Fall Foliage Road Trips
Autumn is a wonderful season for road trips—scenic views are swathed in golden hues, colorful leaves frame roadways, the air is crisp and bursting with woodsy scents, and roadside farm stands are bursting with squash, pumpkins, apples and the last of the summer crops.
Here are three prime fall routes to explore this month when Oregon color is at its peak:
The South Willamette Valley
The low foothills and agricultural valleys around Cottage Grove, Creswell and Veneta make for pleasant autumn rambles. Skip the Interstate and drive the slower Highway 99 for maximum scenic glimpses of golden fields, alpacas, sheep, tractors and rustic barns. Stop in Creswell for farm-to-bakery treats at the Creswell Bakery, then roll on to Saginaw Winery for some berry wine tasting. Stay the night in Cottage Grove at one of the charming country B&Bs that are clustered around the valley communities.
The next day dedicate yourself to a delightful fall tour of the region's six historic covered bridges. You can do this by bicycle or car. Be sure to take pictures! Cruise Cottage Grove's Main Street for a delicious meal at one of the local restaurants and enjoy a walking tour of the downtown murals. On your third day, choose between a cluster of waterfall hikes up in the nearby mountains or drive west into wine country to visit more tasting rooms.
The Oregon Coast
Autumn splendor on the Oregon Coast may not occur to you, but this is a glorious road trip for fall. From Eugene to Florence, Highway 126 is a glow with a palette of yellows and golds. Stop at the Wildcat Creek Covered Bridge for perfect picturesque photos. Follow the Siuslaw River as it winds through leafy forests to the sea. When you reach the coast, stay in Historic Old Town Florence. The River House Inn has rooms with balconies right on the river! Fishing boats, sail boats, speed boats and kayakers navigate the peaceful waterway. Watch the fog roll in to shroud the gorgeous Siuslaw River Bridge and the tide roll out exposing the river bottom to the delight of foraging egrets and seagulls.
The fall coast would not be complete without a bowl of clam chowder from one of the Old Town restaurants. Shop for wind breakers, kites and holiday gifts at the many antique shops and boutique stores along Bay Street. Slip into the LoveJoy tea room for an extensive selection of imported teas and delicious treats.
Scout more seasonal foliage changes along the sand dunes fringed with pines and scrub brush. Horseback rides are offered through the dunes and along the beach. Then drive north to enjoy the fall version of the Sea Lion Caves and the Heceta Head Lighthouse.
Oakridge in the Cascades
Imagine the bright reds, oranges and yellows of fall against the deep green of the evergreen forests. Now throw in sparkling blue lakes and a few magnificent waterfalls! Now is the time to drive up to Oakridge before the snows dust the mountains. Begin the road trip at Elijah Bristow State Park for some lovely leafy landscapes. Stop by Northern Lights Christmas Tree Farm to pick up a pumpkin and farm fresh produce. Then as you drive Highway 58 into the mountains, take in views of the Willamette River and reservoirs. Around Dexter Lake, detour to see a collection of historic covered bridges along with the changing foliage. You can even stop by the famous Dexter Lake Club featured in the movie "Animal House" for some barbecue!
There are cozy inns in Oakridge and Westfir, so you can tuck in for the night, then warm up your days at the local distillery or brewery. Go fishing on the Willamette River or at one of the lakes or enjoy one more mountain biking ride. Top leafy spots include Greenwaters Park in Oakridge and the Office Covered Bridge in Westfir. Plan to hike at one of the many trails along the way. On a subsequent day, soak in the McCredie Hot Springs. Then drive up to the magnificent Salt Creek Falls for an awe inspiring view.
McKenzie River in the Cascades
The McKenzie River region has long been heralded as an amazing fall foliage destination with its thick forests along the river. While the wildfires of 2020 scorched sections of the Highway 126 corridor, nature is resilient and the landscape is already healing. You will still see sweeping river vistas, woodsy trails, mountains, and the charming roadside communities — businesses that were spared and those that are rebuilding. While passing through, please be respectful of private property as residents return to their land. Patronizing the shops, restaurants and lodging along the way helps the communities recover, but please grant residents privacy. Enjoy waterfall hikes, hot spring soaks and farm-to-table dining.
Stop along the way at Ike's Pizza to pose with life size statues of The Simpsons or pick up lunch at the locally-sourced Obsidian Grill up river. Goodpasture Covered Bridge is a scenic must stop (and drive through) experience with this classic beauty stretching over the McKenzie River. Stop to hike portions of the McKenzie River Trail and enjoy the power of the Koosah and Sahalie waterfalls.
At the top of Highway 126, gaze out on the serene waters of Clear Lake, then double back to explore Highway 242. On this road the fall color is even more dramatic against the backdrop of black lava rock! Hike to the double Proxy falls, then visit the lava stone-built observatory. Spread your stay out over several days by staying in a local lodge.
Tip: For an enhanced drive experience, download Together Anywhere's McKenzie River audio app onto your phone. At mile points along the way, the app will share interesting facts, history and current points of interest about the area.
The Joy is in the JourneyFall Foliage on Highway 36 by Jamie Hooper
Wherever the road trip leads, take time to slow down and enjoy nature's colorful collage. From farms to forests, take in all the red, orange, yellow and green hues of fall. Oregon is known for its dramatic autumn leaves and temperate climate so adventuring can continue late in the season. Always prepare for your trip using our adventure checklist and consult trip check before departing. In the era of COVID-19, it is important to stay close to your point of origin and be respectful of the communities you pass through. But, as locals, this is a wonderful time to explore our county.