Scenic Byways – Part 2: Oregon

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Scenic Byways – Part 2

Oregon's Scenic Byways

Oregon – a state rich in open space, history, wildlife and majestic geography. You can't ride your motorcycle through it and not achieve an ear to ear grin along the way. A state where it's big towns are still small enough to escape from within a matter of minutes and it's small towns are big enough to accommodate the practical needs of any touring rider.

Above: Broken Top and the Three Sisters peer out of horizon along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

17 scenic byways strong, it's hard to par down just which one's are best on a motorcycle. This is a place deserving of one visit after another and when you've conquered every road you'll have your own list of gems you need to ride again.

For me there are roads here I am so endeared to I make a point of riding them at least every other year when time allows. I have yet to ride all 17. Several overlap one another so it's easy to create your own journey linking together as many as you can fit into your next trip. Be sure to pause for a break at the informative pull-outs. Here's a few of my favorites and why.

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

Like any good piece of real estate, this byway has all the three ingredients for success. Location, location and location. Or perhaps we might re-write that to read – scenery, scenery, scenery. You won't find this road much of a challenge for your riding abilities, instead it offers you a chance to sit back and enjoy the ride. You can begin it from Sun River and wind your way toward the base of Mt. Bachelor. Then its down you go through the volcanic playground of The Three Sisters across the young lava flows that now play host to numerous alpine lakes.

Hells Canyon Scenic Byway

Despite anything I've ever heard or read I don't rate this as a scenic byway by any means. Sure the trees, streams and rock formations along the way are nice, but the lure of the Hell's Canyon Overlook turns out to be a bust for anyone who's enjoyed a nice overlook like the Grand Canyon, Hurricane Ridge or Yosemite's Glacier Point.

So why go? If you're up to refining your riding skills here's a road that just keeps giving and giving. Twisties galore that begin almost as soon as you leave Baker City and head east along the Powder River. Turning north you ascend into the Wallowa Mountain Range winding your way higher and higher. And then your make your way out to Joseph, corner by corner in a very rhythmic way. This is not fun in a car - it's very fun on a bike

Historic Columbia River Highway

While it's not possible to ride the entire original length from Portland to The Dalles, what parts of the road you can access on your motorcycle is well worth the trip. I like to begin my journey with breakfast at the Edgefield in Troutdale. From there I pick up the old highway and ascend up to Corbett and over to Crown Point for a stop at the historical Vista House. Continuing eastward I descend down to the Columbia River Gorge passing several magnificent waterfalls including the famed Multnomah Falls, one of the longest in the United States. Eventually the old road melds into Interstate 84 and a bit of slabbing is in order to get you out to the next ridable phase east in Mosier.

Above: The European architecture, circa 1917, of the road around Crown Point tricks you into thinking you're somewhere other than in the USA.

At Mosier exit I-84and ride up onto the Rowena Plateau. Enjoy the overlook and get a look at your next set of twisties. Yow! Although it only takes a few minutes to get from the top back down to The Gorge, I allow myself about an hour here so I can enjoy it several times down and back up. Here the turns provide no less than 100 feet per radii and the road is at a fixed five percent grade. I make it an annual trek.

McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway

Up one pass, down through the other, reverse the route and repeat as necessary! The town of Sisters makes a great start and ending point for this magical loop that offers it all. Fantastic scenery and some of the most technical riding you'll ever encounter on public roads.

The ride takes you across one of the youngest lava flows in the continental 48, just 1,500 years old. And this is evidence that the Three Sisters and Broken Top had quite an emotional childhood. At points along the route it's simply eerie.

While the stretch of 126 provides plenty of sweepers, once you turn eastward onto 242 get ready for some tight corners. So tight that vehicles over 35 feet are not allowed here. It's likely a Goldwing with a trailer might come in just a hair under the maximum length.

At right: There's just nothing like winding your way across a 1,500 year old lava bed. Knee pucks - smoke em' if you've got em'.

Robert Aufderheide Memorial Drive

Here is the road that sucks you in and can spit you out the other side if you're not careful. I like to begin it at the covered bridge in West Fir and ride north. As you ride you'll begin to get in tune with the rhythm and just as you reach your state of nirvana at mile 12 here comes that blind decreasing radius turn. Oh well, you might get lucky and not encounter any oncoming traffic as you cross over the center line…

While much of this road is more like riding through a tree tunnel, there are several scenic pullouts. The bridge crossing at Cougar Reservoir signals the end of your fun on this 58 mile roller coaster.

So here's five of my favorites. If you live in Oregon, or spend a lot of time there, I may have missed a few of yours. But alas, the link below will take you to where they are all listed, many with good maps and driving directions. Enjoy.

TM/Winter 2008

More information about all of Oregon's Scenic Byways is available at:

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