Outback Scenic Byway
From the lush forest to the Oregon desert
|Mileage||157 miles (253 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||3 hours, 4 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||All Seasons|
|Roadways||Oregon Highway 31, and US Highway 395|
|Forest PassesSome of the adventures on this scenic drive require an admission fee that these passes cover. Please read the drive description for more information.||Pacific Northwest Forest Pass, and America the Beautiful Annual Pass|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.||La Pine, OR▼, Lakeview, OR▼, and Summer Lake, OR▼|
4.0 average from 19 votes
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The scars of fiery volcanic activity mark the land as this scenic drive heads through the Oregon desert leading into northern California. Striking geologic features rising from wide expanses of land covered like a quilt with the textures and colors of desert grasses, plants and rocks.
The drive begins in La Pine at the intersection of US-97 and OR-31 and travels to the California border on US-395. Using US-97, La Pine is about 40 minutes south of Bend and about 2 hours north of Crater Lake.
Leaving the dense, pine trees of Deschutes National Forest behind, head south on OR-31 from La Pine heading into the wide vistas of the Oregon desert.
In 25-miles from US-97, Hole-in-the-Ground (H2) crater is visible on the left. The volcanic crater was created during the Pleistocene period when this area was a lake. As magma approached the bottom of the lake, the steam and boiling water caused a series of explosions, blowing out rocks and debris. This process was repeated, eventually forming the hole. The crater is about a mile across and 390 feet deep. Today you can visit the crater and hike its perimeter.
In another 5-miles, you arrive at the Fort Rock State Natural Area (H3), where another volcanic crater lies. Jutting out of the landscape, Fort Rock is a “tuff ring” volcanic remnant. The ancient lake that surrounded this area collapsed one of the sides of the ring, making it very accessible to explore. There are facilities here, such as interpretive signs, hiking trails and picnic tables. There are 40 tuff rings and maars in the area and in summer, a park host is on site to answer questions.
Within the Fort Rock State Natural Area is the Fort Rock Valley Historical Homestead Museum (M1) which celebrates the early homesteaders that came to this area. While their dreams of riches did not prevail, they left behind many historical buildings which are part of the museum today.
Continuing south on OR-31, keep an eye open for wildlife. In 9 miles, Oatman Flat is an irrigated area where mule deer often gather. There is a turnout to watch from, but the field is private property so do not trespass. The town of Silver Lake, Paulina Marsh (H4) is a popular location to see for eagles, great blue herons, hawks, pintails, and many other birds.
From here the road begins its climb up to Picture Rock Pass, where the Medicine Man Trail (H5) is a short hike that brings you to the Native American petroglyphs for which the pass is named and also provides a lofty view of the desert and on a clear day, you can even see the Three Sisters Mountains to the north.
As you come down the pass, you arrive at the Summer Lake Wildlife Area (T1), one of Oregon’s best bird watching areas, with at least 280 species of birds and many aquatic and non-aquatic mammals, reptiles and amphibians. When it is not hunting season, the Wildlife Area features an 8-mile driving tour offering the best views.
The scenic drive continues alongside Summer Lake and in 50-miles as you approach the US-395, the largest geological fault in North America, Abert Rim, dominates the view. Rising more than 2,000 feet and stretching more than 30 miles, the beauty is accented with Lake Abert at its foot.
Heading south on US-395, you arrive at Lakeview which was once the home of the Pacific Northwest’s only geyser. Unfortunately, it is no longer active. You can still enjoy the area’s hot springs or hang-gliding, as the town refers to itself as the “hang gliding capital of the west.”
The route continues until you arrive at the California border. From here, you can continue down the US-395 and join onto our Mount Shasta Loop near Susansville, CA.