National Parks Near Portland
National Parks near Portland. There’s so much more to this beautiful state than Washington Park and the Columbia River Gorge. In this article, we’ll familiarize you with the incredible national park sites that are within a five and a half hour drive (or less) of Portland.
There are 6 national park sites for you to see on your next visit to the Beaver State.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as well as full-fledged national parks. To learn more about the difference between the various National Park Service designations check out our article that explains everything!
Now let’s go ahead with 6 reasons why you’ll want to make a drive of five and a half hours (or less) from Portland to one of these amazing places.
1. Crater Lake National Park
Distance From Portland: Four hours (232 miles) via I-5 S & OR-58.
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.
In addition to seeing one of the world’s deepest, clearest, and bluest lakes in the world, 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.
During the summer, Crater Lake Trolley, another concessioner for the park, offers daily trolley tours. The tours typically begin in July and run through mid-September. The trolleys make stops at magnificent overlooks with opportunities for photographs and moments for reflection.
If you prefer your own vehicle, however, then I recommend the historic Scenic Rim Drive includes 33-miles of lake views, panoramic vistas, forests and meadows. There are 30 overlooks, five picnic areas, hikes of various difficulty, geologic formations and several waterfalls. It’s a great opportunity to explore the natural beauty and geologic wonders of this amazing park.
2. Fort Vancouver National Historic Site | National Parks Near Portland
Distance From Portland: Fifteen minutes (10 miles) via I-5 N.
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.
3. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Distance From Portland: Four hours (230 miles) via I-84 E & OR-19 S.
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.
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.
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.
4. Nez Perce National Historical Park | National Parks Near Portland
Distance From Portland: Five hours and 24 minutes (332 miles) via I-84 E.
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.
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.
5. Oregon National Historic Trail
Distance From Portland: One hour and 26 minutes (78 miles) via US-26.
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!
Experience The Oregon Trail In Oregon
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)
6. Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve | National Parks Near Portland
Distance From Portland: Approximately five hours (293 miles) via I-5 S.
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.
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.
Map Of National Parks Near Portland
List Of National Park Sites Near Portland
- Crater Lake National Park
- Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
- John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
- Nez Perce National Historical Park
- Oregon National Historic Trail
- Oregon Caves National Monument & Preserve
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