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What is the Oregon Outback?

For visitors to the Oregon Outback scenic byway, it may seem like they are in the middle of nowhere, yet occasionally, they’ll come across a small town that proves people actually do live here.

Being a resident of the Oregon Outback, I’ve noticed the scenic byway signs along OR-31 and felt proud to live in such a destination.

The official route starts just south of LaPine, OR, where OR-31 intersects with US-97 and goes all the way to the southern border of California past the city of Lakeview. The total route is 171 miles and runs mostly through Lake County.

Taking a turn on OR-31 from US-97 you’ll immediately notice a difference in traffic. The hustle and bustle of city life suddenly fade away as the highway dissects the beautiful forest surroundings.

This will be the last of the forest you’ll see, as the remainder of the route after 30 miles of forest is a wide open high desert landscape. Before the forest ends, there is a side road going to the Hole in the Ground attraction you might want to check out.

The first sign of life travelers will see is Rockhorse Park at Horse Ranch, which is an RV and campsite area right outside of the forest. Right after this, you’ll see an intersection heading to Fort Rock about 7 miles away. This small town has the Fort Rock State Park and a historic museum showing the life of early settlers from the 1800s.

Fort Rock State Park/NARA/U.S. National Archives

Travelers then must turn back to get to OR-31 and the Outback route again, otherwise, they will end up heading to Christmas Valley about 40 miles away where there is the Christmas Valley Golf Course, sand dunes, and the Crack in the Ground attractions to visit — there are roads that go through to OR-31 from here, but you’ll miss the town of Silver Lake.

From the intersection going to Fort Rock, the next town on OR-31 is Silver Lake around 25 miles away. Nearby is Thompson Reservoir where people can camp, fish, and enjoy the outdoors in forest surroundings. There is also the famed Cowboy Dinner Tree a few miles from here.

Each town along the route is generally 25 miles apart because that is a day’s ride on horseback, which was important before vehicles.

The next town is Summer Lake which has less than 100 people, but it does have a store, the Lodge at Summer Lake (restaurant, hotel, and cabins), Anna Reservoir, an RV park, and a large bird refuge to explore. Visitors can also go up to nearby Freemont Point, which is a day-use area where they can overlook the area at 7,000 ft.

Anna Reservoir/author

Coming into Summer Lake, travelers will traverse Picture Rock Pass, which is a steeply elevated part of the highway that leads to another geographical area along the route. Getting over this pass travelers will come into a large valley with small mountains surrounding the alkaline Summer Lake and green valley below — the scenic value is amazing.

This is the area where the picture at the beginning was taken for this article. There are many ranchers in this area, so watch out for cows. All along the route, you may find cows being moved by cowboys on horses, so beware and get your cameras ready.

Before getting to the next town travelers will pass by PLAYA, which is a retreat area for artists and others who want to be inspired by the natural beauty of the area. They have their own restaurant for guests and cabins overlooking Summer Lake.

After Summer Lake the next town is Paisley. This small town has the Chewaucan River running through it, which you can fish, swim, and enjoy. They also have a motel, restaurant, and coffee kiosk.

Before the next town is the Summer Lake Hot Springs, which is an RV camping destination with cabins and tent sites where people can soak in their natural hot springs and enjoy the amazing scenery and environment.

The next town is a pit stop called Valley Falls, which is nothing more than a gas station and store. There is an intersection here that goes to the Lake Albert Rim Watchable Wildlife area a few miles away along HWY 395.

After this comes Lakeview, which is the “big city” in Lake County with around 2,500 residents. It is also the highest town in Oregon in terms of elevation. There is a golf course here called Lakeridge, as well as parks, restaurants, stores, hot springs, and hotels. From Lakeview, you can get to the towns of Plush and Adel going through some canyons and beautiful natural areas.


Another 16 miles south of Lakeview and you’ll get to the border of California and the town of New Pine Creek. This is the end of the Oregon Outback Scenic Byway.

The Oregon Outback Scenic Byway is a great place to visit and get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Visitors can stay busy with the attractions in the area or just enjoy the drive, get something to eat, and soak in the peacefulness. Rock hunting for obsidian and gems, swimming, bird watching, fishing, hiking, golfing, mountain biking, and riding ATVs are all some of the activities visitors can do in the Oregon Outback.

Overall, the wide-open spaces and isolated nature of the Oregon Outback are healing to the soul and peace to the mind, making it a great place to visit and an even better place to live — for those who can handle being in the middle of nowhere.

Originally published at Newsbreak


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