Oregon Scenic Drive: Outback Scenic Byway

This area of Oregon is rugged and remote; in fact, outback means "isolated rural country." The Outback Scenic Byway takes you through Oregon's outback, where the agricultural and timber industries employ many of the residents, where the landscape ranges from lush green forests to arid desert, and where the people who live here seek independence yet know each other by their first names.

Archaeological Qualities of the Outback Scenic Byway

The Outback Scenic Byway transects the Fort Rock Cave National Register Site, the Picture Rock Pass National Register Site, and the Lake Abert National Register District. All these sites contain significant historic and prehistoric cultural values. The districts have one of the highest cultural site densities in the Great Basin Region, and several archaeological papers and reports of regional and national significance have been published regarding the rock art found here.

Cultural Qualities of the Outback Scenic Byway

Some of the Outback Scenic Byway's cultural flavor can be seen in the buildings along the byway, which reflect the influence of the Old West.

View Enlarged Image This map will guide you along Oregon's Outback Scenic Byway.

Recreational Qualities of the Outback Scenic Byway

The thermal updrafts that are created from the warming of the valley and the mountains make the Lakeview area ideal for hang gliding. In fact, Lakeview has been named the hang gliding capital of the West by many hang gliding and sports magazines.

An annual hang gliding festival around the Fourth of July attracts hundreds of pilots, making it one of the unique recreational events in Oregon. The U.S. Hang Gliding Association has held two national championships in the Lakeview area. Pilots from around the world come to catch the thermals.

The Outback Scenic Byway brings visitors in close proximity to six national designations, including the Gearhart Mountain Wilderness, the Christmas Valley National Back Country Byway, the Lake Abert and the Warner Wetlands Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, and the Lakeview to Steens Back Country Byway.

Natural Qualities of the Outback Scenic Byway

Among the many natural attributes, the Fort Rock State Natural Area is listed as a National Natural Landmark. Fort Rock is a volcanic maar formation that homesteading families of long ago appropriately named for its four-sided towering walls. This ideal natural fort is colored orange-brown.

Abert Rim, another natural attraction, is one of the nation's longest and most continuous fault escarpments. This rim rises more than 2,000 feet above the highway.

The Summer Lake State Wildlife Area is 18,000 acresin size and home to more than 250 species of birds. The marshlike area, located in the high desert, is strategically important for habitat and nesting.

Regionally, it is one of the most important stops for migrating birds that use the Pacific Flyway. Many sensitive, threatened, or endangered species -- such as bald eagles, American peregrine falcons, western snowy plovers, greater sandhill cranes, and trumpeter swans -- can be seen using this habitat. More than 15,000 birdwatchers flock here annually.

Find more useful information related to Oregon's Outback Scenic Byway:

  • Oregon Scenic Drives: Outback Scenic Byway is just one of the scenic byways in Oregon. Check out the others.
  • Lakeview, Paisley, La Pine: Read about what to do in cities along Outback Scenic Byway.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Oregon? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.

Highlights of the Outback Scenic Byway

Creek Bridge sits high above Devil's Elbow State Park just off the Outback Scenic Byway.
Creek Bridge sits high above Devil's Elbow State Park just off the Outback Scenic Byway.

The Outback Scenic Byway is one of the most scenic routes in the Great Basin Region. You pass through different environments as you drive the byway, and the changes among environments are dramatic.

The different environments include old-growth ponderosa and lodgepole pine stands found in the Eastern Cascades, the sagebrush steppe, the wetlands, and the other high-desert ecosystems.

One of the most striking scenic features along this byway is the sweeping view of Winter and Abert Rims. These rims are 2,000-foot fault escarpment blocks that tower above the byway. Abert Rim is Oregon's longest, most dramatic, and most photographed fault escarpment. This rim is also considered one of the most continuous fault escarpments in the United States.

Starting at the southern end of the byway coming out of California on U.S. Highway 395, you'll see the following sites. If you start on the other end of the byway, begin at the bottom of this list and make your way up.

Lakeview: Lakeview is the hang gliding capital of the West. One mile north of Lakeview is the only active geyser in the West, called Old Perpetual. Bring your camera to take a picture of the geyser, which erupts every 90 seconds.

Lake Abert: Continue north on the byway, and if you have an extra 30 to 60 minutes, head east on U.S. Highway 395 to the Abert Rim drive and Lake Abert. If you don't have that much time, continue north on Highway 31 to the town of Paisley and the annual Mosquito Festival that occurs there every July. Continue on past the Summer Lake Lodge and wilderness area; if you have a day to spend in the woods, the area is excellent for fishing and hiking.

Picture Rock Pass: Just north of Summer Lake is Picture Rock Pass, an area named for the ancient Native American petroglyphs that decorate rock within walking distance of the highway.

Fort Rock: Continue your drive on Highway 31 to Fort Rock. While there, visit the remnants of an ancient volcano at Fort Rock State Natural Area, just seven miles off the byway. Nearby is the Homestead Village Museum, which takes from 30 to 60 minutes to explore. From Fort Rock, continue on Highway 31, where the Outback Scenic Byway ends as it meets U.S. Highway 97.

Hole-in-the-Ground, Devil's Garden, The Blowouts, and Derrick Cave volcanic formations: If you have extra time to see additional points of interest, from Fort Rock you can travel Country Road 5-12 past Cougar Mountain to many volcanic formations, such as Hole-in-the-Ground, Devil's Garden, The Blowouts, and Derrick Cave.

If you have even more time, from Country Road 5-12, head east to Country Road 5-12B and then south on BLM Road 6109C to Four Craters Lava Flow and Crack-in-the-Ground. Keep heading south to Christmas Valley, head east on Country Road 5-14, and then go north on Country Road 5-14D to the Sand Dunes and the Lost Forest.

Long to escape the beaten path? Look no further! Take a drive through the remote backcountry via the Outback Scenic Byway.

Find more useful information related to Oregon's Outback Scenic Byway:

  • Oregon Scenic Drives: Outback Scenic Byway is just one of the scenic byways in Oregon. Check out the others.
  • Lakeview, Paisley, La Pine: Read about what to do in cities along Outback Scenic Byway.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Oregon? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.