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Travel the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway

The dramatic landscape on the east side of Oregon’s Cascades has a story to tell. It’s a story of far-reaching vistas carved by elemental forces, of pristine mountain lakes, of small western towns rich with history.

by Megan Monson

Southern Oregon’s Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway brings that story to life with a starkly beautiful 140-mile journey through a variety of ecosystems created by the region’s abundant volcanic activity. 

Fittingly enough, the journey begins with a volcano — the world-famous remnants of one, anyway. Travelers on the scenic byway set off from U.S. Highway 97’s Diamond Lake Junction on the dizzying drive to the top of Crater Lake National Park, which features a sky-blue caldera formed by the collapse of Mt. Mazama some 7,700 years ago. An abundance of activities await, including hiking in the summer, snowshoeing in the winter and stunning views from the patio at century-old Crater Lake Lodge. (Note: The park’s north entrance and Rim Drive are closed during the winter; check with the park for winter safety and weather conditions before you visit.)

Crater Lake
Photo Jak Wonderly
Crater Lake Photo Jak Wonderly

The byway route continues south through Fort Klamath, a pivotal location in the Modoc Indian War of 1872, and brushes the boundary of the Upper Klamath Wildlife Refuge and breathtaking Upper Klamath Lake. The entire wetlands, considered one of the country’s richest bird refuges, is situated smack in the middle of the Pacific Flyway, which attracts nearly 500 species of birds as well as all varieties of bird watchers.

Photo Larry Turner
Photo Larry Turner

The drive winds through lofty pine trees and horse ranches bordering the Fremont-Winema National Forest. Near the town of Chiloquin, the 450-acre Heartline Ranch offers riding and bonding experiences with its rescue horses, and a chance to pause overnight in a painted teepee, complete with sleeping bag and battery-operated lantern. The ranch closes for the season at first snow, around Thanksgiving.

The route continues through the frontier town of Klamath Falls, populated with historic buildings and museums. The small but mighty Favell Museum has been recognized nationally for its remarkable western art and Native American collections. Nearby, the Running Y Ranch Resort offers lodging options ranging from lodge rooms to rustic cabins.

Photo Kamrin Nielsen
Photo Kamrin Nielsen

Near the California border, a cluster of small towns offer amenities for those coming to the end of the drive, officially marked at the Oregon-California border. Managers of the Wild Goose Lodge Motel in Merrill, which proudly acknowledges its motor-court beginnings, say most of their guests aren't ready to end their volcanic adventures. Many opt instead to visit the Lava Beds National Monument in nearby Tulelake, California, and then travel on to Lassen Volcanic National Park

For a map of the route, order or download a copy of the Oregon Scenic Byways guide.

 

Myrtle Creek-based communications consultant Megan Monson loves sharing her discoveries along Oregon’s highways and byways. Her work has appeared in publications for Travel Oregon, Oregon Business, The Ford Family Foundation, AT&T and Horizon Air Magazine. A technology dweeb — and proud of it — Monson has a special interest in rural preparedness and crisis communications.

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