by Todd Holcomb – Pull up the state of Oregon on Google Maps and you’ll see a lot of green scattered across its diverse landscape, but that’s not all federal land. Some of the most interesting and beautiful spots to get away with the family are waiting among Oregon State Parks’ many stunning natural, scenic, and historic recreational sites.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has done an excellent job of bringing all 195 Oregon State Parks to your fingertips with a well-organized website. Find a park by searching for a favorite vacation activity, the perfect getaway facility, or by browsing park locations on their interactive map. All the camping, rental, and rates information is organized into tables by category, park name, and activity. Reserve a spot for only $8 online or by calling 1-800-452-5687.
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If you’re not planning on staying the night, then you’ll need a day use parking permit. A 12-month permit is $30, or visitors can opt for the 24-month permit for $50. Single day-use permits can be purchased at individual parks. It’s worth noting that becoming a member of the Oregon State Park Foundation will score you a free 12-month parking permit.
Not equipped to try that new outdoor adventure? No problem. There’s likely a free Oregon State Parks Let’s Go program or event that has everything you need to learn about camping, birding, disc golf, hiking, and paddling sports, including the gear, community, and instructors to get started. The Junior Ranger Program is also a popular way to get the kiddos engaged and learning about Oregon’s local history and natural wonders, too.
Oregon’s state parks are as diverse as its landscape, ranging from the Columbia plateau in the east, the central Cascade mountains, the Columbia River Gorge to the north, and the Pacific coast in the west. These 7 parks will introduce you to all of it.
Oregon State Parks Guide
1. Wallowa Lake State Park
Nestled at the feet of the 9,000 foot tall Wallowa mountains in Northeast Oregon, Wallowa Lake State Park sits opposite Wallowa Lake from the quaint town of Joseph. The park offers camping, boating, and lakeshore activities the whole family will love.
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The Wallowa Lake Marina is outfitted with everything you need to spend a day on the water. There are also several activities available within walking distance of the park, including go karts, miniature golf, horseback riding, or even a ride on a tramway to the top of Mt. Howard.
A short drive around the lake will bring you into the town of Joseph, known as the “Little Switzerland of America.” Grab delectable chocolates and a coffee at Arrowhead Chocolates, take an adventure tour or art walk, and learn about the history of Nez Perce Chief Joseph, who led his people on a 1,170 mile journey across four states as they fled the American Army in 1877.
Tent sites at Wallowa Lake State Park are $20 per night, while full hookup RV sites cost $32. One can also rent a yurt for $45, and moor a boat overnight for $10.
2. The Cove Palisades State Park
If your family enjoys warm summer days spent fishing or playing on the boat, then they’ll love visiting The Cove Palisades State Park in Central Oregon. Only 15 minutes outside the small town of Madras, and less than an hour north of Bend, The Cove Palisades sits atop sheer cliffs overlooking Lake Billy Chinook with plenty of boat access to the water.
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Rent a houseboat from the Cove Palisades Resort and Marina, or just step in to enjoy the cafe and other services. Hike the 2-mile Crooked River Rim Trail then paddle the 6-mile Crooked River Water Trail. The park even offers guided kayak tours.
Tent sites are $20, full hookup RV sites are $32, and deluxe cabins rent for $87. Moor a boat for $10. Check the rates page for more options and amenities.
3. Collier Memorial State Park
Have a history buff in the family? Take him to the Collier Memorial State Park at the southern end of the Cascade Range in South-central Oregon. They’ll get a kick out of the Collier Memorial Logging Museum, an outdoor museum comprised of a relocated pioneer village and old logging equipment from the late 1800’s.
Equestrians can enjoy the new four-corral, primitive horse camp and trailhead. Old Forest Service roads will lead a horse and rider all the way to Jackson F. Kimball State Park. Hikers are welcome, too.
Collier Memorial State Park is perfectly situated a half north of Klamath Falls and a half hour south of Crater Lake National Park, making it an ideal launching pad for exploring southcentral Oregon.
Tent sites run $19, full hookup sites cost $29. Horse facilities are also $29. See the rates page for reservable facilities.
4. Silver Falls State Park
Covering 9,200 acres on the west side of the Cascade mountains near Salem, Silver Falls is Oregon’s largest state park. It doesn’t take long to understand why this park has been deemed the “crown jewel” of Oregon state parks.
Just go for a walk behind the 177 foot tall South Falls waterfall, one of many “jewels” along the Trail of Ten Falls at the north end of the park. Your family will love this moderately easy 7.2 mile loop with a mere 800 feet of elevation change. South Falls makes for a great day hike with kids in the South Falls Day Use Area. You can walk the whole loop from here, or start on the other side of the loop at the North Falls Trailhead. For safety reasons, pets are not allowed on the Trail of Ten Falls. They are allowed on other trails in the park, though.
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Hiking is the most prevalent activity at Silver Falls State Park, with more than 35 miles of backcountry trails open to hikers, bikers, and horses to keep visitors busy. But families can also enjoy the playground and horseshoe pits, going for a swim in the South Fork Silver Creek, and camping with available hot showers.
Tent sites cost $19, electrical sites $29. Rustic cabins are also available for $43. Check the rates page for details on horse facilities and group facility rentals.
5. Ainsworth State Park
The Columbia River Gorge along Oregon’s northern border is renowned as the greatest concentration of high waterfalls in the world. In the early 1900’s, the 70 mile Historic Columbia River Highway was built between Troutdale and The Dalles so motorist could enjoy the splendor of the gorge and its many waterfalls. In 2017, much of this area was destroyed in a wildfire.
Though scarred (the Gorge Trail 400 remains closed for safety concerns), Ainsworth State Park survived the Eagle Creek Fire and remains open for hikers, campers, and waterfall enthusiasts. From the Historic Highway, most trails leading to waterfalls are short and kid friendly. Many have viewing platforms, and some have trails leading behind the falls.
Multnomah Falls, the largest of the Columbia Gorge waterfalls, is only five minutes west off Interstate 84. your family will enjoy Multnomah Falls Lodge, and taking pictures on the iconic Benson Bridge. Head east on the Historic Highway for many more waterfalls, beautiful state parks, and pleasant day hikes with the family.
Tent sites are only $17 at Ainsworth State Park, and full hookup RV sites are only $26.
6. Fort Stevens State Park
Fort Stevens State Park in the northwest corner of Oregon may be best known for the remains of the Peter Iredale shipwreck, at least on Instagram, but it was originally the primary fort in the Harbor Defense System that guarded the mouth of the Columbia River as it poured into the Pacific ocean between Washington and Oregon. Forts Canby and Columbia in Washington completed the defense.
Today, Fort Stevens is a 4,300-acre state park where your family can spend days playing on the beach, touring the old fort and underground gun battery, and swimming in Coffenbury Lake. With 174 full hookup sites, 302 electrical sites with water, 6 tent sites, 15 yurts, and 11 cabins available, there’s room for everyone. Enjoy the trails by bike or on horseback, take a drive on the beach, or just kick back and enjoy the scenery and wildlife.
Tent sites cost $22, full hookup sites cost $34. Electrical sites cost $32. Cabin rentals start at $93, yurts are $48. See the rates page for more information.
7. Harris Beach State Park
Fort Stevens on the northern tip of Oregon’s coast is an impressive park, but its shoreline is soft. To get a feel for how rugged and majestic the Oregon coast can really be, you’ll have to venture south. There are too many amazing state parks and recreation areas along the coast to mention them all, but one that really stands out for dramatic beauty is Harris Beach State Park just outside Brookings, near the border of Oregon and California.
Sandy beaches broken up by large rock outcroppings, thriving tidepools, several trails to stunning viewpoints, and easy access to the amenities of nearby Brookings can make for a great vacation spot or day trip for your family. Bring binoculars to view the wildlife on the Goat Rock National Wildlife Sanctuary, the largest Oregon coast island, and stay to watch the majestic sunset on the Pacific Ocean.
Tent sites cost $20, full hook-up sites are $32, and electrical sites are $30. Or rent a yurt for $45.
The best part of visiting a state park is the local connections one can make to the sense of ‘place.’ Not only are Oregon’s parks interesting and beautiful places to visit, but they carry a sense of being “ours.” Some of the most fascinating parks were once donated by their previous owners, and they are all maintained by an army of volunteers who continue to invest in the preservation of local history. The next time you head out with the family, consider becoming part of the story of one these Oregon state parks.
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Todd is an outdoor travel writer, a trekker of wild places and distant lands, and a pilgrim on this human journey. Learn more at www.clearwatertrekker.com.