Celebrating 40 Years of Oregon Land Use Planning with One Epic Road Trip

Oregon is a state of great beauty, great communities, and great contrasts. From bustling cities to thriving farmland to wide open spaces, we've got it all, and we're all proud of it. Yet many of the places we celebrate in Oregon are the way they are thanks to people fighting for their protection, or working together for their improvement. 

The Oregon land use planning program is a big part of this uniquely Oregon story.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the program in 2013, we're launching this Land Use Trail. Not so much a single route as a compilation of 40 of our most treasured places, and with each of Oregon's 36 counties represented, this Trail is a way to appreciate just how vital land use planning and policy is to the state that we love.

Using the map and lists below, check out the stops on our Land Use Trail. We'll be "visiting" stops on the Trail iin the months ahead. We'll add a "learn more here" link to each entry as we do--with some interesting facts, history, and tips for visiting or learning more about these sites.

And keep in touch if you travel to any of these places--send us a photo via email, Twitter, Instagram, or Flickr. More details here. We'll share your pictures below!

See you on the trail,
The team at 1000 Friends of Oregon

P.S.--Think we missed something? Let us know here. We'll create a user-generated list with your ideas.


View The Oregon Land Use Trail in a larger map

The Basics

We've divided the 40 sites on our trail into four categories: 

  • Signature Natural Places, celebrating Oregon's most iconic landscapes;
  • Great Communities, recognizing extraordinary Oregon towns and neighborhoods;
  • Thriving Working Landscapes, highlighting some of our exemplary growing regions; and
  • Land Use Roots, a selection of land use "firsts" in Oregon that helped set the course for protections that came later.
  • A fifth category, Threats Defeated, celebrates some places that aren't on our trail because they don't exist--thanks to Oregonians working together to defeat them!

Whether protected through our statewide program, federal legislation, or direct action, these are Oregon’s crown jewels—our shared treasures, forever preserved.

Oregon’s first rail-trail, the Banks-Vernonia State Trail connects 21 miles of Washington and Columbia county woodlands, via an abandoned logging railroad right of way just a few miles from the state’s most populous metro region. Completed after 20 years of volunteer activism, the trail is used by over 250,000 cyclists, hikers, and equestrians annually, providing a major economic boost to its anchor towns. 

Learn more here.

The nation’s first National Scenic Area, the Columbia River provides dynamic scenery as it transitions between temperate rainforest to dry grasslands in only 80 miles.The Gorge is home to hundreds of waterfalls, several vibrant communities like The Dalles and Cascade Locks, and important agricultural areas like the Hood River Valley. The Tom McCall Preserve, near the famous Rowena Loops along the Historic Columbia River Highway, is a favorite place to take in the eastern end of the Gorge, featuring stunning wildflower displays in late spring.

Learn more here.

Few American wildlife refuges come close to the sheer immensity and biodiversity of Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in Lake County. Created in 1936 in a remote section of Lake County, the 278,000-acre refuge is home to more than 300 species of wildlife, including the pronghorn antelope. A rugged terrain of canyons, wetlands, and sagebrush grasslands, the Refuge is a place of great beauty and welcome solitude for thousands of human visitors annually. 

Learn more here.

Hells Canyon is a 10 mile wide canyon located along the Eastern border of Oregon and Washington, and the western border of Idaho. At 7,913 feet, it is the United States’ deepest river gorge, creating some of the most rugged and immense views in the world. Much of it is protected as a National Recreation Area. The canyon is carved by the Snake River and its geological history began over 300 million years ago from volcanoes that emerged out of the Pacific Ocean. 

Learn more here.

One of Oregon’s best-kept scenic secrets Josephine County’s Illinois Valley is home to a rich cultural and natural history—including the state’s largest remaining concentration of endemic and rare plants. First settled 10,000 years ago by the Takelma tribe, the valley and its chief town of Cave Junction are also the gateway to the Oregon Caves National Monument, a 180-million year old ancient ocean reef that attracts over 80,000 visitors a year. The Illinois River, most of it designated Wild and Scenic, is a world-renowned whitewater stream, attracting expert river runners from around the world. Land use planning helps protect fragile ecosystems in the area by limiting rural residential development, preserving open views and supporting the vital tourism industry.

The longest river that flows entirely within Oregon, the John Day is also the third-longest undammed river in the lower 48 states. Flowing 280 miles from sources in the Strawberry, Elkhorn, and Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon, through the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, the river enters a wild, meandering canyon for its last 148 miles, the lower 48 states’ longest single stretch of Wild and Scenic River, attracting whitewater rafters and fishing, while also supporting healthy ecosystems and an extensive steelhead run. Thanks to efforts from nonprofit groups, the lower John Day will soon host Oregon’s newest state park, Cottonwood Canyon, to be located in Gilliam and Sherman counties. 

John Day Fossil Beds | Wheeler & Grant CountiesKnown for well-preserved layers of fossil plants and mammals that lived between 44 million years ago and 7 million years ago, the John Day Fossil Beds attract over 125,000 visitors annually. The monument contains 3 separate units, the most prominent being the Painted Hills, near Mitchell. The beautiful blacks, golds, yellows, and reds that decorate the hills are formed from the different geological eras in which the beds were formed. 

Learn more here.

From its stunning source bursting from the volcanic rock below Black Butte, to its convergence with the Deschutes and Crook rivers at Lake Billy Chinook, the Metolius is among Oregonians' most treasured waterways. In 1988, The River was designated a National Wild and Scenic River. It is a popular destination for fishing, rafting, and camping. In 2009, 1000 Friends and other groups successfully protected its celebrated shores from resort development.

Learn more here.

Traversing wide-open ranchland, fertile irrigated valleys, active timberlands, and several friendly communities in its 180-mile course through Grant County, the Old West Scenic Bikeway is a preeminent showcase of the rugged beauty of rural eastern Oregon and of the state’s new scenic bikeways program. The Old West’s existence is thanks to dedicated work by local volunteers, and as annual ridership grows, its economic footprint is evidence that Oregon farmland can have a major payoff for local communities in more ways than one.

To learn more about the Old West Bikeway, read our staffer's account of riding it in Summer 2012.

Owyhee River Canyon | Malheur County

Located in the southeast corner of Oregon, Owyhee Canyonlands--"Oregon's Grand Canyon"--take up over 1.9 million acres of vast desert land. These canyons are vital to the local economic activity of Malheur County as they attract tourism and recreational activities such as rafting, hiking, hot springs, and hunting. The region is also home to over 200 species of wildlife, from bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope to the endangered sage grouse.

Learn more here.

Smith Rock | Deschutes County

Smith Rock is located in Deschutes County, near the towns of Redmond and Terrebonne. It is the namesake of Smith Rock State Park which encompasses over 650 acres on the Oregon high desert plateau. The park features many outstanding hiking trails offering extraordinary views and is home to some of the best sport climbing trails in the country—providing a major economic boon for Central Oregon. 1000 Friends fought hard several decades ago against a proposed massive destination resort that would have marred the unique beauty of the site.

Learn more here.

The incomparable Steens Mountain rises from the Alvord Desert to a height of 9,733 feet, creating its own weather patterns and providing refuge to many species (including humans). It is the focal point of the 428,156-acre Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area, which was created in 2000 after years of public involvement and cooperation. 


Learn more here.

Umpqua River | Douglas County

The Umpqua River is quite simply the heart of Douglas County. The famously clear North Umpqua emerges from the Cascades through a fantastic series of waterfalls and renowned flyfishing spots. After meeting the South Umpqua near Roseburg, the combined river flows 111 miles to the sea, through one of Oregon’s most significant timber-producing regions, the “Hundred Valleys of the Umpqua.”   The river is named for the Umpqua, a band of the Coquille, but its valleys have long been vital to several Native American tribes. 

Learn more here.

Wallowa Lake | Wallowa County

Just outside the charming town of Joseph, Wallowa Lake was formed by moraines left over from the last ice age. These moraines can be over 900 ft and make for a dramatic backdrop, with the Wallowa Mountains—“the Oregon Alps”—ringing the south end of the lake. Wallowa Lake has served as a recreation destination since 1880. The most prominent moraine was protected from development by 1000 Friends in the 1990s.

Learn more here.

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Oregon land use planning has reversed what once seemed an inexorable trend of suburban sprawl and downtown decline, breathing new life into urban neighborhoods and small-town Main Streets alike, giving residents options for getting around, and attracting national attention for quality of life.

Astoria is located in the most northern tip of the coast, near the mouth of the Columbia River. A popular filming location, Astoria’s coastal small town charm can make a person feel right at home. Local residents have also banded together to promote the downtown, reviving the elegant Elliot Hotel and restoring the famed Astoria Column. It's no wonder Astoria was recently named among Smithsonian Magazine's Best American Small Towns.

Learn more here.

In the Rogue River/Bear Creek Valley at the base of the Siskiyou Mountains, Ashland is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Lithia Park, and Southern Oregon University and is known for its unique culture. It has also consciously emphasized investment inside its urban growth boundary, protecting open space on the east side of Interstate 5 and helping revive underutilized areas. Both the Ashland Railroad Addition District and the Downtown District have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Learn more here.

Baker City was founded in 1864 and owes much of its early existence to the gold rush of 1862. The city is rich in history from its colorful mining roots to its turn of the century elegant character. The town, as we know it today, is home to one of many Oregonians’ favorite main streets, home to the famous Geiser Grand Hotel and the celebrated Barley Brown’s brewpub. 

Learn more here.

Corvallis’ very name means “heart of the valley”, and the town has long lived up to it. With the world-class Oregon State University attracting investment and talented people, Corvallis’ investments in its downtown have paid off with tree-lined streets riddled with restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries, while walkable neighborhoods nearby provide a mix of housing types.

Learn more here.

EmX is Eugene and Springfield’s regional  Bus Rapid Transit system that plays a crucial role in providing accessible mobility, reducing traffic, and, overall, maintaining the area’s quality of life. Public meeting and design workshops hosted by Lane Transit District helped create a corridor of 60% bus exclusive lanes, allowing for efficiency even amid traffic jams. The corridor has also been a focus of investment in new housing and office development. 

After over a century of attracting beachgoers, Nye Beach remains a walkable, view-packed neighborhood filled with local restaurants, art galleries, shops and famous inns like the Sylvia Beach Hotel. Thanks to smart investments by the City of Newport, the Nye Beach area has seen new life in recent years, while retaining a friendly, laid-back village feel. 

Learn more here.

Named for a small company town that was once nearby, this Hillsboro neighborhood became is widely acclaimed for its success as a leading smart growth development, with pedestrian friendly “skinny” streets, access to light rail, walkable town center, and a range of living types. New development in the area will further solidify its transit connections, affordability, and economic success.

Learn more here.

The Pearl District is located in Northwest Portland, near the Willamette. Once occupied by warehouses and railroad yards, after a series of several successful urban renewal projects beginning in the 1990s, it is now, according to Forbes, one of the hippest neighborhoods in America. Containing the historic North Park Blocks, the Pearl District is home to many Portland icons, such as Powell’s Books. 

Learn more here.

Though no longer eastern Oregon’s largest city, Pendleton remains vital to its identity, a place that celebrates agriculture as essential to its culture. From the famous Round-Up to its historic downtown, Pendleton’s vitality depends on the contributions of local ranches and farms. Calling itself “the Real West”, the town also hosts northeast Oregon’s largest farmers market and the celebrated Pendleton Center for the Arts, located in a former Carnegie Library downtown.

Learn more here.


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Oregon is Oregon because of the unique quality of its soils, the productivity of its forests, the passion of its people working the land. Our irreplaceable resource lands remain the core of our economy and our identity, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs and showing the world it is possible to grow with grace.

Although they rank only 37th among Oregon’s top agricultural commodities, cranberries have long been among the state’s most celebrated crops, prized for their bright color and tart flavor. Oregon’s 2,800 acres of cranberry bogs, most of them in Coos and Curry counties, produce nearly 40 million pounds of berries every year, with many growers adopting practices that co-exist well with the local environment. Most of their output is processed and exported, supporting additional jobs and bringing outside money into the community. As the harvest depends on unique growing conditions, it is important to protect the industry’s lands from incompatible development. Cranberries are celebrated at the Cranberry Festival each September in Bandon. 

Learn more here.

The famous Curry County lily fields are located on the southern coast of Oregon. This small stretch of coastline is responsible for providing nearly all Easter lilies to Canada and the entire United States. Nearly 13 million bulbs are grown in a given year. This vital economic contribution was protected in 1986 when the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed that urban uses are not allowed in rural areas and protected 4,000 acres of lily fields and estuary land.

French Prairie is vital to Oregon’s agricultural heritage. This vast area between the Willamette River and the Pudding River was originally settled by French Canadians in the 1820’s. French Prairie is highly productive land and acts as an economic engine for the state and the region. Though it is threatened by southward growth pressures from the Portland Metro region, 1000 Friends works with our affiliate Friends of French Prairie to protect this historic yet still active region of Oregon.

 Learn more here.

Grand Island contains some of the most productive farmland in the world, located in Yamhill County, in the Portland-Vancouver metro area. Grand Island is home to several thriving farms ranging from large, traditional crop farming to small, family-run farms. Their produce consists of fruits, vegetables, seeds, and grains that supply the surrounding area with fresh, local food. Grand Island is currently being threatened by several quarry proposals that would have major impacts to the island’s farmland by potentially creating shifts in floodwaters, increased traffic on roads, hindered bridge safety, and the creation of dust. 

The name Grande Ronde means “great circle,” and this productive area, the second largest enclosed valley in the world, does indeed contain much of Union County’s economy, including nearly $100 million in annual agricultural sales, a figure that has doubled since 2001. Small towns like Cove, Island City, and Union, and the county seat, La Grande, depend on this economy to support local businesses, while visitors since the days of the Oregon Trail have marveled at the valley’s unique beauty.

Learn more here.

In the Tualatin Valley in Washington Country, north of the high-tech warehouses and subdivisions of Beaverton and Hillsboro, Helvetia prides itself on its pastoral countryside that runs deep in cultural heritage with its annual Culture Fest, and its vast diversity of farming enterprises ranging anywhere from Christmas tree farms to alpaca farms. The area also contains a large support base for protecting its farmland through the organization Save Helvetia. 1000 Friends has worked hard with local farmers and residents to protect this productive area from urbanization.

Few regions in the world can rival Hood River Valley’s deliciously juicy apples, cherries, pears, peaches, and other fruits. The valley is also home to a burgeoning winery industry. The Valley is graced with the view of the snow-capped Mount Hood to the south, and Washington’s Mount Adams to the North. A tight urban growth boundary for the City of Hood River has helped create a terrific downtown, home to renowned microbreweries, hotels, and restaurants. Although pressure for development is constant, 1000 Friends and its local affiliate, the Hood River Valley Residents Committee, have long kept this in check while the local farming business—with nearly $90 million in annual sales—continues to thrive.

Learn more here.

Port of Morrow is located on the Columbia River, near Boardman, Oregon, in Morrow County. The Port is a key shipping point for eastern Oregon and Washington’s ample harvest of wheat, barley, onions, potatoes and more—much of which is shipped to Asia via large barges, while several food processing companies translate raw produce into value-added products and jobs—to the tune of $318 million in export value. Agriculture and processing provide over half the county’s jobs, and the Port employs over 5,000 people directly. It has also recently become home to ethanol and biofuels production.

Learn more about the Port of Morrow in our report about Oregon's agri-cluster.

Sauvie Island began is the largest island along the Columbia River, located just outside Portland city limits. At 32.75 square miles, the island is larger than Manhattan. First inhabited by the Multnomah tribe of the Chinook Indians,  the island was called Wappatoe Island by Lewis and Clark, but was renamed after Laurent Sauvé established a dairy to serve Fort Vancouver in the 1820s. Protecting the island from suburbanization was one of 1000 Friends’ first victories. Today, much of the northern half is dedicated to wildlife, while the southern half is home to farms popular for their u-pick opportunities.


Learn more here.

Wheat fields are the essence of lightly-populated Sherman County’s landscape and economy. With over 90 percent of the county’s 300,000 acres of tillable land planted in wheat each year, local farmers produce astounding quantities of grain using expert methods of dry farming. Most of it is shipped out of the country on massive Columbia River barges, which move about one million bushels a day to Portland in the harvest season. Altogether, wheat accounts for $21 million of the county’s $26 million in annual farm sales—value compounded by the economic activity of farm supply stores, shipping, and other support industries in toe county’s towns. Although wind power has recently emerged as an economic boon to Sherman County, it is still a place fundamentally defined by wheat.

Learn more here.

Located around the cities of Newberg, McMinnville, and Dundee, just an hour from much of Oregon’s population, Yamhill County’s Wine Country is home to 290 of Oregon’s 400 wineries, which combined are a $3 billion industry. Known for its world-class Pinot Noir, Yamhill County is home to some of the state’s longest-running wineries such as: Ponzi, Erath, Sokol Blosser, and Eyrie, founded by “Papa Pinot” himself, David Lett. If it weren’t for the protections provided in Oregon’s land use program, this region would almost certainly have been developed long before the wine industry really took root. 1000 Friends works with local affiliate Friends of Yamhill County to protect this industry and help its positive impacts grow.

Learn more here.


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Our accomplishments depend on the foresight of our predecessors. From the first days of surveying and incorporation, to revolutionary land protections a century old, Oregon’s course has been clear for generations: steward the land to sustain its people.

There is perhaps no more iconic Oregon place than Klamath County's Crater Lake. Known for its clear, blue water in a deep bowl formed about 7,700 years ago through the collapse of Mount Mazama, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States at an average of 1,148 ft deep. Due to the lake’s amazing nature and history, it is Oregon’s first federally protected land and is a true treasure in every Oregonian’s eyes. After intense grassroots lobbying by citizens like William Gladstone Steel, it became the nation's fifth national park under President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902, and remains the only such park in Oregon.

Learn more here.

The son of a Linn County dairy farmer and legislator, Hector Macpherson, Jr. stayed in the family business of dairying and serving the state. Elected to the state senate in 1970, Macpherson was an instigating force behind what became Senate Bill 100, after he personally experienced growing conflicts in farm country that threatened his and other farmers' livelihood: sprawl, rural residential houses, and land uses that simply don't belong next to farms. Macpherson, a Republican, worked with legislators like Ted Hallock of Portland and with Governor Tom McCall to pursue a sensible approach to protecting the economic contributions of farmland and a way of life in rural Oregon, while fostering smart investment in Oregon's cities and towns. 

Oregon City | Clackamas County

Oregon City is located along the Willamette River, in Clackamas County. In 1845, it was the first U.S. city west of the Rocky Mountains to be incorporated, as well as Oregon’s first capital. The city was founded by the “Father of Oregon,” John McLoughlin, and was extremely prominent as the industrial capital of the territory; famous for necessities such as lumber, flour, steamboats, and paper. The city maintains its rich history through its beautiful 19th century architecture which lines Main Street, as well as the historical landmark, Ermatinger House. 


Learn more here.

Oswald West State Park | Tillamook County

In 1913, Governor Oswald West convinced the Oregon Legislature to do something unprecedented in world history: declare Oregon’s entire coastline to be public property, ostensibly for use as a highway but in West’s eyes, as the “great birthright of our people.” West’s bold move laid the ground for what is today a multibillion dollar coastal tourism industry—the lifeblood of scores of communities from Brookings to Gearhart. Without this action Oregon’s coast might be lined with large estates and private resorts. Today, we celebrate Governor West’s courage at Oswald West State Park in Tillamook County, where four miles of coastline and many miles of hiking trails are open to the public—forever.  

Learn more here.

Settled by Hal and Dorothy McCall in 1911, Tom McCall’s childhood home (known as Westernworld) is located in central Oregon. The natural beauty surrounding the home is a true testament for why McCall worked so vigorously in preserving Oregon's landscape. The home lies under the beautifully-formed basalt Rimrock, which runs for miles and rises 200 feet above the ranch. The views were even enough to inspire Dorothy McCall to write her famous book rightfully named Ranch Under the Rimrock.

Sarah Helmick State Park, Oregon's first state park, is located south of Monmouth, in Polk County. The park lies along the floodplain of the Luckiamute River and is beautifully forested by Douglas fir, grand fir, ash, maple, cottonwood, and Port Orford cedar. The entirety of the park was acquired between the years of 1922 and 1985 and includes the first land given to the Oregon State Highway Commission for park purposes. The park was named after its original donor, Sarah Helmick, who came to Oregon in 1845, over the Oregon Trail.

Learn more here.

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We point to many places proudly. But we can be just as proud of what is not on our land. Oregonians have come together countless times to stand up for their communities and landscapes, using the land use planning program to protect the common interest from myopic policies and reckless profiteers. While not part of our "official" list of 40 places, the Threats Defeated category celebrates some of these places.

Measure 37

After a misleading and confusing campaign, Measure 37 was passed by Oregon voters in 2004, severely threatening Oregon’s ability to protect farmland from rampant rural development. The measure worked to enforce state and local governments to either waive land use regulations or compensate landowners when a regulation reduces a property’s fair market value. As a result, this enabled long time property owners to become exempt from the land use regulations that were laid out for them as a result of SB100. The provisions of Measure 37 were then overturned, in 2007, with the success of Measure 49. ​

Mount Hood Freeway

The Mt Hood Freeway was a freeway proposed to run through Southeast Portland, which would have destroyed what have become several of the city’s most prized neighborhoods. After witnessing the destruction of other urban freeways in the Portland area, including I-5’s leveling of an important African American community in North Portland, and I-405’s elimination of a broad swath of Italian-Jewish neighborhoods in Southwest Portland, residents stood up against the Mt Hood Freeway in the 1970s and prevented its construction. Instead, the federal money meant for the project was repurposed to begin the construction of Portland’s MAX light rail system. Piccolo Park, just steps from the busy corner of 26th and Clinton St., marks the former site of two homes destroyed for the freeway’s construction.


In the 1980s, 7,000 followers of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh attempted to build a city in the remote rangelands of Wasco County, in violation of Oregon’s then-young land use planning laws. 1000 Friends and residents of the Antelope community fought back against this flagrant dismissal of Oregon law, successfully blocking further expansion of the city. In 1985, Rajneeshpuram was abandoned following the sudden departure of its leaders as details of an alleged bioterror scandal emerged.

Willamette River Pollution

Extreme awareness over the river’s polluted state came after Tom McCall’s documentary, “Pollution in Paradise,” which then led to the regulation of companies’ abilities to obtain permits to operate near the river, as well as how much those companies could pollute. In the 1990’s, studies still showed heavy pollution in the river, turning it into a Superfund site in 2000, which then involved the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the cleanup of the river bottom. 

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Take Us on Your Trip: Crowdsourcing the Trail

Will you be hitting the road in Oregon this summer? Biking the high desert, getting behind the wheel in the Willamette Valley? Any of our sites on your itinerary?

Share a few photos with us and we'll pass them on! 

If you're visiting any of these places, send us a photo or an update via whatever platform you like. We'll collect the photos we receive to share. (Older photos are fine, too.) Here are some ways to share with us:

Tell Us What We Missed

Did we miss something you think should definitely be on our list? We

You can tell us here. 

We've created a map with the ideas we've heard. See it here!

Learn More About Land Use

Interested in learning more about the role of land use planning in your life and community? Visit friends.org/LandUseIs for an intro.

Get Involved

If you want to help us continue to protect and improve great Oregon places like these, click here to learn how to get more involved in our work. Or, click here to learn about membership in 1000 Friends of Oregon.


Many thanks to volunteers who helped make the Land Use Trail possible: Laura Waddick, for writing and photo selection, and Lauren Joyner, who designed the category logos for the Trail.

Please see photo credits for this page here.

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