driving down Oregon's Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway in a camper van

Itinerary: Explore Oregon’s Scenic Byways

It’s no secret that the Beaver State is an outdoor lover’s paradise; volcanoes, beaches, mountains, and plains abound. While it’d be easy to pick a city and book a flight, then you’d be missing out on half the journey: getting there. Oregon is home to officially designated All-American Roads, National Scenic Byways, Oregon State Scenic Byways, and Oregon Tour Routes. We’ve chosen only four of many scenic byways to highlight – pick one or link them up for a killer road trip across the state of Oregon.

For more information about Oregon’s network of scenic byways, utilize this free brochure and map resource developed by the State of Oregon.

1. Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway

The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway stretches 500 miles between Lassen Volcanic National Park in California and Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. The Oregon portion of the route includes 140 miles of fascinating archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic attractions – the very categories that give the route its Scenic Byway status. We recommend beginning your journey in Klamath Falls, OR and traveling north. Drive up the western flank of the Upper Klamath Lake – the largest freshwater lake west of the Rockies – and visit the Upper Klamath Lake National Wildlife Refuge. For a culture fix, stop at Fort Klamath, a former military outpost turned history museum. Then, plan to spend a few days at the expansive Crater Lake National Park, Oregon’s only and one of the country’s oldest parks.

Where to Stay in your ROAMERICA campervan: Harriman Springs Resort and Marina, situated on the northwest corner of Upper Klamath Lake has been open to visitors since 1899. Enjoy camping and recreating there year-round.

Now, drive 83 miles from Crater Lake National Park to Crescent Lake (Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway).

2. Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

Begin the next leg of your journey at Crescent Lake, one of the myriad lakes you’ll visit on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. It’s about 70 miles to Bend, but plan to spend four to six hours on the route so that you can stop to fish, kayak, hike, and site-see. Especially interesting are the remnants of volcanic activity. Both Sparks Lake and Devils Lake are nestled amongst fields of jagged lava. To learn more about the landscape, check out the Lava Lands Visitor Center on US-97 for maps, information and interpretive exhibits. The other important feature along this byway is the Deschutes River, sometimes called the lifeblood of Central Oregon. Take a short detour on Forest Road 41 and have a picnic by its shores. This route ends in Bend where you’ll have no trouble finding amazing food, breweries, and other urban delights.

Where to Stay in your ROAMERICA campervan: It’s possible to camp at almost all of the lakes along the route, so pick your favorite spot and check the US Forest Service website for availability. We like the Lava Lake Campground; sites are available on recreation.gov.

Now, drive 83 miles from Bend to Mitchell, OR where you’ll pick up the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway.

3. Journey Through Time Scenic Byway

The showstopper on this route is the Painted Hills, one of the three units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Plan to spend a few hours here exploring nature’s dazzling artistry and learning about the geologic forces that created it. Then, following the John Day River (Oregon’s longest freeflowing waterway), stop by the Monument’s visitor center and then explore the other fascinating units of the Monument. As you drive eastward, you’ll have the opportunity to visit some of Oregon’s oldest and most interesting settlements; the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site in John Day commemorates the community of Chinese workers who lived there in the 1880s. The Byway terminates in Baker City, once known as the “Queen City of the Inland Empire” due to its prominence during the mining boom of the late 1800s.

Where to stay in your ROAMERICA campervan rental: Although no camping is allowed in the John Day Fossil Beds Monument, there are numerous developed campgrounds, primitive sites, and RV parks in the area.

4. Hell’s Canyon Scenic Byway

This Byway encircles the majestic Wallowa mountain range and allows visitors to experience everything from whitewater rafting to peak bagging to gallery hopping. The Byway proper is 218 miles, but multiple suggested side trips can make it a 400 mile journey. The first segment, from Baker City to the Pine Valley, highlights the areas mining and ranching history. The Oregon Trail crosses your path; visit the National Historic Oregon Train Interpretive Center to learn more. The 45-mile Wallowa Mountain Loop connects the southern and northern sections of the byway and offers exceptional mountain and river views. The northern segment of the byway includes the fascinating Native American historic sites around Wallowa Lake and Joseph, as well as many small towns that boast annual activities like Elgin’s Stampede PRCA Rodeo and Wallowa’s TamKaLiks, an annual Friendship Feast and Pow Wow.

Wallowa Lake in Joseph, Oregon

Where to stay in your ROAMERICA campervan rental: Wallowa Lake boasts many services for travelers, and overnight options include USFS campgrounds, a state park, and private RV parks.

Oregon’s Scenic Byways are some of the best ways to explore the state’s most unique and sacred places. Although a route only needs to have one of the six “intrinsic qualities” to receive the designation, the routes we’ve highlighted often contain each one (archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic). So, hop in your van with your family and take to the open – and scenic – road!

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