This is the week to drive the Aufderheide Scenic Drive, a 60-mile segment of the West Cascades National Scenic Byway. The paved forest service road, also referred to as USFS Road 19, connects Highway 126 along the McKenzie River to Highway 58 near Oakridge. It traverses stunning old growth forests, meadows and wild and scenic rivers.
While there isn’t much of a variety of color, the honey yellow big leaf maples glow surrounded by the mostly deciduous forest, turquoise blue fork of the Willamette River and cardinal red covered bridge.
Start at the north end at Highway 126 in Rainbow and head south. Before you leave, pick up a free audio tour on CD at the McKenzie River Ranger Station, which is closed on the weekends. If you are going south to north, the Middle Fork Ranger Station on Highway 58 also has them. Head out with a full tank of gas and a picnic because there aren’t any options along the route.
The best colors are in the higher elevations from milepost 31 – 14, between Erma Bell Lakes Trail and Huckleberry Flats. Other highlights include Terwilliger Hot Springs, Cougar Reservoir between mileposts 50 and 51 and the historic Box Canyon Guard Station, which makes a perfect midpoint stop.
The Aufderheide comes to a dramatic end in Westfir, taking you right past Oregon’s longest existing covered bridge. The pomegranate red Office Bridge spans a fork of the Willamette River and once connected the Westfir Lumber Company to the main office.
Your journey shouldn’t end here. Before you head home, grab some fish and chips and a pint of freshly brewed English cask ale at the Brewers Union Local 180 in nearby Oakridge. While you’re there, pick up a Eugene Ale Trail passport and ask for a stamp.
The Aufderheide is a seasonal road that becomes unpassable in the winter.