Scenic Byways: Get an eyeful of beauty on a self-guided tour

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Linn County is full of wonderful scenery, and a great way to take in some of the best is to travel our three Scenic Byways, which are part of the larger National Scenic Byways Program administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.

The 66-mile Over The Rivers and Through The Woods Oregon Scenic Byway will take you along a picturesque route from the Willamette Valley, across the Calapooia and South Santiam rivers into the thick forests of the Cascade Mountains.

Beginning in the rich farmland of the Willamette Valley (near the Brownsville I-5 exit), travelers will enjoy a 66-mile trek from the valley through the foothills and up into the Cascades. The route winds along rushing streams and through peaceful glens, the final leg of the trip moves into a mountain range of spectacular vistas surrounded by dense forests and old-growth Douglas fir.

Traveling at their own pace, sightseers have the opportunity to learn about the past by visiting museums and historic structures, meandering across restored covered bridges, viewing colorful murals depicting life in yesteryear and gleaning interesting facts from several informational kiosks along the way.

This journey allows guests to experience the recreational wonderland that is Linn County. With access to rivers, reservoirs, parks, campgrounds, many trails and winter sports areas; this byway offers a wide range of recreational activities. The course follows the route of the South Santiam River where fishermen are enticed to fish one of Oregon’s prime destinations for Chinook and summer Steelhead. Avid hikers flock to the Menagerie Wilderness area, for the impressive backpacking and rock climbing opportunities.

For the observer rather than the participant, several pullouts offer the chance to glimpse impressive vistas such as Iron Mountain and Jump-off Joe or viewing platforms allow safe observation of birds of prey and wildlife such as elk.

The scenic byway ends at the junction of Routes 20 and 126 where travelers have the option of turning south toward Eugene on the McKenzie/Santiam Pass or choosing the West Cascades National Scenic Byway that winds north through Detroit.

The Quartzville Creek Back Country Byway intersects with the Over the Rivers and Through the Woods byway at Quartzville Drive and Highway 20 at the east end of Foster Lake, outside Sweet Home.  The Quartzville byway takes you through ancient forests, wildlife and the beautiful Quartzville Creek National Wild and Scenic River, above Green Peter Reservoir.  It’s a great area to view a varied collection of wildflowers or blazing colors of autumn foliage.

The byway takes visitors past the deep green depths of Green Peter Reservoir and along the winding flow of alternately calm and rushing waters of Quartzville Creek. Visitors find a delightful visual surprise of towering trees, rich vegetation, and wildflowers as well as panoramic views of the Cascade Mountain Range; including Mount Jefferson.

Traveling through the Quartzville Back Country Byway provides a great opportunity to drive through private, BLM and U.S. Forest Service-managed forests established to provide habitat to plant and animals which are dependent on old-growth forest characteristics.

By definition, “old growth” means a forest that has not undergone major unnatural changes for more than 100 to 150 years, contains young, mature and standing dead trees (snags) and provides a home for a diversity of wildlife species. The most important feature of an old-growth forest is its resilience. Old-growth stands contain all or most of the species of wildlife, fish and plants that are native to them are undergoing constant change. Natural events such as fire or windstorms can alter these forests, but they recover quickly. The wooded areas under and surrounding old grow timber stands are a jungle of vine maple, yew, huckleberries and young trees. Such diversity is one of the reasons biologists’ value old growth.

Seasonal driving conditions may affect visitors’ ability to enjoy the byway. Spring is a fabulous time to visit the area as spring leaves and an abundance of wildflowers emerge and traffic is still low to moderate. Summertime allows visitors to enjoy a variety of summer activities such as picnicking, camping, swimming, fishing and white water rafting. Traffic is moderate to high and caution is warned navigating this winding road. Autumn is full of vivid fall colors and a photographers dream! Traffic is usually low however, drivers should be cautious for the presence of hunters. Winter is a snow-lovers playground; however, drivers should be mindful that higher elevations may be closed depending on snow levels.

In addition to the wide variety of forest habitat, the byway offers numerous recreational opportunities. Camping and picnicking are allowed in both developed and undeveloped areas along the Quartzville Recreational Corridor east of Sweet Home; the undeveloped areas where camping is not allowed are blocked or signed as “no camping” and all camping is limited to a 14-day consecutive stay. Swimming, boating and fishing are available along Quartzville Creek or in Green Peter Reservoir, which attract thousands of visitors annually for seasonal fun.

Many trails near the byway offer a variety of forest settings and scenic view. Ranging from one mile to over 12 miles in length, whether you are an experienced hiker or casual wanderer, there are many opportunities to choose from. Off-highway recreational vehicles (OHV) are allowed on designated roads and trails unless they are licensed for public streets; please refer to local BLM and USFS offices for more information.

The National Wild and Scenic River System is a 9.6-mile portion of Quartzville Creek along a one-lane paved roadway that is recognized for the outstanding scenic driving, white water rafting and recreational mining opportunities it offers. Within that area visitors find Dogwood (day-use) and Yellowbottom (campground) Recreational sites, which are maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. Named for the quartz rock formations found with the gold in the mines, Quartzville Recreational Corridor is a popular area for panning for gold in areas above Rocky Top; rock hounding is also a popular pastime for recreational miners along the route.

The 82-mile McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway runs through the east end of Linn County, connecting east Linn County’s snowcapped Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Washington, and the unique Three-Fingered Jack, gorgeous Clear Lake and Sahlie and Koosah falls on Highway 126, on the west end, with Sisters at the east. 

For more information, including brochures that offer self-guided tours, stop by the Albany Visitors Association headquarters at 250 Broadalbin St. SW, Suite 100 in downtown Albany or the U.S. Forest Service Sweet Home Ranger District headquarters at 431 Highway 20 in Sweet Home, or local chambers of commerce in Brownsville (101 Park Ave.), Sweet Home (1575 Main St.), Lebanon (1040 S. Park St.), and Albany (435 1st Ave.).

For more on-line information, click here.