Major Mountain Ranges Of Oregon (The Ones Everyone Knows…)

I went to a charity event last week with some friends and, unbeknownst to us, one of the rooms was hosting a trivia competition. Every team paid $5 into the pot, which was then split evenly between the winners and the host charity.

Our great start was followed by a particularly disastrous category about the show Friends, which none of us had ever watched. At the end of the final round, we were tied for first place.

Oregon is far from being just a “beach state

Our trivia host told us that the tiebreaker was “Mountain Ranges of Oregon” and the team that listed the most would be declared the winner. We were able to name about a dozen, between the four of us.

We ended up winning by one point, even though we later found out there are 95 named mountain systems in Oregon if you include subranges. Here is a list of the major mountain ranges in the state and a few activities for visitors to enjoy at each one.

6 Main Mountain Ranges Of Oregon

1. The Cascades

Mount Rainier – Highest Mountain In The Cascades (even though it’s in Washington)

Without a doubt, the most famous major mountain range that runs through Oregon has to be the Cascades. They divide Oregon into its eastern and western sections and are part of the larger Pacific Coast Ranges that stretches from Alaska to Mexico.

The highest peak in the Oregon section of the range is Mount Hood, which is also the highest point in the state. Its exact height is disputed but is believed to be in the area of 11,250 feet.

Speaking of Mount Hood, it is home to the only lift-operated ski resort in the United States that is open year-round. Mt. Bachelor in the south is also known for its skiing, although it is only open from Thanksgiving to May.

Some amazing hiking trails can be found here as well, including Trillium Lake Loop Trail #761 near Mount Hood. I don’t know why they call it that; I find it difficult to believe that there are really over 761 loop trails at Trillium Lake, but what do I know?

The Cascades are also home to part of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, a 2,650-mile trail that runs from Canada to Mexico. It is one-third of the Triple Crown of American Hiking Trails, along with the Appalachian and the Continental Divide trails.

2. The Oregon Coast Range

The Oregon Coast Range, also known as the (Pacific) Coast Range, runs 200 miles down the state’s Pacific Coast. It is made up of three subranges: the North, the Central, and the South.

Its highest point is Mary’s Peak, which is a relatively low 4,101 feet high. It is named after Mary Lloyd, the first European woman to cross what is also known as the Mary’s River. Some sources use the apostrophe, while others don’t.

It is part of the larger Pacific Coast Ranges mountain system, which span 3,800 miles from Alaska to Northern California.

Major points of interest here include the Hayden Bridge near Grass Mountain in Alsea, one of the few remaining covered bridges in the state, as well as the Tillamook State Forest and Klamath Falls.

Popular hiking trails in the area include the 5.1-mile Wilson River Trail and the 9.3-mile Elk Mountain Loop.

3. The Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains are primarily found in the northeastern corner of Oregon, although they do extend a little bit into the southeastern corner of Washington. It also contains a few subranges, including the Strawberry Range and the Elkhorn Mountains.

With a total area of about 15,000 square miles, the range makes up over 15% of the entire state of Oregon. Its highest peak is Rock Creek Butte, which sits at 9,106 feet above sea level.

As the name suggests, the mountains have a distinctive blue coloration when seen from a distance. With the Strawberry Mountain subrange named for the patches of berries found nearby, northeastern Oregon has some of the best obviously-named places in the country.

Perhaps the biggest attraction here is the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway, a 145-mile route with a wide variety of sites and sights, including lush forests, small towns, wildlife, and much more.

The main hiking trail here is one of Oregon’s newest, the appropriately-named Blue Mountains Trail, which runs 530 miles in a spiral-shaped pattern from Wallowa Lake State Park to the city of John Day in Grant County.

4. The Wallowa Mountains

Eagle Cap seen from Mirror Lake (Wallowa Range)

Sometimes considered an extension of the Blue Mountains (but not by me, which is why I’m listing it as a separate entry), the Wallowa Mountains are a slightly smaller range in the state’s northeast corner.

Its highest point is officially listed as Sacajawea Peak at 9,347.8 feet, although that is disputed by some sources who believe that the nearby Matterhorn is actually a little bit taller.

The mountains are part of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, which contains over 5,000 square miles and four separate wilderness areas. The largest of which is the Eagle Cap Wilderness, home to Legore Lake, the highest natural lake in the state.

Popular hiking trails here include the aforementioned Blue Mountains Trail, the 1.89-mile Iwetemlaykin Heritage Trail, and the 15.6-mile Ice Lake Trail.

5. Paulina Mountains

Overlooking Paulina Lake (Central Oregon)

The Paulina Mountains in central Oregon consist of 97 named mountains, the highest of which is Paulina Peak, which sits at 7,969 feet.

The peak is also the largest point of the Newberry Volcano, which is the size of Rhode Island and has erupted many times over the past 400,000 years, although its most recent eruption is believed to have been over 1,400 years ago.

The major attraction here is the East Lake Resort, at the heart of Newberry National Volcanic Monument. It is a major spot for fishing and boating, with vessels available for rent at the resort itself.

There are many hiking trails here as well, with 21 located near Sunriver Resort. The most famous of these are Green Lakes and Benham Falls trails, which are 9.1 and 6.7 miles, respectively.

6. Pueblo Mountains

Alvord Desert near Borax Lake

Somewhat different than the rest of the mountain ranges on this list, the Pueblo Mountains are found in southeast Oregon and extend over the state’s border with Nevada. The highest point is Pueblo Mountain, 8,632 feet above sea level.

The Pueblo Range is particularly interesting because it is truly a hidden gem among the state’s mountains. A majority of the land is run by the Bureau of Land Management and sees very few visitors, mostly due to the range’s remote location.

There are very few developments out here, making it one of the best places in the state to enjoy nature in its purest form.

The most popular activities here include hiking, backcountry camping, mountain climbing, birdwatching, hunting, and photography. Although there are a lot of areas that look like a desert and mostly contain sagebrush, there are also many lush meadows and trees here as well.

Hiking can be very difficult but the Desert Trail does run through the area and sees a fair number of users every year. It isn’t paved or even a dirt path but a series of rock cairns that guide the way.

The trail can be difficult to navigate but thankfully, an organization called The Desert Trail Association offers a free topographical map to help prospective hikers find the cairns and make sure they’re on the right path.

If you’ve never experienced the deserts of Oregon and Washington, be sure to put this one on your bucket list as it will likely be quite eye-opening!

Summary and Final Thoughts

Although there is no defined list of what constitutes a major mountain range in Oregon or which ones qualify, these are the ones that I find the most important or the most interesting.

There are a few things that these ranges have in common, including the wide variety of hiking trails of all difficulties, camping opportunities (both backcountry and designated campgrounds), and wildlife watching.

Whether you prefer popular tourist destinations like Mount Hood and Crater Lake or a more remote, intimate experience with nature like the Pueblo Mountains, you’ll be sure to find it in one of the many mountain ranges here in Oregon.

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