Oregon has one of the most diverse landscapes in the United States, offering a feast of overlanding opportunities. From coastal rainforests to the High Cascades mountain range to vast deserts, there are an almost endless number of ways to piece together overland trips.
In this Oregon overlanding guide we’ll introduce some of the best regions, wilderness areas, and overland routes the state has to offer. Oregon is such a huge state, it’s impossible to cover everything, but we’ll keep adding to the information here over time. The goal is to provide you with an introduction to the possibilities and let you jump into planning your Oregon adventure from there.
Oregon Overlanding Overview
Located in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon is a large state of incredibly varied topography, climate and outdoor adventure possibilities. The 9th largest U.S. state, Oregon encompasses over 98,000 square miles. It connects with California and Nevada to the south, Idaho to the east, and Washington to the north, and can be a leg of terrific overlanding treks that connect these wild regions.
Based on its topography and climate, the state is typically divided into eight distinct regions: Oregon Coast, Willamette Valley, Klamath Mountains, Cascade Range, Columbia Plateau, Blue Mountains, and Northern Basin and Range (the high desert).
Oregon has a reputation for its intensely wet and overcast winters, but the heavy rains are mostly a feature of the western third of the state. The eastern two-thirds of the state are drier, having cold snowy winters and hot dry summers.
Oregon Overland Routes and Destinations
Generally speaking, the northwest corner of Oregon is the most populated. The state’s largest cities are located here: Portland, Salem, and Eugene. Throughout the state, there are many public lands, dirt roads, off-road trails, and byways that can be pieced together to create a bespoke overlanding route. If you are looking for something that’s more tried and true, here are a few routes that have been named or mapped out:
Pacific Crest Overland Route
The Pacific Crest is the name given to the chain of mountain ranges that run from California, through Oregon and Washington, and into British Columbia, Canada.
Vehicle-based adventure enthusiasts have strung together a loosely defined driving adventure route, the Pacific Crest Overland Route, that roughly follows the Pacific Pacific Crest Trail, a popular through-hiking route. This is one of the most spectacular overland routes in the United States.
The Oregon portion of the route goes from Hood River in the north to near Keno, Oregon, close to the border with California. Chris Cordes at Expedition Portal put together a great guide to the route.
Oregon Backcountry Discovery Routes
The Oregon Off-Highway Vehicle Association has mapped out a handful of long off-highway routes throughout the state.
These are designed for off-road capable vehicles such as trucks, ATVs, and motorcycles, so you’ll need a capable vehicle to tackle them. The routes go through wilderness areas and are intended to be self-supported backcountry trips. Be prepared. See OOHVA’s website for more information.
Alvord Desert and Steens Mountains
Those looking to get away from it all into a wild and secluded part of the world will enjoy the Steens Mountains and Alvord Desert, located in a remote region of southeastern Oregon. It’s highly recommended to visit the dried lake bed of Alvord Desert, which forms a giant salt flat, and Mann’s Lake.
This area can be explored via the Fields-Denio Road, a dirt road that runs for 60 miles along the eastern front of the Steens with dramatic views of the Alvord Desert.
Another terrific destination for overlanding in Oregon is the Owyhee Canyonlands area, a region of high desert and canyonlands that encompasses 2 million acres in the far southeastern portion of the state on the border with Idaho. There are plenty of possibilities for exploring in a vehicle, not to mention numerous other recreational activities, including many hiking trails.
The McGrew Trail is a 26-mile off-road route in southwest Oregon, through the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The trail is located near the town of O’Brian and camping is available at Sourdough Campground.
This is a trail for high-clearance, off-road capable vehicles only, as the train has steep portions with loose rock in places. The trail is managed by the forest service and permits are required. The trail takes around 6 hours from end to end, moving at a steady pace.
If you are looking to build a custom route, National Forests, state parks, and BLM lands often offer the most free-to-roam backcountry areas.
Oregon National Forests
- Deschutes National Forest
- Fremont-Winema National Forest
- Malheur National Forest
- Mt. Hood National Forest
- Ochoco National Forest
- Rogue-River Siskiyou National Forest
- Siuslaw National Forest
- Umatilla National Forest
- Umpqua National Forest
- Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
- Willamette National Forest
Oregon BLM Lands
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management oversees more than 16 million acres of public lands in Oregon, and these can be some of the most secluded and satisfying places to explore. For information and maps of these lands, visit the website for the Oregon BLM office.
Oregon State Parks
Oregon has over 247 different areas managed by the Oregon State Parks encompassing more than 100,000 acres of land. There are plenty of outdoor adventures to be had in the state parks, and they can be linked up with other areas for overland trips. Visit the state parks website for more info.
Oregon Off-roading Areas
Oregon State Parks manages a number of areas throughout the state dedicated to offroading, many of which can be fun places to explore in an off-road capable overlanding rig. You can find more information on these areas on the park service website.