Nothing says great life therapy to me like a spur-of-the-moment road trip! If you’re looking for itinerary ideas and want to sample some of Oregon’s amazing diversity I’ve got a fantastic trip for you! This 650 mile Oregon loop offers up waterfalls, mountains, volcanoes, high desert, a beautiful river, sand dunes, and the ocean. What more can you ask for?
Realizing it had been several years since I last spent time in Oregon, in May 2015 I packed the Jeep, grabbed Jake dog, and drove south to enjoy a long Memorial Day weekend. I hastily threw together a “sort of plan” to drive a 4-day 1,000 mile loop that would take me from Seattle to Silverton, southeast to Bend, west along the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway all the way to the coast and then finally back north to Seattle. Ideally I would have stretched this out to a week or more but if you don’t mind being on the move and want a scenic driving tour, read on for a great 4-day itinerary!
Seattle to Silver Falls State Park
Road Mileage: 231 miles | Drive Time: 4:30
My first stop was Silver Falls State Park just a half hour east of Salem, Oregon. At 9,200 acres, Silver Falls is the largest state park in Oregon and also one of the most popular. Visiting on a busy holiday weekend meant dealing with larger crowds but with the park’s ample acreage and my later 2pm arrival (thanks crappy holiday traffic!) it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. The park is large and there’s plenty of room to roam.
There are 25 miles of backcountry trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding and most of those are dog friendly. The main draw of this park is the Trail of Ten Falls, a spectacular 9 mile loop hike that takes you on a scenic tour of 10 stunning waterfalls and includes a behind-the-scenes look at the spectacular 177′ South Falls. Just a heads up: dogs are not allowed on this trail but are allowed most other areas in the park.
Silver Falls State Park to Chemult
Road Mileage: 195 miles | Drive Time: 3:30
After a few hours at Silver Falls I headed southeast on Oregon Route 22 to the Sisters/Bend area. The drive through Santiam State Forest was gorgeous! It winds along the Santiam River before climbing up and over 4,817′ Santiam Pass. In the summer of 2003 wildfires scorched 90,000+ acres of forest in the area and the scars still show. An information kiosk and pullout along the road is a great place to take in the views and also some history about the large fire. Unfortunately the west side of the pass was fogged in with low clouds and mist that obscured my views but once over the Pass the clouds lifted and the drive into Sisters was absolutely stunning!
The McKenzie-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway has the highest number of snow-capped volcanoes in the lower 48 and offers hiking opportunities everywhere. I really wanted to stop for a few days but the area is popular and the trouble with last minute holiday travel is booked accommodations and loaded campsites. The only place I could find to stay was further south in Chemult, so I reluctantly moved on knowing I’d have to come back soon.
I did take a break at the Three Creeks Brewing Company in Sisters to enjoy some local beer and grub AND the fantastic views of the Three Sisters, Broken Top, and Mount Batchelor. I especially enjoyed their Knotty Blonde, a lighter blonde ale just for non-IPA beer lovers like me! I ended up with a list of hikes to check out so I’ll be back soon to spend some extended time in the area. I’d highly recommend adding a few days to a road trip just to explore Sisters and Bend! It’s beautiful country!
When I finally arrived in Chemult for the night I was glad that I had booked a room and passed on camping. I forgot this area of Oregon is high desert and with Chemult sitting at nearly 5,000′ it was darn chilly! According to Wikipedia it’s one of the snowiest inhabited places in the contiguous US and has among the highest frequency of nights below freezing. If you find yourself here I recommend the Eagle Crater Lake Inn. The owners were friendly, the rooms clean, and the price was decent. Although their only pet friendly room was already booked they very nicely offered me an exception for the evening.
Chemult to Roseburg
Road Mileage: 110 miles | Drive Time: 2:00 without stops, but plan on all day!
Chemult is a small town with a population around 300 and aside from the expensive Diamond Lake Resort, one of the last spots to get groceries, gas, and supplies before heading west on the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway. From Chemult, Crater Lake National Park is a quick 30 minute drive. If you haven’t been you should spend at least a day there—it’s extraordinary!
Having already visited Crater Lake years before I decided instead to explore the Diamond Lake area. I had found Mount Bailey on a list of area hikes and thought it might be a quiet option for a busy holiday weekend. I was excited to pull into the trailhead and find only one other car. Even in this low snow year though an 8,368′ peak was a bit ambitious for May and I could only manage to get within 1,000′ of the summit before losing the trail in snow. The gorgeous views over to Mount Thielsen and beautiful Diamond Lake made every bit of the hike worthwhile! The only annoyance were the mosquitoes. They were pretty thick out there!
From Diamond Lake I continued west on the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway. The Bureau of Land Management publishes a useful brochure that outlines all the waterfalls, campgrounds, and points of interest on the drive and also a great brochure that details each waterfall along the way (north and south). You can also get copies from the Diamond Lake Ranger Station. Alongside the byway runs the 79 mile multi-use North Umpqua Trail, popular for hiking and biking. It contains 11 trail sections of varying length with numerous waterfalls and trailheads. When I found out one of the sections is called “Dread and Terror” I just HAD to hike a portion of it.
I turned off Highway 138 at the Lemolo Lake sign and drove to the White Mule Trailhead just past the Lemolo Reservoir. I hiked about 6 miles roundtrip to Lemolo Falls and back along the scenic and beautiful North Umpqua River. If you’re so inclined you could hike 13 miles all the way to the Umpqua Hot Springs or visit the springs from a closer trailhead to the west. I think the only dread and terror I experienced was trying to scramble off trail to get a better view of Lemolo Falls. The trail winds along a very steep hundred foot canyon. Don’t do it!
I spent the next few hours driving the Byway and with its easily accessible trailheads, numerous waterfalls, and abundant campsites, you can spend a lot of time exploring this beautiful area. Watson Falls, Oregon’s 3rd largest waterfall at 292′, was my favorite along the Byway. I also visited Clearwater Falls, Tokenee Falls, and Whitehorse Falls. I loved them all but don’t pass up the stunning Watson Falls! It’s every bit worth the steep half-mile hike to get there.
With campsites along the Byway pretty full and bugs a bit nasty I opted for another hotel room and drove to Roseburg for the night. I snagged a clean and cheap room at the Motel 6 and enjoyed a nice bottle of local Willamette Valley wine. Roadtripping in Oregon has its advantages!
Roseburg to John Dellenback Dunes
Road Mileage: 84 miles | Drive Time: 1:30
From Roseburg I drove west to Reedsport, giddy to see the coast again after 5 long years. That’s 5 years too many! I found the John Dellenback Dunes Trail in the Best Hikes with Dogs Oregon book and couldn’t pass it up so I detoured south 10 miles from Reedsport to visit. Dune hiking? Yes please!!
The trailhead is near the Eel Creek Campground off Highway 101 and after a short walk through forest you reach sprawling dunes with fantastic ocean views. From here you can hike 2.7 miles all the way to the beach if you so desire! But be warned, a hike across soft sand dunes is a tough one and you should pay attention to your bearings. There are wooden markers across the dunes that lead you back to the trailhead but they can be tricky to spot. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of sand!
During Snowy Plover nesting season (March 15 – September 15) dogs aren’t allowed on the beach so Jake and I happily stuck to the dunes and spent a few hours playing. I was surprised how few people were here on a holiday weekend but I suppose most were on the motorized area of the dunes a few miles away. No motorized vehicles here so all you hear is pleasant quiet. And lots of wind. Make sure you stow away anything you’d like to keep sand out of!
I visited on a relatively cool day, but be aware if you bring your dog that sand can get hot quickly in the sun. Be mindful of your dog’s paws and bring lots of water!
John Dellenback Dunes to Beachside State Park
Road Mileage: 65 miles | Drive Time: 1:30 without stops
After the dunes I was on a mission for seafood and did a quick tour of the cute coastal city of Florence. The Firehouse Restaurant on Bay Street advertised the best clam chowder around and indeed, it was the best I’ve ever had! I ordered the deluxe version which came in a bread bowl with shrimp, dungeness crab, and cheese. Yummy!
I spent the day working my way slowly north on the coast and marveling at all the beautiful coastal state parks and beaches. Driving north gets you a fabulous view of Heceta Head Lighthouse. A few miles north I stopped at Neptune State Park and Jake and I enjoyed the beach all to ourselves.
My destination for the evening was Beachside State Recreation Site near Waldport where I had reserved a tent spot the night before. The campground was quiet and the hosts were friendly. Bathrooms were clean and each site had a firepit and picnic table. This might be the closest campsite in the state to the ocean and sure enough, just a few steps away you have access to miles of public beach! Jake and I enjoyed a long evening beach stroll and a nice campfire while listening to the soothing sound of ocean waves. This is life therapy for sure!
The only downside to the park? Since it’s so close to the beach it’s also very close to the highway. Traffic was light overnight and most of the time I heard only the soothing ocean waves but louder passing trucks woke me a few times. If you stay here be sure to look at the campground map and book a site away from the road.
Beachside to Tillamook!
Road Mileage: 90 miles | Drive Time: 2:00 without stops
After a great night at Beachside and an early morning walk we got back on the road. We didn’t make it far before the magnificent offshore rocks of Seal Rock State Park caught my eye. This just might be my new favorite place on the Oregon Coast! Located north of Waldport, Seal Rock is picture perfect and teeming with seabirds! There’s easy beach access and a walkway up high with fantastic views.
Further north I detoured off the 101 to drive the Three Capes Scenic Route to Pacific City and pulled into the lovely Cape Kiwanda for another beach break. It’s one of the few beaches you can drive onto and park your car. Just look out for rising tides! A short drive north of here is Cape Lookout, one of the best spots on the Oregon Coast for whale watching. A 5 mile round trip hiking trail, The Cape Lookout Trail, will take you through forest all the way to the tip of the promontory. The views are spectacular!
No visit to the Oregon coast is complete without visiting the Tillamook Cheese Factory. After stocking up on cheese and enjoying a grilled cheese lunch I headed out to the Bayocean Spit to do a hike that I had read about and put on my “must-hike” list a while back: the Bayocean Spit Loop.
The hike starts from the Bayocean Spit Trailhead and leads you on a sandy trail across the dunes toward the ocean. Behind you are the beautiful views of Tillamook Bay. Once at the ocean you turn north and can hike all the way to the end of the spit to Kincheloe Point if you so desire. From there you connect with a gravel trail on the Bay side of the spit and continue back to the parking lot. The entire loop is about 7.6 miles but there are several places along the way where you can cross the spit and shorten the trip. Just look for tall markers along the beach indicating a trail that cuts across the dunes.
This hike is among my favorite Oregon beach hikes! It’s a beautiful, peaceful area with spectacular views and despite a few cars in the parking lot I pretty much had the entire place all to myself! Back in the early 1900s Bayocean was primed to become a sort of Atlantic City of the West but coastal erosion eventually destroyed the small town that existed and now only sand remains. Put this fantastic spot on your list. It’s a gorgeous place to spend a few hours!
From Tillamook home
Road Mileage: 245 miles | Drive Time: 4:00
With time running out I had to skip my favorite place on the coast, Cannon Beach, but I know I’ll be back there again soon. I covered a lot of ground on this fantastic 4-day tour of Oregon and was astounded at the state’s diversity in such a small area. And an added bonus? I got to stock up on Willamette Valley wine and Tillamook Cheese!
Thanks Oregon for the wonderful road trip!
I can’t wait to come back! I already have a new list of hikes and attractions to see.
Have you done a road trip in Oregon? Where did you go and what did you love the most? If you’re looking for a great resource for Oregon Travel check out the Travel Oregon website. It gave me some great inspiration on where to go and has lots of travel ideas.
Want to visit the North Umpqua River area? Download these handy brochures provided by the BLM:
- Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway Brochure
A map of the entire drive showing campgrounds, attractions, facilities, and driving mileage
- North Umpqua River Waterfalls Brochure and South Umpqua River Waterfalls Brochure
Details about every waterfall along the way!
- North Umpqua Trail Brochure
Information on all 11 segments of the entire 79-mile North Umpqua Trail including campsites, elevation profiles and mileage. A lot of great info!