national park. The kind of blue water that exists here is unlike any other in the world.
Crater Lake National Park. It’s sure to captivate you. While the park itself is fairly remote and quite a drive to get to, it’s well worth a visit nonetheless.
Crater Lake Was Discovered By A Young Prospector
As a retired history teacher and a lifelong history buff, I always like to start off with a good history lesson. According to the historical record, the first people to know about Crater Lake were the Klamath Indians.
While they knew of its existence, they seldom went there. According to their legends, they regarded the lake and the mountain as the “battleground of the gods.”
Fast forward to American fortune hunters in the nineteenth century. Like Death Valley, Crater Lake’s history features prospectors looking for buried treasure. Crater Lake was discovered by a young prospector on June 12, 1853. His name was John Wesley Hillman.
Hillman was leading a party in search of the “Lost Cabin Mine.” Having failed in their efforts, Hillman’s group returned to Jacksonville, a mining camp in the Rogue River Valley. It was there that they reported their discovery which they had named Deep Blue Lake.
Things To Do At Crater Lake
In addition to seeing one of the world’s deepest, clearest, and bluest lakes, there are so many wonderful things to see and do at Crater Lake. Keep in mind, however, that over 95% of the park is managed as wilderness. This means that it’s a great place to do some backcountry camping, but you will need to pick up a permit.
If you enjoy being out on the water, Crater Lake Hospitality, a park concessionaire, offers daily boat tours on Crater Lake, and two shuttles to Wizard Island.
The #1 Historic Site In Oregon
1. Lewis & Clark National Historical Park
We’ve saved the best for last. The #1 Historic Site In Oregon is the Lewis & Clark National Historical Park.
Fort Clatsop was the winter encampment for the Corps of discovery from December 1805 to March 1806. Oregon was where their historic journey ended before they embarked on a return trip to share their momentous news with Thomas Jefferson and their fellow countrymen.
Today you can make the trek to the Lewis & Clark National Historical Park. You can make the trip to this historic fort and examine the place that the Corps of Discovery called their home.
The park offers 14.5 miles of trails which follow similar routes to those taken by the Corps of Discovery. Along these trails you will be treated to stunning panoramic views and be able to explore a wide variety of natural ecosystems.
A Historic Expedition
The Lewis and Clark Expedition began in 1804, when President Thomas Jefferson tasked Meriwether Lewis with exploring the lands west of the Mississippi River that comprised the Louisiana Purchase. Lewis chose William Clark as his co-leader for the mission.
The excursion lasted over two years: Along the way they confronted harsh weather, unforgiving terrain, treacherous waters, injuries, starvation, disease and both friendly and hostile Native Americans.
Nevertheless, the approximately 8,000-mile journey was deemed a huge success and provided new geographic, ecological and cultural information about previously uncharted areas of North America. (Source: History)
To learn more about their epic journey, check out Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose.
Map Of Historic Sites In Oregon
List Of Historic Sites In Oregon
- Lewis & Clark National Historical Park
- Crater Lake National Park
- Oregon National Historic Trail
- Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
- Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve
- Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
- Nez Perce National Historical Park
- Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail
- John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
- California National Historic Trail
About The People Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and proud dad of these two guys hopelessly obsessed with the national parks.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested joining the adventure, sign up below!