The only state in the United States of America to have two separate designs on each side of its flag, Oregon, located on the West coast of the nation, was called the Oregon Territory before being admitted to the union in February 1859.
The ninth largest state in America, Oregon is home to a large number of geographical diversities – forests, deserts, volcanoes, shrublands, and abundant water bodies. Crater Lake, situated amidst the boundaries of Crater National Park (the only national park in the state), is the deepest lake in the United States and is estimated to be more than 6,500 years old.
Armillaria ostoyae, commonly known as the honey mushroom, covers 2,200 acres of land in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon and is officially the largest single organism in the world.
With Washington to its north, Idaho to its east, Nevada and California to its south, and the Pacific Ocean to its west, the “Beaver State” provides tourists with easy access to the nearby states that are equally rich in landscape and amusement.
While Salem is the state capital, Portland, the largest city in Oregon, is most famous for housing the largest number of breweries as compared to any other city in the world. It also has the most number of strip clubs and ghost towns!
You may have known most of these facts about the state already, however, let us now explore some of the places you may not know of – the hidden gems in Oregon.
1. Shanghai Tunnels, Portland
Termed as the “Forbidden City of the West”, Portland was regarded as one of the most notorious cities in the world between 1850 and 1941. Shanghai Tunnels, formerly the Portland Tunnels, were a series of interconnected tunnels that linked the basements of several bars, hotels, and other such establishments to one another.
Though meant to serve legal purposes such as keeping supplies safe from the rain, the tunnels became a hub for some of the most illicit activities in the area.
Allegedly, these intertwined tunnels were used to transport able-bodied men and women, who used to be drugged, kidnapped, and “shanghai’d” (Shanghaiing is the process of capturing and selling able-bodied men to ships who needed extra crew) to work on ships or as sex workers, respectively. Additionally, rumor has it that the Shanghai Tunnels also housed several opium dens.
Though most of the stories above aren’t legit, the tunnels were most definitely used as shelters by illegal immigrants and may have been a drinking and opium trade spot during prohibition.
Today, you can find several living cells, a trap door, a former opium den, and many old and rusted artifacts scattered around the Shanghai Tunnels.
2. Bagby Hot Springs, Clackamas
Robert Bagby, a prospector and a hunter, came to Mount Hood in the 1800s in search of gold. Apparently, he found the hot springs instead and coined it after himself.
Due to the remote location of the hot springs, Bagby never made any serious efforts to develop the area and left it the way it had been. The first structure to have been erected on site is a log cabin (1913) which was meant to serve as a station to the Forest Service rangers. The cabin is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Bagby Hot Springs started with just a single bathhouse with five separate rooms and bathtubs made of cedar logs. Today, it is a year-round attraction managed by Northwest Forest Conservancy and the USDA Forest Service.
3. Thor’s Well, Yachats
Also known as the “Drainpipe of the Pacific”, Thor’s Well is a giant hole in the rock that sits on the edge of the Oregon Coast. Aptly named, the hole seems to swallow the seawater around. To the normal eye, it may seem like a giant, bottomless gap, but, in reality, it does have a bottom.
Though it’s uncertain, researchers assume that the pit is only about 20 feet deep, however, irrespective of its insignificant depth, Thor’s Well manages to produce some of the most spectacular sights in the state, especially during high tide.
Visitors are urged to maintain their distance from the hole during high tides and storms as sudden torrents may wash unsuspecting guests along with them.
4. Enchanted Forest, Turner
Roger Tofte was a simple, determined man who wanted to give Salem something to celebrate since the capital city lacked completely in terms of “family entertainment.” Thus, he began creating the Enchanted Forest, a theme park, which was influenced by Tofte’s love for classic fairy tales.
Dubbed as “Idiot Hill” by Tofte’s co-workers who dismissed his hard work and dedication as an act of foolishness, the Enchanted Forest was solely crafted by the artist who started with creating characters and attractions based on fairy tales such as Alice in Wonderland, Mother Goose, and Humpty Dumpty.
The park was open to the public in 1971 and has been attracting families ever since.
Among the several striking attractions found amidst the park are the charming, artsy cement sculptures of psychedelic mushrooms, dog heads popping out of flowers, fairies, and a giant witch face.
5. Flutter, Portland
Owned by Kalaisha Watrous and Cindy Rokoff, Flutter is one of those strange boutique stores that you just can’t avoid, irrespective of how overwhelming they may be.
This charming yet extremely elaborative boutique in the heart of Portland is the perfect place if you are shopping for unusual gifts for yourself or your loved ones.
Shelves of mythological, botanical, and other such wonderful books from the yesteryears sit next to encyclopedic occult volumes. Mannequins dressed in party dresses, vintage silk kimonos, and accessories are thoughtfully scattered around the store. Taxidermy items, that seem like they have been sitting there for a century, make their way amidst the delightful disarray of objects.
Pixie Stix straws, Cap Guns, Magic Gardens, and floral mints sit atop lush velvet chairs and ornate cabinets. And, if you thought you could only buy the mentioned items on display, you are up for a pleasant surprise at the store’s content.
6. Octopus Tree of Oregon, Tillamook
If you thought that the name of the tree sounds strange, wait till you see the structure!
Also called the Monstrosity Tree, the Council Tree, and the Candelabra Tree, the tree is approximately 50 feet tall and is reportedly around 300 years old. However, it is not the tree’s height or age that makes it stand apart, it is the unusual formation of its branches that split into a number of trucks making it look like an octopus.
No one has been able to prove the tree’s origin yet or how it came to take such a formation, however, speculations have been made that the strange structure may have been due to extreme weather conditions or that the American Indians inhabiting the area may have trained the trunks to hold canoes and corpses.
Whatever may be the backstory, the Octopus Tree is definitely a one of a kind structure not just in the state but perhaps the whole world.
7. Lava River Cave, Bend
A part of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Lava River Cave in Bend, Oregon is a 5,211-feet-long lava tube that is considered as the longest continuous lava tube in the state.
Though the Cave was officially discovered in 1889 by a pioneer hunter, researchers believe that the geological formation has been in existence since during the Native Americans. Managed by the United States Forest Service, the presence of obsidian flakes near the cave has led archaeologists to determine the true origination of the formation.
Created due to a volcanic eruption 80,000 years ago, the Lava River Cave shares the same volcanic flow as with the rest of the Bend area. Large Ponderosa Pine tree forest dominate the entrance of the cave. Common animals found around the area include chipmunks, porcupines, mule deer, and occasional cougars.
8. Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health, Salem
Constructed in 1883, the Oregon State Hospital is one of the most prominent health institutions in the state. Aside from its excellent healthcare and patient treatment facilities, the hospital also houses the Museum of Mental Health, a wide collection of medical instruments, ancient tools and equipment, and other related historical artifacts that have been contributed by the hospital staff over the last 130 years.
The exhibits provide an interesting insight into the history of mental science and case studies regarding several intriguing medical cases related to mentally-ill patients. It is surprising to know that almost two-thirds of the patients that have been treated here have been criminals as well as insane.
Reportedly, the Museum of Mental Health is the oldest edifice in the asylum. The museum displays permanent exhibitions as well as rotating shows.
9. The Hat Museum, Portland
In the 1900s, William Ladd, a former City Mayor, visited Washington D.C. and was so influenced with the architecture in the city that when he came back to Portland, he set out to build the Ladd-Reingold House. The construction was part of a new city planning project known as Ladd’s Addition.
Rebecca Reingold, a woman from Russia, moved to Portland and purchased the house shortly after it was built. Rebecca was a woman of peculiar taste (as you will tell from the house structure) and she loved hats! In fact, she is known to have a collection of approximately 900 hats, all of which remained at her home long after she was gone.
The Reingold family moved away 60 years ago and sometime during the 1970’s, after sitting abandoned for around 5 years, the Ladd-Reingold House saw a new owner, Alyce Cornyn-Selby, who, incidentally, shared the same passion as Rebecca. Not only did she unknowingly inherit Rebecca’s collection, but, with a collection of her own, she created the “Hat Museum”.
10. Tree Climbing Planet, Oregon City
Don’t we all wish we could grow up to live our childhood dreams? Well, Tim Kovar actually did.
As a child, Kovar loved climbing trees so when he grew up, he made it his profession to train adults from all walks of life to climb trees. Known as the Tree Climbing Planet, his 150-acre farm is swarmed with various kinds and sizes of trees that offer a well-planned and extremely safe environment for tree climbing training.
A Master Tree Climbing Instructor, Kovar teaches enthusiasts the art of tying proper knots, carefully ascend and descend the branches of a tree, and even hanging hammocks. Though it mostly sounds like a fun weekend activity, Kovar’s tree climbing course is mostly targeted towards nature researchers, park workers, and other such outdoorsmen.
11. Chocolate Waterfall, Portland
If you are a chocolate aficionado, then this is where you need to be – like right now!
Inside the Candy Basket Shop in Portland, Oregon stands a giant 21-one-foot chocolate waterfall that spews a gobsmacking 2,700 pounds of chocolate over a giant waterfall-like structure. Constructed out of sculpted bronze and Italian marble, this towering cascade has been in existence since 1991 and is the tallest and oldest waterfall of its kind in the world.
As tempting as it may be, it is just not a good idea to eat out of the waterfall – the chocolate flowing here has been recirculating out in the open for over four years.
There are no restrictions on clicking photographs though. And, if you really wanted to taste the chocolate, ask for a sample.
Try the “oops” section for great deals on chocolates which are considered “seconds” due to their makings, shapes, or sizes.
12. Hot Lake Hotel, La Grande
Located between a picturesque hillside and a natural hot spring named “Ea-Kesh-Pa” by the Nez Perce Tribe, the Hot Lake Hotel, under the supervision of Dr. William Thomas Phy was once a sprawling resort which served guests as well as medical patients and staffs. Known then as the “Hot Lake Sanitorium,” the hotel had over 100 guest rooms and several bathhouses that drew water from the therapeutic hot springs.
The waters at the hotel were used to treat several ailments as well as offer rejuvenation experiences for the affluent guests at the hotel. Several state-of-the-art medical practices were carried out at the hotel as well.
While Dr. Phy passed away of pneumonia in 1931, a massive fire destroyed more than half of the hotel building. Only the brick portion survived. This catastrophe led to the decline of the hotel and during WWII, it was finally transformed into a nurse’s training center. By 1950s, the property served as a nursing home and then as an asylum for the mentally unfit.
The original building was known to house a piano owned by Robert E. Lee’s wife which is known to play by itself on the third floor. Other common apparitions here included a nurse who was scalded to death at the property, a gardener who committed suicide, and several former patients who died here.
The Hot Lake Hotel now operates as a Bed and Breakfast, but, the new owners are still apprehensive about discussing the hotel’s past.
13. Prehistoric Gardens, Port Orford
The Prehistoric Garden of Oregon, located in Port Orford, is regarded as a classic roadside attraction which houses an interesting collection of life-like prehistoric animals placed randomly within the actual rainforest.
Ernest Nelson began crafting these sculptures in 1953 and some of his early works included many dinosaur edifices, which were mostly created according to their actual size and structure. Nelson did his research work on his ancient creature collection and their habitats at the Smithsonian Institute.
During his lifetime, Nelson created 23 sculpted dinosaurs, of which the Brachiosaurus, that took four years to complete, is the largest – 46 feet tall and 86 feet long. The Gardens were open to the public in 1955.
Though a little rough around the edges due to wear and tear of time, the astounding sculpture garden is now managed by Nelson’s family.
14. Kidd’s Toy Museum, Portland
If you thought only kids like playing with toys, wait till you pay a visit to the Kidd’s Toy Museum in Portland, Oregon. Perhaps instigated due to a lack of plaything during his childhood, Frank Kidd became obsessed with vehicular toys and figurines as an adult.
He traveled around the world in search of the finest and rarest toys he could get his hands on, and today, the Kidd’s Toys Museum features over 15,000 mechanical banks, vintage transportation memorabilia, and other related antique toys.
Located adjacent to Kidd’s family auto parts business, the Museum houses endless rooms filled with his vast collection, a majority of which belongs to the era between 1869 and 1939. Here, you can find anything from Disney dolls and characters to die-cast trains and even sand-casting molds for cap guns.
Kidd’s exhibition on mechanical banks is the most engrossing feature amidst the entire museum collection.
The staffs at the museum are extremely helpful and are always glad to share a bit of history behind specific toys.
15. The Wreck of the Mary D. Hume, Gold Beach
In 1881, Mary D. Hume was constructed at Gold Beach, Oregon by Mr. R.D. Hume, a resident of Astoria and a pioneer, and was named after his wife. For the first decade, the vessel carried goods between Oregon and San Francisco. And, after almost a century of active service (97 years) that ended in 1978, the vessel still holds the record for the longest serving ship on the Pacific Coast.
Pacific Wheeling Co. purchased the vessel in 1889 after which she served ten years as a whaler in Alaska and created a record for catching 34 Baleens within a single 29-month voyage between 1890 and 1892. A second record was made when she spent six years voyaging the sea between 1893 to 1899.
In her long career, she also served as a service vessel and a tugboat and was finally retired to remain on Gold Beach, a few feet away from where she was originally created. The old and rusted shipwreck was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
16. Original Stash Tribute Plaque, Estacada
“Geocaching”, as you may already know, is a recreational outdoor sport where participants use Global Positioning System (GPS) devices and exact coordinates to hide and recover containers or stashes known as “caches.” Usually, a modern-day cache includes a waterproof container, a logbook, and a pen/pencil.
When then-President Bill Clinton ordered the removal of Selective Availability from GPS, Dave Ulmer, a resident of Beavercreek, Oregon set out to test the new accuracies of the GPS system.
On May 3rd, 2000, Dave hiked to the Oregon woods with a “stash” of two CD-ROMs, a cassette tape recorder, four dollars cash, a can of black-eyed beans and a few other oddities in a black bucket and stocked it amidst the woods. A logbook with instructions “The Rule is: take something leave something” was also left at the scene.
He marked the area with his GPS device and shared the coordinates on sci.geo.satellite-nav.
By May 6th, it had been found twice and logged once – by Mike Teague of Vancouver, Washington.
In 2003, a geocacher named Team 360 raised money and installed a plaque at the site that read “Original Stash: First Geocache Placed Here.”
17. Tillamook Air Museum, Tillamook
Originally constructed to hold titanic airships, “Hangar B”, as it was formerly called, was built in 1942 along with a sister site known as “Hangar A.” Though Hangar A burnt down in 1992, Hangar B, more appropriately known as the Tillamook Air Museum, now houses an enormous private collection of old and rare aircrafts, some of which have been restored and preserved to be a part of the museum.
After the discontinuation of its use by the military, “Air Museum” was painted on one of the exterior walls and several aircrafts were brought to be stored here. The collection includes several aircrafts from World War II as well as many strange planes such as the “Mini Guppy,” a plump, squat-faced ship.
Unfortunately, the maintenance of this 1000-feet-long hanger/air museum is not so affordable which is leading to its rustic, slightly dilapidated state. Nonetheless, the Tillamook Air Museum may very well be the world’s largest timber building!
18. Silent Rock, Rhododendron
If you are driving from Rhododendron up to Mount Hood, you will come across this giant mound known as the “Silent Rock” which has a very strange story attached to it. Whether it’s true or just an annoyed bus driver’s attempt to keep noisy children quiet for a while is entirely up to your beliefs, the Rock is definitely worth a visit.
Though no one seems to know the true origin of the belief, it is considered that one must be as silent as possible when crossing the mound or they must suffer the consequences.
As one of the stories go, a truck lost its control while passing the mound and crashed into the valley below but not before it hit several other cars. The silence is encouraged as a respect to the deceased, failing which you may end up with a flat tire, a broken leg, or down the valley!
Other stories entail Native Americans throwing their enemies off the rock, early settlers throwing Native Americans off the rock, the death of a construction worker, and also that the mound is built on a former Native American burial ground.
19. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory, Ashland
The USFWS’s forensic facility is, undeniably, one of the rarest laboratories in the world but all with a good cause. The scientists and researchers at the medical facility are required to use their expertise, research, training, and crime-fighting tactics to prevent any acts that pose a threat to the wildlife – flora and fauna.
Founded in 1988, the laboratory works towards tracking down illegal hunting and fishing activities, poaching, theft of unusual and endangered plants, establishments that use endangered animals and plants to make products, and logging of protected trees.
The lab’s evidence room is an extensive display of all such procured items that the officials have tracked down from different parts of the nation – colorful feathers, taxidermy, shiny purses and belts, bones and skull. The lab carefully and thoroughly studies each recovered item to track down its creator.
20. Umatilla Chemical Depot, Hermiston
Situated in Hermiston County of Umatilla, Oregon, the Umatilla Chemical Depot (UMCD) was used by the United States Army to store chemical weapons during the World War II. Created in 1941, the depot was to store several military-grade arms and ammunition which were to be used during the war.
Though they are all covered in earth, the numerous huge dirt-covered bunkers aren’t easily missed. The bunkers seem to capture the land as far as your eyes can see.
When operational, the Chemical Depot was known to contain 12% of the nation’s stockpile of wartime ammunition. Chemical weapons such as sarin, mustard gas, HD Blister agents, and VX were once stored safely inside these bunkers.
Between 1990 and 1994, the facility shipped most of its conventional weapon supplies to other facilities, and by 2011, all remaining munitions had been safely destroyed.
21. Casa Diablo Vegan Strip Club, Portland
We bet you read the name of this place twice, and why wouldn’t you! After all, how many times have you heard the term vegan and strip club being used in the same sentence?
Casa Diablo Vegan Strip Club is perhaps the most “Portland-ish” place in the city of Portland, Oregon. Dubbed as the Vegan House of Sin, the Strip club offers adult entertainment served with a side of veggie wraps and soy stroganoff. Originally named the Pirates Tavern, the club was a vegan restaurant that served the residents of northwest Portland. However, the visitors found it too bland for their taste.
In an attempt to gain popularity, the restaurant owner Johnny Diablo added a spicy, if not outrageous twist to his business, and thus, Casa Diablo Vegan Strip Club was born – a hot and herbivorous alternative to the otherwise mundane restaurant.
To take it a step further, a notice prohibiting stage performers from wearing fur, wool, silk, feathers, leather, or any other material made of animal skin ensures Diablo’s seriousness towards animal welfare.
22. Japanese Balloon Bomb Memorial, Klamath County
During the final moments of World War II, the Japanese Army invented a clever weapon to create psychological terror and destruction on the American soil. About 9,000 fire balloons, formally known as Fu-Go, were launched by the Japanese to hit mainland America.
The balloons were meant to explode on American ground, resulting in a forest fire which would force the army to divert their war resources. Most of the bombs were spotted early by the American army and averted. Though none of the intended Japanese strategies worked, in May 1945, a fire balloon that exploded on Klamath County claimed six lives – a pregnant woman and five school students.
Reportedly, these deaths were the only combat casualties that took place on continental United States soil.
The Japanese Balloon Bomb Memorial, erected in 1950, marks the site of the unfortunate event.
23. Mitchell Shoe Tree, Mitchell
The mysterious shoe tree stands on the Route 26 and like its other counterparts around the world, nobody knows how it started to be the way it is.
People claim that perhaps one day a random passer-by decided to toss their old boots on the tree and that led to the whole tradition of offering a shoe to the tree. Surprisingly, it is believed that there are two shoe trees (the one on mile marker 89 is the new one while the one on 89.5 is the original one) in the area, the second located only half a mile before this one.
Over the years, Shoe trees have become quite a common roadside installation in North America, yet nobody has claimed any credit for starting one. But, believers say that this is perhaps a great idea of recording our time – keep tossing shoes on the tree for generations and they stay until the tree is actually cut down or destroyed (like a shoe-documentary of times gone-by).
Though the Mitchell Shoe Tree is lifeless, the abundance of “offerings” onsite makes it a lively attraction for onlookers.
24. Nobuo Fujita’s Sword, Brookings
Nobuo Fujita, an Imperial Japanese Navy pilot, is known as the pilot who conducted the only aircraft-dropped bombing on mainland America during World War II. He flew a floatplane off of I-25 submarine which carried flammable bombs that were meant to start forest fires in the Pacific Northwest.
The bombings weren’t as impactful as they were meant to be since American Army detected them quite early and averted most of the danger. Years went by and the relationship between the two countries improved.
In September 1962, the U.S. government decided to invite Fujita to attend the 20th anniversary of the historic bombing, and, as a gesture of peace offering, he presented his family’s 400-year-old Samurai Sword to the town he bombed. The former pilot made several visits to Brookings after his first time in 1962.
Today, the sword rests at Brooking’s Public Library and a plaque placed nearby defines Fujita as the only enemy to have ever air-bombed America.
25. Bazalgette the Whale, Yachats
A tiny park in Yachats, Oregon has a giant grey whale lurking underneath its surface! Or, that’s what the creator wanted you to believe.
Located in the southern end of the town, Bazalgette the Whale is a quirky art installation created by Jim Adler, a local artist. The metal sculpture includes a giant metal whale’s tail sticking up from the ground. Look closely and you will find that the surrounding ground near the tale is rounded like an actual whale was floating right below it.
To add to the innovative installation, a spout sprays water every 60 seconds – like a real whale will do.
If you are here on a sunny summer day, look out for rainbows that are created when the sudden water eruption catches sunlight at certain angles.
26. The Bigfoot Trap, Jacksonville
Sightings of Bigfoot were a common occurrence in Oregon in the 19th century. So, it wasn’t a surprise when a local miner claimed to have stumbled upon an 18-inch footprint amidst the woods of Rogue River – Siskiyou National Forest.
The reports of the sighting soon reached the officials at the North American Wildlife Research Team, a now-defunct organization, and they set out to create the Bigfoot Trap. At 10 by 10 feet, the trap is the only one of its kind in the United States of America.
Created in 1974, the wooden box was crafted out of thick wooden slabs joined together by metal bands and secured to the ground with a telephone pole. The box was filled with baits for six consecutive cures in an attempt to finally be able to capture this legendary creature, however, all it managed was an occasional bear or a clueless hunter.
The hatch of the trap was removed in 1980 as it became a potential threat.
27. Hippo Hardware, Portland
The Hippo Hardware, in Portland, Oregon is far from your usual hardware store. As you enter the store, the happy hippos on the walls and columns outside assure you of the amazing experience you are about to have.
Considered a landmark in the city, the Hippo Hardware is known to house an exclusive collection of hardware fixtures made of refurbished vintage items. With over three floors and 30,000 feet of hippo-themed plumbing materials, lightings, statues, and pachyderm toys, Hippo Hardware claims that each of the items in their store is unique.
If you are an art collector, perhaps the old pieces of Central Library, the Portland Hotel, and the City Hall could be of your taste. It is also likely that every item in the store has an equally astounding history of how it was created, where is it from, and how did it come to be where it is.
28. Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, Pendleton
This one is truly for the lovers of art and culture.
Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, housed within the boundaries of Umatilla Indian reservation in Pendleton, Oregon was founded by the members of Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Cayuse tribes who have lived in the area for over 10,000 years. Surprisingly, the institute is still managed by them, making it the only indigenous Native American museum along the Oregon Trail.
Visiting the museum is an amazing opportunity for history buffs to get an insight into the history and culture of the tribes living in the region and know about their clashes with the white settlers who established themselves in the Pacific Northwest.
The name “Tamástslikt” implying “interpreting our own story” aptly narrates the sense of pride that is reflected in every nook and corner of the museum. The sense of satisfaction that comes from living in a set path and following specific customs that have led the tribes to survive so many years is second to none.
29. Fire Museum in City Hall, The Dalles
It’s really easy to miss unless you know what you are looking for or accidentally stumble upon it during your visit to the City Hall for this modest museum is located within the confinement of the City Hall.
Though not so grand in size as compared to several other museums in the state, the Fire Museum is certainly worth a visit. The modest but interesting collection is full of fascinating history and memoirs of the town’s fire-fighting history.
An original fire pole from the old firehouse, two brilliantly preserved fire trucks, and a bunch of old photos of the firefighters who served the city during the 1900s can be spotted at the museum.
Antique firefighting gears and tools are on display and provide an interesting peek into the technology and works of firefighters back then.