Exploring Oregon: A Deep Dive into Oregon’s Size, History, and Unique Charm

Hot springs out in remote Summer Lake, Oregon.
Peter Bray/Shutterstock.com

Written by Stella Bouldin

Updated: October 11, 2023

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Oregon, often hailed as the “Beaver State,” is a land of diverse landscapes, rich history, and a unique culture that beckons explorers from far and wide. So, how wide is Oregon?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll unravel the mysteries of Oregon, starting with three key points everyone should know about this captivating state.

Following this, we’ll delve into a little history and geography, including some road trip recommendations. Also included are wildlife highlights, food and culture found in the great state of Oregon.

Let’s go!

Key Points

1: Oregon’s Mesmerizing Geography

Oregon’s geography is a tapestry of stunning contrasts. From the rugged coastline of the Pacific Ocean to the towering peaks of the Cascade Mountains and the high desert plains of the east, Oregon boasts a vast array of natural beauty.

2: Size Matters – Oregon Compared to Other States

While Oregon might not be the largest state in the USA, it’s far from the smallest. In fact, it ranks 9th in terms of land area, with approximately 98,381 square miles of terrain that’s begging to be explored.

3: Oregon’s Unique Wildlife

Oregon is a wildlife enthusiast’s paradise. The state’s diverse ecosystems are home to an array of fascinating creatures, from majestic bald eagles soaring above the Columbia River Gorge to elusive gray wolves in the remote wilderness areas.

A Glimpse into Oregon’s Past

Oregon’s history is a tapestry woven with the threads of exploration, Native American heritage, and a relentless pursuit of a unique identity. Let’s take a step back in time to explore the roots of this incredible state.

Events that Shaped the Beaver State

Native American Heritage: Long before European settlers arrived, Oregon was inhabited by diverse Native American tribes, each with its distinct cultures and traditions. Tribes like the Chinook, Nez Perce, and Klamath thrived in the region, living off the land’s abundant resources and leaving behind a rich cultural legacy.

Exploration and Early Settlement: European exploration of Oregon began in the late 18th century when traders and fur trappers, including Lewis and Clark, ventured into the area. Their accounts of Oregon’s natural beauty and resources fueled interest in the region.

The Oregon Trail: The 19th century witnessed a historic migration westward along the Oregon Trail, as pioneers sought fertile land, opportunity, and a new life. The dangerous journey, which covered over 2,000 miles, brought a wave of settlers to the fertile Willamette Valley.

Oregon’s role in the westward expansion is deeply ingrained in American history. The Oregon Trail, with its challenges and triumphs, remains a symbol of the pioneer spirit and a testament to the resilience of those who embarked on the arduous journey.

Oregon’s Path to Statehood: After a period of joint occupancy with Britain, Oregon became a U.S. territory in 1848 as part of the Oregon Treaty. The state’s journey to statehood was marked by debates over slavery, eventually culminating in Oregon’s admission to the Union on February 14, 1859, making it the 33rd state. This momentous event marked the end of a long journey that included exploration, settlement, and conflict.

Oregon’s Geography: A Visual Feast

Ducks' family at Trillium Lake, Oregon, U.S.A.

Oregon’s diverse terrain is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts and a stunning landscape for nature lovers.

The geography in Oregon is a visual feast, offering something for everyone. From the rugged Pacific coastline in the west to the high desert plains in the east, the state’s diverse terrain is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts and a stunning landscape for nature lovers.

Let’s explore the state’s geography in greater detail:

1. The Coastal Wonderland: Oregon’s coastline stretches for approximately 363 miles along the Pacific Ocean, offering dramatic seascapes, rugged cliffs, and sandy shores. Notable sites include Cannon Beach’s Haystack Rock and the stunning sea stacks of Bandon Beach.

2. Cascade Mountains: Dominating the state’s landscape, the Cascade Range is a volcanic mountain range that stretches from northern California to British Columbia. Oregon’s share of the Cascades includes iconic peaks like Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, and Crater Lake’s Mount Mazama.

3. High Desert Plains: On the eastern side of the state, the terrain transforms into arid high desert plains. This region is marked by sagebrush, juniper trees, and unique geological formations like the Painted Hills and the John Day Fossil Beds.

4. Willamette Valley: Nestled between the Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range, the Willamette Valley is a fertile plain known for its lush vineyards, farms, and the bustling city of Portland. It’s a hub for agriculture and winemaking.

5. Columbia River Gorge: This striking canyon, carved by the Columbia River, is renowned for its waterfalls, including the iconic Multnomah Falls. It’s a paradise for hikers, windsurfers, and nature lovers.

6. Crater Lake National Park: Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States, is the centerpiece of this national park. Formed in the caldera of Mount Mazama, it’s known for its pristine blue waters and rugged beauty.

7. Eastern Oregon’s Wonders: This vast region encompasses diverse landscapes, from the stunning Wallowa Mountains in the northeast to the Alvord Desert’s stark beauty in the southeast. It’s a haven for outdoor adventurers seeking solitude.

8. The Cascadia Subduction Zone: Beneath Oregon’s stunning scenery lies a geological hotspot—the Cascadia Subduction Zone. This tectonic boundary poses the potential for significant seismic activity in the region, including earthquakes and tsunamis.

Oregon’s geography isn’t just a static backdrop; it’s a dynamic stage where nature’s forces continually shape the landscape. From the roar of the ocean to the serene beauty of mountain lakes, Oregon’s geography offers an ever-changing spectacle that’s yours to explore.

Road Trip

Oregon is a road trip paradise, offering a diverse range of landscapes and attractions.

Here are some recommended road trips that will take you through the best of the Beaver State:

1. The Oregon Coast Highway (US 101)

Explore the stunning Pacific coastline on this iconic road trip. Highlights include Cannon Beach with its famous Haystack Rock, the charming town of Astoria, and the dramatic cliffs of Cape Perpetua. Don’t forget to visit the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area for a unique sand dune adventure.

2. Crater Lake Loop

Crater lake a panoramic view

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States.

Witness the breathtaking beauty of Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States. Start in Medford, head north to Crater Lake National Park, and then complete the loop through the lush Umpqua National Forest. Hiking, camping, and scenic overlooks await.

3. The Columbia River Gorge Scenic Byway

Follow the Columbia River as it carves its way through the Cascade Mountains. Explore iconic waterfalls like Multnomah Falls, visit Bonneville Dam, and hike the trails along the gorge. The town of Hood River is known for its windsurfing and vibrant arts scene.

4. The Painted Hills and Eastern Oregon

Venture east to explore the surreal landscapes of the Painted Hills and John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Continue your journey through Eastern Oregon to discover high desert vistas, cowboy culture, and historic sites like the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site.

5. The Three Sisters Loop

If you’re a fan of mountain scenery, this road trip is for you. Explore the Cascade Range by circling the Three Sisters, a trio of volcanic peaks. Along the way, enjoy hot springs, alpine lakes, and the charming town of Bend.

6. The Oregon Outback

Embark on an adventure through Oregon’s rugged southeastern region known as the Outback. This remote road trip takes you through vast desert landscapes, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and the quirky town of Paisley.

7. The Oregon Winery Tour

Wine enthusiasts will delight in this road trip through the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s premier wine country. Visit world-renowned wineries like Domaine Drouhin and Willamette Valley Vineyards, sampling exquisite Pinot Noir along the way.

8. The Historic Oregon Trail

Follow in the footsteps of pioneers on the Oregon Trail Historic Route. Learn about the state’s rich history as you visit landmarks like the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City and the Oregon Trail Museum in Oregon City.

9. The Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway

Meander through the Rogue and Umpqua Valleys, known for their stunning rivers, waterfalls, and lush forests. Explore the town of Roseburg and experience outdoor activities like white-water rafting and hiking.

10. The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway

Discover the remote and rugged Hells Canyon, North America’s deepest river gorge. Drive through Baker City and follow the Snake River as you take in breathtaking vistas, go fishing, and explore the Wallowa Mountains.

These road trips offer a taste of Oregon’s diverse landscapes, from coastal beauty to volcanic wonders, high desert expanses to lush valleys. Whether you’re seeking outdoor adventure, cultural experiences, or simply a scenic drive, Oregon has a road trip for everyone.

Don’t forget to plan ahead, check road conditions, and take time to explore the unique attractions along the way.

The Overall Size of Oregon

With an area of approximately 98,381 square miles, Oregon ranks as the 9th largest state in the USA. Oregon is 295 miles (475 km) north to south at longest distance, and 395 miles (636 km) east to west.

Oregon may not be the largest state in the USA, but its size is nothing to scoff at. To put it in perspective, you could fit several smaller states, like Maryland or New Jersey, within its borders.

Here’s a closer look at how Oregon stacks up in terms of land area compared to other states, as well as insights into its population distribution:

1. Oregon’s Land Area:

  • Oregon ranks as the 9th largest state in the United States in terms of land area.
  • The state spans approximately 98,381 square miles, showcasing a diverse range of landscapes from the coast to the mountains and the high desert.

2. Population:

  • As of 2022, Oregon had an estimated population of over 4.2 million people.
  • The population has been steadily growing over the years, driven by factors such as migration, a strong job market, and the state’s appeal.

3. Population Distribution:

  • The majority of Oregon’s population is concentrated in the western part of the state, particularly in the Willamette Valley, which includes cities like Portland, Salem, and Eugene.
  • Portland, the state’s largest city, is a major population center, known for its vibrant culture and thriving economy. The metropolitan area is home to over 2.4 million people.
  • Eastern Oregon, on the other hand, is more sparsely populated, with vast stretches of unspoiled wilderness and smaller communities.

4. Population Growth and Trends:

  • While the majority of the state’s population resides in the western urban areas, the trend of population growth has been shifting toward smaller cities and towns in recent years.
  • Some factors contributing to this shift include housing affordability, lifestyle preferences, and remote work opportunities that allow people to live outside major metropolitan areas.

5. Natural Beauty and Outdoor Recreation:

  • Oregon’s vast size allows for a diverse range of outdoor activities and recreational opportunities. Residents and visitors can explore the coast, mountains, deserts, and forests within the state’s boundaries.

6. Environmental Preservation:

  • Oregonians take pride in preserving their state’s natural beauty and environment. This includes efforts to protect forests, maintain clean waterways, and conserve wildlife habitats.

Oregon’s unique blend of urban centers and vast wilderness areas offers something for everyone, whether you prefer the excitement of city life or the tranquility of rural living. Its diverse landscapes and population distribution contribute to its appeal as a state where you can experience a wide range of lifestyles and outdoor adventures.

Oregon’s Wild Side: Wildlife Galore

California sea lions resting on floating docks in Newport bay, Oregon.

Sea lions catching the rays in Newport, Oregon.

Oregon is a biodiversity hotspot. Here, you can encounter a remarkable range of wildlife, including:

  1. Bald Eagles: Majestic birds of prey that grace the skies, often seen near rivers and lakes.
  2. Gray Wolves: Elusive and rarely seen, they roam the remote wilderness areas of eastern Oregon.
  3. Elk: These magnificent creatures are commonly spotted in the state’s forests and meadows.
  4. Pika: These adorable, small mammals are often seen darting among the rocks in the high mountains.
  5. Sea Lions: Catch a glimpse of these marine mammals sunning themselves along the coast.

Oregon’s Culinary Delights: Food to Savor and a Feast for the Senses

A real treat for the taste buds is in store when you visit Oregon.

Oregon’s culinary scene is a celebration of locally sourced, fresh ingredients and a commitment to sustainability. Here’s a closer look at some mouthwatering dishes and places to savor the state’s delectable cuisine:

1. Fresh Seafood Along the Coast: Along the Oregon coast, you can indulge in a seafood lover’s dream. Sample succulent Dungeness crab, buttery Oregon bay shrimp, and Pacific Northwest salmon prepared in various styles. Visit seafood shacks and waterfront restaurants like Mo’s Seafood and Chowder to experience the freshest catch.

2. Farm-to-Table Excellence in Portland: Portland, Oregon’s culinary capital, is home to an impressive array of farm-to-table restaurants. Places like Le Pigeon and Tusk embrace seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, crafting innovative and memorable dishes that showcase the region’s bounty.

3. Craft Breweries and Beer Culture: Oregon is synonymous with craft beer, and its breweries are world-renowned. The state boasts over 300 breweries, including Deschutes Brewery, Rogue Ales, and Hair of the Dog Brewing Company. Explore the Portland Ale Trail or venture into smaller towns for a taste of unique brews.

4. Willamette Valley Wine Country: The Willamette Valley is one of the most celebrated wine regions in the United States, particularly known for its Pinot Noir. Visit renowned wineries like Domaine Drouhin and Domaine Serene for wine tasting experiences set against picturesque vineyard backdrops.

5. Food Trucks and Food Cart Pods: Portland’s vibrant food truck scene offers an array of global cuisines, from Korean barbecue to gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. Head to food cart pods like Cartlandia and The Lot at John’s Landing for a diverse culinary adventure.

6. Farm-Fresh Produce at Farmers’ Markets: Throughout the state, farmers’ markets offer a direct connection to Oregon’s agricultural roots. Sample locally grown fruits, vegetables, artisan cheeses, and baked goods. The Portland Farmers Market, with multiple locations, is a must-visit.

7. Iconic Voodoo Doughnut: No visit to Portland is complete without a stop at Voodoo Doughnut. Known for their creative and quirky donuts, this iconic shop offers delights like the Bacon Maple Bar and the Voodoo Doll, often with a line out the door.

8. Craving Craft Cheese: Oregon is also gaining recognition for its artisanal cheese. Rogue Creamery, located in Central Point, produces award-winning blue cheese. Sample their Oregonzola or Rogue River Blue for a true taste of the state’s cheese culture.

9. Exploring Foodie Destinations: Beyond Portland, venture into foodie destinations like Ashland, home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and exceptional dining options. In Bend, enjoy a vibrant culinary scene amidst the backdrop of the Cascade Mountains.

10. Unique Foodie Events: Plan your visit around special food festivals such as Feast Portland, an annual celebration of Oregon’s culinary excellence, or the Astoria Seafood and Wine Festival, where you can savor fresh catches and local wines.

Oregon’s culinary landscape is a fusion of creativity and a deep appreciation for nature’s bounty. Whether you’re sipping a Pinot Noir in a lush vineyard, savoring seafood by the coast, or exploring the diverse offerings of food carts, you’ll discover that Oregon’s food scene is a journey in itself, with flavors and experiences waiting to be savored at every turn.

Points of Interest: Must-See Oregon Destinations

  1. Crater Lake National Park: A mesmerizing deep-blue lake nestled in a volcanic crater, this national park is a natural wonder.
  2. Columbia River Gorge: A breathtaking canyon with waterfalls, hiking trails, and opportunities for windsurfing and kiteboarding.
  3. Powell’s City of Books: Located in Portland, this enormous independent bookstore is a bibliophile’s paradise.
  4. Mount Hood: Oregon’s highest peak offers year-round outdoor adventures, from skiing to hiking.
  5. Oregon Coast: Explore charming coastal towns, rugged cliffs, and pristine beaches along the Pacific shoreline.

Oregon’s Culture: A Harmonious Blend of Creativity and Outdoor Passion

Oregon’s culture is a captivating fusion of creativity and a deep-seated love for the great outdoors. It’s a place where artistry flourishes, music festivals, craft beer flows, and the environment is cherished.

Here’s a closer look at how this unique culture takes shape:

1. Creativity in the Arts: Oregon’s artistic spirit thrives in its many galleries, theaters, and cultural institutions. Portland, in particular, is renowned for its vibrant arts scene. The city boasts theaters like the Portland Center Stage, hosting a wide range of performances from classic plays to avant-garde productions. The Portland Art Museum showcases an impressive collection of visual arts, while the Powell’s City of Books is a haven for book lovers.

2. Craft Breweries and Beer Culture: Oregon’s craft beer culture is legendary. Breweries like Deschutes Brewery (Bend), Rogue Ales (Newport), and Hair of the Dog Brewing Company (Portland) exemplify the state’s commitment to quality brews. Portland alone has earned the nickname “Beervana” for its high concentration of craft breweries. The craft beer scene is not just about the drinks but also the sense of community it fosters.

3. Music Festivals for All Tastes: Oregon hosts a plethora of music festivals that cater to a wide range of musical preferences. The Oregon Bach Festival in Eugene celebrates classical music, while the Pickathon Music Festival near Portland showcases indie, folk, and roots artists. For a taste of global rhythms, the World Beat Festival in Salem brings together diverse cultural performances.

4. Sustainability Efforts: Sustainability is deeply ingrained in Oregon’s culture. The state consistently ranks among the top in the nation for eco-conscious practices. Examples include:

  • Bicycle-Friendly Cities: Cities like Portland invest in bike lanes and infrastructure to promote cycling as a sustainable mode of transportation.
  • Farmers’ Markets: Oregonians support local agriculture by frequenting farmers’ markets, reducing food miles, and promoting sustainable farming practices.
  • Green Initiatives: Oregonians embrace green building practices, conservation efforts, and eco-friendly policies aimed at preserving the state’s natural beauty.

5. Outdoor Enthusiast’s Paradise: Oregonians have an unwavering love for the outdoors. It’s a place where hiking, camping, skiing, and water sports are not just recreational activities but a way of life. The state’s diverse geography provides a myriad of opportunities for outdoor adventures. Mount Hood, for example, is a year-round playground for skiing, hiking, and mountain biking.

6. Embracing Sustainability in Daily Life: Oregonians are committed to sustainable living. Many homes and businesses invest in renewable energy sources, like solar panels. The state encourages recycling and composting, making it easy for residents to reduce their environmental footprint.

7. Advocates for Conservation: Oregonians are passionate advocates for conservation efforts. The state’s robust network of parks, forests, and wildlife preserves is a testament to this commitment. Places like the Oregon Zoo in Portland focus on education and conservation efforts for endangered species.

8. Eclectic Local Artisan Markets: In addition to farmers’ markets, Oregon is home to numerous artisan markets where local craftsmen and artists showcase their work. Places like the Saturday Market in Eugene and the Portland Saturday Market offer unique handmade goods, from jewelry to pottery.

9. Environmental Education: Oregon places a strong emphasis on environmental education. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland features interactive exhibits that teach visitors about the natural world and environmental stewardship.

Oregon’s culture is a celebration of both artistic expression and the natural wonders that surround it. Whether you’re attending a music festival, sipping a locally brewed beer, or participating in a community sustainability project, you’ll find that Oregonians’ passion for creativity and the outdoors is contagious, making it a truly unique and welcoming place to experience.

Oregon’s vast expanse, rich history, and vibrant culture make it a destination unlike any other. Whether you’re drawn to its breathtaking landscapes, diverse wildlife, culinary delights, or cultural experiences, Oregon has something for everyone. So, pack your bags and prepare to embark on a journey of discovery in the Beaver State.


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About the Author

Stella is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering travel and animals. She has over 20 years of professional writing experience. She holds a doctorate degree and several writing certifications. Stella is a digital nomad currently living in Mexico. As she has a passion for travel, she has also lived in China, S. Korea, Thailand, Kenya, and Ecuador in the past ten years. Stella has two rescue dogs, Paisley and Tinosa who travel with her around the world. Her hobbies include reading, quilting, and meeting new people.

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