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Road Trip: Scenic Southern Oregon

See carnivorous plants, stay at a glamorous lodge, and catch spectacular ocean views on Highways 199 and 101 from Grants Pass to Gold Beach, Ore.

A coastal Oregon vista from the Cape Sebastian trail, image
Photo caption
Along the Cape Sebastian trail, catch breathtaking views of the southern Oregon coast.

The most direct route between the two Oregon towns of Grants Pass and Gold Beach—apart from bushwhacking across the Siskiyou and Coast mountains—is to follow the Rogue River. The Rogue carves a turbulent course through one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the United States before it meets the Pacific, roughly 100 miles west of Grants Pass. Yet no redwoods rise above the river’s banks, and no majestic views of the coastline appear around its curves. For these, put aside the hazardous direct route and take the scenic one: Head southwest along the Redwood Highway (U.S. 199) as it leaves the raging I-5 corridor at Grants Pass, dips into California to meander among old-growth redwoods, merges into Highway 101 near the southern Oregon coast, then loops back north to Gold Beach. (Area code is 541 unless noted.)

  • EIGHT DOLLAR MOUNTAIN Biologists have long rhapsodized about the border region as a botanical El Dorado because of its rich and unique flora. And it is unique: A plant called the large-flowered rush lily, for instance, which blooms in late May and June, grows only around Eight Dollar Mountain, about four miles beyond the hamlet of Selma, Ore. Turn right on Eight Dollar Mountain Road to reach the botanical interpretive site, and follow the boardwalk—bordered by rush lilies—to a fen of carnivorous California pitcher plants, which digest insects and look like creatures from the Alien movies.
  • IT’S A BURL GALLERY WOODYARD SHOP As you head down the highway to Kerby, Ore., look left for a hobbit-haven of troll houses with swooping rooflines. Come closer to see a collection of eccentric furniture and sculpture that includes barstools, benches, and a museum-worthy rocking buffalo, as well as pottery, beaded jewelry, and leather crafts by local artisans. Woodworkers flock to this place for its vast stockpile of raw redwood and burls. 24025 Redwood Hwy., 592-2141,
  • TAYLOR’S COUNTRY STORE It’s only a short hop from Kerby to Cave Junction, Ore., which is something of a crossroads. From here you could take a 40-mile round-trip detour along Route 46 to tour Oregon Caves National Monument, or you could continue to redwood country by the shore and treat yourself to a bite at Taylor’s. Five generations of Taylors have been making sausage and jerky since 1924—linguiça, Louisiana hot links, turkey jerky, and more. Their breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus run from soup to steak to carrot cake, but locals recommend the turkey melt sandwich. Stock the cooler for camping or picnicking. 202 S. Redwood Hwy., 592-5358,
  • JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK Named for the famed 19th-century explorer, this 10,000-acre preserve near Crescent City, Calif., is one of four state and national parks in the region that together encompass 45 percent of the state’s old-growth coast redwoods, the tallest of which soar to more than 370 feet. Hit the Hiouchi Visitor Center for directions to Stout Grove, a dense concentration of Sequoia sempervirens rising above a carpet of ferns and sorrel and dominated by the massive, 300-plus-foot Stout Tree. For total immersion—what the Japanese call forest bathing—follow Howland Hill Road from Stout Grove to the Boy Scout Tree trail, an out-and-back hike of about 5.5 miles. (707) 465-7335,
  • COASTAL VISTAS AND A BEACH HIKE U.S. 101 from Brookings, Ore., to Port Orford, Ore., is often called the state’s “fabulous 50 miles,” not least because of the Samuel Boardman Scenic Corridor just north of Brookings. If you have a camera, don’t skip many turnouts along this route, particularly the Natural Bridges viewpoint with its offshore arches rising in a secluded cove. For a heart-pumping hike and majestic views, stop at Cape Sebastian between Pistol River and Gold Beach, and take the south viewpoint trail down to Hunters Cove. It’s about a mile-and-a-half walk to descend 660 feet to the beach, switchbacking through a dense forest of wind-sculpted Sitka spruce as you glimpse through their branches Hunters Island and dozens of sea stacks. Cape Sebastian State Scenic Corridor, (800) 551-6949,
  • JET BOAT THE ROGUE RIVER Jet boat rides start at the Port of Gold Beach and blast upriver into the Rogue’s scenic wilderness. The guides are spirited and well versed in the river’s natural history, and participants routinely see bear, deer, otters, eagles, and ospreys along the way. Full- or half-day trips cost $45 to $9 and include stops for lunch or dinner. Jerry’s Rogue Jets, (800) 451-3645,
  • TU TU’ TUN LODGE Before the arrival of settlers on the lower Rogue River, a small band of American Indians called the Tututni occupied a lush clearing about seven miles from the Pacific. Today, that site is home to Tu Tu’ Tun Lodge with its 21 rooms and guest houses, featuring rustic solitude with wood-burning fireplaces, soaking tubs, and big views of the river. The impeccably kept grounds include an apple orchard and a six-hole golf course, and the dining room’s locavore cuisine and top-shelf wines rival any on offer in Portland or San Francisco. From $215. 96550 North Bank Rogue Rd., 247-6664 or (800) 864-6357,

Photography by Michael McRae

This article was published in May 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.