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Fall Foliage Road Trips

Published: September 01, 2021

 

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.

This bed and breakfast has all you need for a peaceful and relaxing farm stay experience. Sweet Springs Family Farm is located on nine acres… More Info
Lily of the Field Bed and Breakfast is a craftsman style home located on 1,200 acres (486 ha) in Cottage Grove with meadow and mountain… More Info

The Oregon Coast

Riding horses on the coastal dunes with C&M Stables.

Photo: Jacob Pace / Eugene, Cascades & 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.

Most rooms have views of the Siuslaw River, some with balconies right on the river! Located near the historic bridge, the inn has a prime… More Info
At the Park Motel and Cabins enjoy a warm comfortable bed, exceptionally clean rooms and happy friendly folks to keep you comfortable.… More Info
Have you always wanted to stay in a lighthouse? The lighthouse keeper's cottage at Heceta Head Lighthouse is a Florence/Yachats bed and… More Info

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.

The Westfir Lodge and Mountain Market is located in the heart of the Willamette National Forest at the base of the famous mountain biking… More Info

McKenzie River in the Cascades

Blue River in the Fall

Photo: David Putzier

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.

This unique lodge has 400 feet of McKenzie River frontage and over four acres of gardens. Eight rooms — all with a private bathroom — some… More Info
Nestled in the woods along the McKenzie River, Loloma Lodge provides breathtaking lodging options. Built in 1932, the Historic Lodge offers… More Info

The Joy is in the Journey

Fall Foliage on Highway 36 by Jamie Hooper
Fall 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.

Author: Taj Barnhart Morgan

Taj Barnhart Morgan is the Director of Content Strategy for Travel Lane County. A journalism graduate from the University of Oregon, Taj has two decades of special event management and hospitality marketing experience in San Diego, CA and Maui, HI. Passionate about mothering, and back to her Oregon roots, she is discovering the Eugene, Cascades & Coast region all over again through the eyes of her daughter.