Oregon Has Eight National Park Sites—and Next Week, Admission Is Free

For its 100th birthday, the National Park Service is throwing a week-long party. Here’s your guide to keeping it local.

By Caitlin Collins and Ramona DeNies April 5, 2016

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The Painted Hills unit of the John Day Fossil Beds.

The John Day fossil beds. Crater Lake. Lewis and Clark’s cross-country expedition. When Oregonians step into their national parkland—we're also talking historic trails, sites, and monuments—we see more than just stunning natural beauty. After all, these are landscapes imprinted by ice ages, volcanos, and some of the most momentous, and contentious, human adventures of all time.

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Next week marks the arrival of National Park Week (this year, from April 16–24), Barack Obama’s presidentially-proclaimed celebration of “the most beautiful landscapes and waterscapes in the world.” (Not that he’s biased or anything.)

With gorgeous weather in the forecast, we know you probably don’t really need another reason to get outside. But just in case, here’s two:

  • This year’s tribute also coincides with the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service.
  • For these eight days, admission is free at Crater Lake, Fort Vancouver, and Lewis and Clark National Park (access to our other monuments, sites, and trails is always free).

So, that’s your party invitation. Below, your in-state destinations. So tell us, how many of these treasures have you experienced?

California National Historic Trail — Not every American pioneer drawn west between 1841 and 1869 had gold on their mind. Some made the 2,000-mile trek up through Southern Oregon’s lava beds and mountain passes to the Willamette Valley, seeking rich soil to set down roots.

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So 7,700 years ago, this happened. (Paul Rockwood’s depiction of the eruption of Mount Mazama.)

Crater Lake National Park — You already know this massive caldera (just north of the Klamath Basin) is simply the coolest. We’ve got the history here.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site — Once a frontier fur trading post, later a military installation, the bi-state Fort Vancouver site offers a window into several complicated chapters of Pacific Northwest history.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument — Imagine Eastern Oregon 40 million years ago with some help from the “world class record of plant and animal evolution” literally embedded in these fabulous rock formations.  

Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and National Historical Park — Joining the explorers on this two-year, largely riverine trek across the Northern United States? The “Corps of Discovery”—31 other men, along with Sacagawea and her baby. Now that’s a story. 

Nez Perce National Historical Park — Sites spread across four states together tell the fraught story of the 1877 war between the Nez Perce (and their allies) and the United Sates Army.

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The Oregon Caves, near Cave Junction, Oregon. (Makes sense!)

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve — Find the “Marble Halls of Oregon” deep in the Siskiyou Mountains, formed from rainwater filtered through an ancient forest. And yes, there is an onsite chateau.

Oregon National Historic Trail — Another cross-country trek to the Willamette Valley took a more northerly route—alongside rivers including the Platte, Snake, and Columbia—than that followed by the gold panners. If you’re like us, you probably learned all about it in grade school.

Party favor! Here’s something to look forward to—the pending creation of the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, a proposed system of connecting, loop, and spur pathways spanning four states (including Oregon) that was signed in law in 2009. Trails take time to build—fingers crossed, not another ice age!

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Proposed pathways for the "Ice Age Floods National Historic Trail"—a project in the works since the 1990s, according to the Ice Age Floods Institute, signed into federal law in 2009. (Now,of course, to find the money!)

Image: Jones & Jones


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