Oregon

Eugene to Coast "Softroading" Route

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This is less of an excursion and more of an alternate "softroading" route to get from Eugene to the Oregon Coast away from the RV-clogged sterile superhighway that Hwy 126 has become. Ultimately, RVs or not, you'll get to the coast much much faster on Hwy 126. But if you're not in a hurry and want to take a scenic route - and maybe do a little softroad exploring along the way - here is one way to do it.

Growing up in the Eugene area, the Oregon Coast was a regular weekend destination. A slightly exotic escape from the valley that was warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. The vast and largely unpopulated sandy beaches. The rugged, rocky headlands. Tidepools teeming with marine life. Funky small towns offering unrefined but tasty & satisfying fresh seafood cuisine. When I was a kid, Hwy 126, the most direct route going directly west from Eugene in the Willamette Valley to Florence on the central coast, was a narrow, twisting, car-sickness-inducing route lined with Deadman's Curve after Deadman's Curve. Over the decades, section by section, Lane County and the Oregon Department of Transportation have widened the route, straightened out curves, and bypassed entire villages...this is no longer your father's drive through the hills. Granted, it is awesome when you just want to get there already, which is usually the case when escaping the valley on a pilgrimage to the Pacific.

If, however, you feel like doing some softroad exploration and then spending the afternoon at the beach, here's a route I found rewarding.

As the coast range is basically just densely forested mountain after densely forested mountain, my concern when plotting my course was that I'd just end up on a long slow drive through the woods on washboard gravel roads (and find myself lamenting the sweet smooth asphalt of 126 delivering me quickly to the sandy shores). So this route uses Hwy 126 to get us partway out of the valley into the hills, getting off the highway just past Walton. Next come several miles of a charming, narrow, sometimes-paved, sometimes gravel road that closely follows the twists and turns of the Siuslaw River with countless opportunities to stop and explore the river bank or get your feet wet. The route is accompanied by an historic rail line which the road crosses over again and again as the topography undulates.

After a brief stint on Hwy 36, National Forest roads start climbing up into the heights of the coast range. Side spurs into recently-logged areas yield viewpoints and vistas. These roads, for the most part, run along the peaks of ridgelines pretty much all the way to Hwy 101, yielding frequent views of just how dramatically steep and jagged the coast range is...something you don't really capture as you blur along 126 via the lowest, smoothest route possible. Note, the views are generally somewhat filtered by this temperate rainforest, but you definitely get a sense of the striking landscape beyond. If you make the trip when the deciduous trees are bare (late fall through early spring) there will be more opportunities to catch glimpses of the glory through the bare branches of stands of big leaf maple that occasionally break up the persistent Douglas fir.

Spurs and sideroads provide entertaining exploration possibilities along the way, lined with lush mosses and ferns encroaching on little-used dirt two-tracks, a pleasant respite from the noise of the generally well-maintained gravel main roads. (A good stretch of the NF 25 segment of this route is, surprisingly, paved, which honestly was nice break from rattling over gravel for miles on end). There are numerous possibilities for dispersed camping out here. And as you near the coast, don't be surprised if you come around a bend and find yourself face to face with an elk or two. I was surprised by how big these are compared to the deer I'm more accustomed to seeing, but they are distinctly more shy and jumpy than the deer...nothing to fear from these gentle giants.

You'll know you've almost arrived by the brief views of the ocean between the trees. The road ends right at Hwy 101, about halfway between Florence and Yachats.

From Eugene, head west on W. 11th / Hwy 126. About three miles past Walton, turn right onto (unmarked) Wildcat Creek Rd. Turn right when it intersects with Richardson Rd (at the covered bridge). Continue straight onto Stagecoach Rd, and follow this to Hwy 36. Turn right on Hwy 36, and go about 2 miles before turning left onto Indian Creek Rd. Indian Creek Rd will end at a confusing 4-way intersection with Thompson Creek Rd (you will certainly need some kind of offline nav app as there is no cell service out here). Go straight onto the gravel road across the intersection. There was no forest service road sign when I went through but this is in fact NF 2127 (or may be marked as Elk Creek Road on some maps). This road twists and climbs for a while. Turn right onto NF 25. This will mostly follow the peak of a ridgeline. There was active logging/clearing work along here when I went through. Turn left onto NF 58, and then shortly after, right onto NF 1055 (which, at the intersection, looks like a dubious secondary road, but this is indeed the route). NF 1055 will then wind all the way to Hwy 101.

This route is just one possibility. There are numerous forest service roads cutting through the coast range. Study maps before you go to choose the route that makes sense to you. I enjoyed this ridgeline route as a nice change from the low-lying main highway, but you can also easily get to Tenmile Creek Rd (NF 56) instead of NF 1055, or even work your way up toward Yachats River Rd which is a lovely little drive right into Yachats.