Sure, you could drive straight from Point A to Point B when traveling anywhere in Oregon, but where’s the fun in that? The rugged coastline, grand forests, snow-capped mountains, rolling valleys and sweet (and often quirky) towns along the way make for some dramatic eye candy, not to mention surprising adventures. Three newly designated Oregon Scenic Byway routes — among 29 designated byways and tour routes statewide — offer mile-by-mile suggestions on where to stop and what to do, so all you have to do is pack the car and start driving. Here’s how to explore the viewpoints and attractions along these new routes.
A quiet river route outside of Eugene
You’ll feel the pace (and your heart rate) slowing as you cruise along the McKenzie River Scenic Byway, just outside of the bustling city of Eugene. Plan on spending a couple of hours along the McKenzie, or more if you fall in love with this world-class river renown for fly-fishing. The 34-mile route travels east-west, hugging the tree-lined riverbanks of several small, quiet riverside communities. Bring a picnic and play horseshoes at Hendricks Bridge Park in Springfield to see the display showing how trappers and homesteaders lived here in the 1800s. Nearby, design fans will marvel at the ingenuity of the 1920s-era Leaburg-Walterville Hydroelectric Project, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Five miles east is the Old McKenzie Fish Hatchery — a one-stop shop for trails and interpretive signs describing the rich geology and fishery heritage, including the drift boat, which fishermen still rely on today for trout, spring chinook and summer steelhead. Drive across the state’s second-longest covered bridge as you near the arched Goodpasture Bridge in Vida. Then head to Blue River Lake — a recreational wonderland where you’ll want to boat, hike or explore Wolf Rock, the largest monolith in Oregon and third in the world. Check out 5 Ways to Love the McKenzie River for more inspiration.
A rambling route from Corvallis to the Central Coast
Hold onto your water bottles as you navigate this twisty, turny but strikingly beautiful route from wine country to the Coast. The 72-mile route to the beach along the Marys Peak to Pacific Scenic Byway starts in Tangent, in a fertile agricultural region famous for hazelnuts, berries, mint and other crops. There’s plenty of food and drink, arts and culture, shopping and riverfront strolling to be done in downtown Corvallis, home to Oregon State University. Heading west, stop and smell the flowers at the camas fields of William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge. Pick up a treat at one of many farm stands in Philomath and bring it along as you set out for a trail adventure at Marys Peak. At 4,097 feet, it’s the highest point on the Oregon Coast Range. Back in the car, wind your way through the Alsea River Valley, where cyclists will a world-class network of singletrack trails at Fall Creek State Recreation Area. As you reach the Coast, the sandy flats of Waldport are a lovely place to spend a few days, or head north or south for more exploring. Connect to activities such as crabbing and clamming, paddling and fishing at the Alsea Bay Historic Interpretive Center.
Over the forest pass from Tualatin Valley to the North Coast
One of the most popular visitor routes in Oregon, the 68-mile Trees to Sea byway is packed with trails, history, lighthouses and ice cream. Start out in Banks, where the Banks-Vernonia State Trail is ideal for families and anyone else who enjoys walking or biking along a car-free paved path through woodlands and across historic railroad bridges. Back on the road, you’ll climb in elevation as you near the Tillamook Forest Center, where you can climb a 40-foot replica of a fire tower and kids can play with interactive exhibits telling the story of the Tillamook State Forest’s past, present and future. Next up: They’ll all scream for ice cream as you wind your way alongside cow pastures and then pull into the freshly expanded and remodeled Tillamook Creamery, a few miles north of the byway, home of Oregon’s most famous cheese and ice cream. Waffle cones in hand, nibble on cheese samples and see how the cheese is made. Another 10 miles west and you’ve landed in Netarts Bay, where you’ll find some of the tastiest oysters in the Pacific Northwest. Pick up some of the Coast’s famous Jacobsen Salt to take home, stop at a farm stand or book a foraging or touring adventure on the North Coast Food Trail.
If You Go:
Read the Oregon Scenic Byways guide online or order a free guide to pore over in person. These routes are open year-round, but check conditions before you go in the winter months, as snow and ice may be hazardous. Always remember to share the road with bicyclists, farm equipment and wildlife.