Are the National Parks in Oregon Worth Visiting?

If you’re planning a road trip out west to visit the national parks, you probably want to see Yosemite, Yellowstone and Zion. Other popular destinations include Arches, Joshua Tree and Grand Tetons. But don’t sleep in Oregon’s national parks.

From Crater Lake to Lewis and Clark to Nez Perce, Oregon has nearly a dozen sites worth seeing. Dive in and learn more!

What is a national park?

Since the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1870, America has established national parks. The federal government provides and protects these areas to preserve the environment and resources.

A wilderness area may be given national park status for a variety of reasons. These include its historical or scientific significance or its scenery, wildlife, and ecosystems.

Most plants and animals in a national park are protected, and the landscape is preserved in its natural state.

How many national parks are there?

There are 63 national parks in the United States, spread across the country from California to Maine and also including protected areas in Alaska and Hawaii. California and Alaska have the most national parks, with eight each.

The National Park Service manages more than just national parks, however. Across the country, there are over 424 individual units with varying designations. They cover over 85 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

These parks range from national battlefields to monuments to seashores. The NPS has about 19 name designations outside the national park system.

How many national parks are there in Oregon?

Oregon has 10 protected areas under the National Park System, but only one national park, Crater Lake. However, others have different designations. Many of these areas are protected by the federal government for their historic value.

In addition to Crater Lake National Park, there are four historic and geologic trails in Oregon: California National Historic Trail, Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, Oregon National Historic Trail, and Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.

You can also visit three historic parks and sites: Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, and Nez Perce National Historical Park.

Or go exploring at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve.

What is a National Historic Trail?

According to the National Park Service, “National Historic Trails are original trails or travel routes of national historic significance.”

The California National Historic Trail, for example, covers over 5,000 miles and spans 10 states, including Oregon.

It protects the route of more than 250,000 emigrants who traveled to the gold fields and farmland of California in the 1840s and 1850s. This was the largest mass migration in American history.

What is the most visited national park in Oregon?

Crater Lake National Park is the most visited park in Oregon. In 2021, the park welcomed 647,751 visitors to see its beauty and scientific significance.

In 2016, however, over 750,000 people visited Crater Lake. In recent years, the pandemic and dangerous smoke from regional fires have affected visitor numbers.

Nearly 8,000 years ago, Native Americans witnessed the formation of Crater Lake when Mount Mazama, a 12,000-foot volcano, erupted and collapsed. Crater Lake is considered the cleanest lake in the United States, perhaps in the world.

Scientists explain that the lake is amazingly clear because it is not fed by any streams or rivers. Visibility is up to 100 feet, and sunlight reaches up to 400 feet in some parts of the lake.

About Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake is the deepest and most pristine lake in the United States. This national park in Oregon attracts photographers, nature lovers and visitors who marvel at the magnificence and beauty of this natural wonder.


Reservations are not required to visit Crater Lake National Park. However, visitors must have a pass or pay the entrance fee to enter. The Rim Visitor Center is located in the Kiser Studio at Rim Village on Rim Village Drive in Crater Lake, Ore.

The Steel Visitor Center will remain closed until spring 2023 for extensive construction and is located at 1 Sager Building Highway 62.

The park is located in southwestern Oregon between the Umpqua National Forest and the Winema National Forest. Crater Lake is west of Highway 97, less than two hours from Medford, Oregon, and a little over an hour from Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Best time to visit

According to the National Park Service, July through September are the most popular months to visit Crater Lake because the roads, trails and facilities are in full operation then.

Visits after Labor Day are the least crowded. Although snowmelt begins in much of the country in May and June, the transition to summer in this Oregon national park is slow, as remaining snow may prevent access to some areas of Crater Lake.

View of Crater Lake National Park, a national park in Oregon.

What you can not miss

The first place you should visit is either the Rim Visitor Center or the Steel Visitor Center. Here you can get information about the parks, the status of all the trails, parking and much more. Be sure to check when the visitor centers are open, as they are not available year-round or every day.

When visiting Crater Lake National Park, be sure to take a scenic drive on Rim Drive. This 33-mile road offers breathtaking views of the lake, forests and meadows. You can stop at 30 viewpoints along Rim Drive.

Traffic flows in both directions, and the speed limit is 35 miles per hour or less. The road is narrow and winding and has no shoulder. Allow at least two hours for this drive.

In addition, many enjoy hiking at Crater Lake. Some popular trails include the Cleetwood Cove Trail, Watchman Peak Trail and Plaikni Falls Trail.

The Cleetwood Cove Trail is approximately 2.2 miles long and provides hikers with the only legal access to the shore of Crater Lake. However, you are not allowed to bring pets on this trail.

The Watchman Peak Trail is about 1.6 miles long and is very busy at sunset. The 360-degree views of the lake and surrounding countryside make this trail one of the most visited.

Plaikni Falls Trail is about 2 miles long and leads to a snowmelt-fed waterfall.

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Although Crater Lake is the only national park in Oregon, you can visit other national parks in Oregon.

Oregon’s national parks are fascinating, especially if you are interested in the history, culture, and geology of the region.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site includes four distinct areas that tell the story of the Pacific Northwest.

You can spend a half to full day exploring the reconstructed British fur trading fort, the historic U.S. Army Vancouver Barracks buildings, and the walking trails.

You can also learn about aviation history at the Pearson Air Museum. Admission to the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is free, except for admission to the reconstructed fur trade fort, which costs $10 per person. Children under the age of 15 are admitted free of charge.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Like Fort Vancouver, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument has several sites spread over a large area. As a result, it is difficult to visit all of them in a single day unless you start early.

Clarno, Painted Hills, and Sheep Rock are scattered throughout east central Oregon. The Trail of Fossils at Clarno is the best way in the monument to see real fossils.

And the trails in Painted Hills offer visitors breathtaking views of the amazing color palette of these luminous rocks.

Finally, the museum at Sheep Rock houses hundreds of fossils and eight large murals depicting 50 million years of history.

View of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, a national park in Oregon.

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

When you visit the national parks in Oregon, you can’t miss Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. The voyage of the two great explorers, considered one of the largest and most important expeditions in our nation’s history, is preserved here.

Visitors can enter the recreated Fort Clatsop and imagine what the Corps of Discovery experienced more than 200 years ago. During peak season, rangers offer demonstrations such as flintlock rifle shooting, hide tanning and candle making.

Start at the visitor center, where you can watch informative films, learn about exhibits, and browse the bookstore.

Nez Perce National Historical Park

Located 10 miles east of Lewiston, Idaho, on U.S. Highway 95, the Nez Perce National Historical Park Visitor Center shows “Of One Heart,” a film that presents the history of the Nez Perce.

Visitors can also learn more by walking through exhibits that include a large collection of clothing, tools, weapons and ceremonial items. Nez Perce National Historical Park includes 38 sites spanning Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

In addition, the remains of Chief Joseph are interred at the foot of Lake Wallowa in northeastern Oregon, overlooking the Wallowa Valley, which he called home.

Don’t forget: Now that you know which parks are worth visiting, you can start making your Oregon campground reservations!

View of New Peace National Park in Oregon

Are the national parks in Oregon worth a visit?

If you’re visiting the Pacific Northwest, a visit to Crater Lake National Park is a must. Photos can’t capture its beauty, and the surrounding scenery is breathtaking.

But it’s not just Crater Lake that attracts visitors. Oregon’s other national parks offer a wealth of historical, cultural and geological attractions. Whether you’re a history buff, an art lover, a nature lover, or a parent looking to raise your kids in a culturally sensitive way, there’s something for everyone in Oregon’s national parks.

Which one will you visit first?

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