Outback Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (1998)
- Intrinsic QualitiesNatural
- Length170 miles
"Outback" refers to land with a natural ruggedness. Though people come here seeking independence, they know each other's first names. Community is paramount. Jonathan Nicholas, publisher of the Oregonian, said it is "a star-spangled landscape of marsh and mountain, of reflection and rim rock, of seamless vistas and sage-scented dreams."
Story of the Byway
Welcome to the Oregon that many visitors don’t know exists — a place where the state’s archetypal lush forests and rushing rivers give way to sagebrush-dusted plains, alkali flats and rocky outcrops. An antidote to a busy world, it’s just the place to slow your pace. Gaze out at pronghorn (sometimes mistaken for antelope) grazing on golden grasslands, or the play of light on ancient rock. Such wide-open spaces and ample solitude may indeed be reminiscent of the Australian Outback. But as longtime ranchers and other ruggedly independent locals will tell you, this broad, beautiful landscape is 100 percent authentic Oregon.
Start at the border of Oregon and California in New Pine Creek, OR. Drive north on US 395 through Lakeview to Valley Falls. From Valley Falls, take SR 31 and head northwest through Paisley, Summer Lake, and Silver Lake. At the intersection of SR 31 and Co Rd 5-10, turn right to take a short loop to Fort Rock State Park. Turn left on Cabin Lake Road and then left again on Co Rd 5-11A to access the entrance of Fort Rock State Park. Continue on Co Rd 5-11A and then turn left at the end of the road. When you get to Co Rd 5-10, turn right and go back to SR 31. Continue driving northwest on SR 31 to La Pine, OR where the byway ends.
Points of Interest
Rises 325 feet out of the plain like a desert mirage. A national natural landmark, it takes its name from the fortress-like towering rock walls that form a near circle. It’s actually the ring of an ancient volcanic crater that was set in a shallow sea. Hikers can slip inside the walls, where wave action cut horizontal slabs into the rock.
Fort Rock Valley Historical Society Homestead Museum
Comprises several historic buildings from the valley, including a one-room schoolhouse, a church, a mercantile and settlers’ cabins, preserved and relocated by volunteers.
Picture Rock Pass
The road crests to 4,830-foot Picture Rock Pass, named for the Native American petroglyphs hammered into the rock just a short walk from the highway on the Medicine Man Trail. Atop the pass on a clear day, you can see the Three Sisters, a trio of Cascade Mountain volcanoes some 90 miles to the northwest.
A long, shallow alkaline lake with depths of 4 to 5 feet, the lake contains no fish and sometimes dries up completely. The 18,000-acre 4 Summer Lake Wildlife Area draws a wide range of waterfowl and is an important resting stop for birds migrating on the Pacific Flyway. .
At Valley Falls OR-31 joins US-395. To the east, the massive wall of Albert Rim rises up nearly 2,500 feet meters and stretches 30 miles, the largest exposed fault scarp in North America.
Located near Lakeview and within a hot springs resort complex 1 mile/ north of town, is Oregon’s only geyser, shooting a column of water up to 50 feet into the air. It has a history of erupting every 90 seconds but has become more tempera-mental in recent years; the geyser still goes off regularly from October to May.
Explore the Outback
Starting in the City of La Pine and heading southeast on SR 31 toward Fort Rock, your journey along the outback Scenic Byway has officially begun! On your drive to Fort Rock, you will find the Fort Rock Valley Historical Society Homestead Museum, which will be your first stop along the Byway to take in the history of the area.
Next up, if you want to spot some of the most gorgeous birds in the area you must stop at Paulina Marsh which is located right outside of Silver Lake. After that stop at Picture Rock Pass, which commemorates and showcases the Native American petroglyphs that can be viewed. As the road begins to descend, you will immediately see picturesque views of the pristine Summer Lake.
From the Summer Lakes area, you will soon make your way toward Paisley and cross over the Chewaucan River. There are plenty of chances to fish for beautiful rainbow trout and other native fish to the area. As you continue you will see some of the most beautiful views, including Albert Rim right across from Albert Lake right outside the community of Valley Falls.
The end of your journey will be marked by the towns of Lakeview and New Pine Creek, which are two wonderful areas that surround the beautiful Goose Lake. You can spend the night here and spend the whole next day enjoying the lake and the surrounding area!
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