Oregon is truly a remarkable place to take a road trip. There is just so much to see and the terrains are vastly different depending on where you are. I’ve been to the lush green forests of the Columbia Gorge and Mt.Hood, and I’ve been to the spectacular rocky coast, from Astoria down to California, but I never really been to East Oregon. East Oregon is desert and clay rock and long streets filled with beautiful scenery, perfect for a road trip. If you are coming from the Portland area, you will drive through Mt. Hood National Forest with beautiful sights of Mt. Hood, trees upon trees, and large lakes, and then suddenly BAM! you are in the Warm Springs reservation of the Wasco and Paiute tribes. The terrain is completely different now, with just a blink of an eye.
In Warm Springs you can stop by Kah-Nee-Ta, a resort and haven where you can soak in the hot springs, unwind with a facial or massage at the Spa Wanapine, go horseback riding on trails, take a trip down the river in a kayak or canoe, play golf, and much much more.
Farther down on highway 26, right on the edge of the reservation, you can stop by and spend some time at the Museum at Warm Springs. It’s a 25,000 square-foot structure with one of the largest and most complete artifact collections. It also has a gift shop with locally made the Confederated Tribe jewelry & beadwork, and many other things.
While you are driving through Madras, I recommend stopping and getting some fuel if needed & maybe an ice cold drink. This is when one must roll the windows down, blast their favorite music, and get ready for some truly breathtaking views.
In between Madras and Smith Rock State Park, there is a beautiful campground, Haystack Reservoir Campground, perfect for your stay. The campsites, which are pretty big and give you some privacy, are situated between trees and amazing views of the lake and Mt. Jefferson. I definitely recommend camping here if you want to stay overnight. Hiking around Haystack lake is so relaxing and it provided me with one of the most beautiful evenings of my life. Sitting back and watching the orange & purple sunset behind the peak of Mt. Jefferson was breathtaking. Also looking up from your tent to see the stars with zero light pollution is something everyone needs to experience.
Of course people want to sleep in in the mornings, especially on the weekends, but there is nothing more intoxicating than getting up before the crack of dawn. The air is crisp and fresh, birds are chirping, a glow in the sky encompasses the vast landscapes around you, and deer are feeding on the sides of the road. Whenever you go on these kind of trips, I highly recommend getting up as early as you can. We usually try to get up around 4:30 am this time of year. If you are a budding photographer, you will gain access to some of the most beautiful lighting.
On your way south on Highway 97 you will see a scenic viewpoint at the Rex T. Barber Veteran Memorial Bridge that overlooks a huge cliff, down onto a river. I can’t say it’s always worth a stop, but I can certainly say it is first thing in the morning.
Also, you’ll have magnificent views of not just Mt. Jefferson, but also the 3 Sisters. Coming from flat land almost my entire life, I never get over the sight of white top mountains. I just can’t believe they exist and are even more intense when seeing them in person. When the lighting is right, you could be hours away from them, but they look like they are right in front of you….right down the street.
You’ll pass plenty of farmland on this drive, which may not look like much at first glance, but take time to look around, you may just end up making friends with some sweet horses or have a staring contest with some cows.
Not to drone on about the wildlife – ah, I don’t care. I love animals and when I see deer in the early morning, being graceful and timid, my heart melts.
When your week is filled with chaos, noise, and stress – taking a short trip to the wilderness is the best way to regain that ease you need to live a happy life. My soul lives in the nature, so I may be biased, but just a day & night away can do wonders for your heart, mind, and body. Slow it down, appreciate the small wonders that exist around you….the wind blowing your hair, the glowing sun on grass, the way the clouds look like they are right above you. You will find that all of the stressful things you get anxious or stressed over during the week do not even enter your brain space. Get out and enjoy the nature, it could do with a lot more love.
My perfect Playlist for this Eastern Side Drive can be found here