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Sightseeing/Auto Touring Oregon/Washington BLM



Sightseeing/Auto Touring

If you'd like to explore Central Oregon's beauty, there are many scenic drives on the Prineville District where incredible natural and historic vistas are on display. There is one National Scenic Byway, one State Scenic Byway, and three BLM Backcountry Byways to explore. These drives provide scenic views of nationally recognized landscapes on the Deschutes, John Day, and Crooked Wild and Scenic Rivers, while others take the visitor back in time through the high desert landscape of eastern Oregon.

Oregon Outback National Scenic Byway

Backcountry Byway

Distance: 107 miles
Duration: Allow at least 4 hours

The Outback Scenic Byway stretches 171 miles across the eastern Oregon high desert, on State Highway 31 from La Pine to Lakeview and beyond to Goose Lake on the Oregon/California border. Visitors will experience the transition from wooded slopes of the Cascades to wide open vistas of sagebrush steppe high desert. There are numerous geologic wonders along the route, as well as lakes and wetlands, Oregon's only geyser, and small towns full of history. Key features on BLM lands along this route include:

  • Hole in the Ground—a large marr formation/crater nearly 1 mile across the 300 feet deep.
  • Crack in the Ground—a large, deep fissure about 2 miles long and 70 feet deep.
  • Abert Rim—one of the highest fault block escarpments in the U.S. that stretches for over 50 miles.

Other features of interest include:

  • Fort Rock, the remnants of an ancient volcano and a State Park
  • The Lost Forest, a stand of ponderosa pine trees far removed from existing forest lands
  • Summer Lake
  • Old Perpetual Geyser
For more information on this byway, please visit the America's Byways site.

Lower Crooked River BLM Backcountry Byway

Backcountry Byway

Distance: 43 Miles
Duration: Allow at least 1 1/2 to 2 hours

This 45 mile long BLM Backcountry Byway begins in the community of Prineville, Oregon and ascends the Lower Crooked River Canyon, crossing Bowman Dam at Prineville Reservoir before descending into the rural ranchlands and wide open spaces of eastern Oregon to connect with State Highway 20 at the community of Brothers, east of Bend. State Highway 27 is a paved road between Prineville to a point a few miles south of Bowman Dam (to the Reservoir Road intersection). The remainder of the route to State Highway 20 is a well maintained gravel road (18 1/2 miles), easily passable by standard vehicles. It is one of the few remaining gravel State Highways in Oregon.

Travellers on the Byway can take advantage of the Bowman Museum in Prineville to learn more about the area's history. There are many camping and picnic sites along the Lower Crooked Wild and Scenic River between Prineville and Prineville Reservoir. Additional camping and recreation opportunities are also available at Prineville Reservoir State Park.

For more information on this byway, please visit the America's Byways site.

Lower Deschutes River Backcountry Byway

Backcountry Byway

Distance: 34 Miles
Duration: Allow at least 1 hour

The Lower Deschutes River BLM Backcountry Byway is located approximately 40 miles south of The Dalles in north-central Oregon. The byway follows the Lower Deschutes River Road for 36 miles. Visitors can start in Maupin and travel 28 miles north, or eight miles south. Most of the byway is gravel surface, with only about nine miles paved.

Visitors enjoying views of the Lower Deschutes River and canyon while travelling on what is an old railroad grade, built during the early 1900's "railroad war" in the Deschutes River Canyon. Two competing companies, the Deschutes Railroad Co., led by E.H. Harriman, and the Oregon Trunk Railroad line, led by James J. Hill. Harriman and Hill, began a frantic race blasting and building on opposite sides of the river canyon. The Oregon Trunk line prevailed, while the Deschutes Railroad Co. line on the east side of the canyon was decommissioned.

The byway provides access to recreation sites, launch sites, and river access for the Lower Deschutes River, which is nationally known for angling and rafting opportunities. The BLM operates a visitor center in Maupin, as well as the railroad Section Forman's House, which will be used as an interpretive site in the future.

For more information on this byway, please visit the America's Byways site.

Backcountry Byway

South Fork John Day River BLM Backcountry Byway

Distance: 50 Miles
Duration: Allow at least 1 1/2 hours

The South Fork John Day River Back Country Byway parallels the river through its scenic canyon for 50 miles from Dayville to the northern border of Malheur National Forest. This drive takes visitors through deep canyons made of Columbia River Basalts, through stands of old growth ponderosa pines, Douglas and white fir, and willows that line the road. The river itself contains beautiful rapids and the Izee Falls, which drops 56 feet vertically.

The Murderer's Creek area has plentiful wildlife, including deer, elk, black bear, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and birds. The Murderer's Creek Wildhorse Management Area encompasses 150,000 acres and is home to over 100 wild horses.

For people who like to learn about the past, you can drive by the historic Rockpile Ranch. This ranch was established in the late 19th century and is still in operation today. Also, there is a small two-room schoolhouse located in Izee, about 34 miles upstream from Dayville. The school was used until 1989, when it closed its doors to students. Now it is used for community functions.

For more information on this byway, please visit the America's Byways site.

Journey Through Time State Scenic Byway

Backcountry Byway

Distance: 286 Miles
Duration: Allow at least 5 to 6 hours

This tour through eastern Oregon allows visitors to explore 50 million years of history—through rich fossil beds and areas where the old west seems to have happened just yesterday. The northern end of the byway begins at Biggs, along the Columbia River. The route passes through ghost towns, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, and many small eastern Oregon communities such as Dayville, John Day, and Prairie City. Visitors using this 280-mile byway may view parts of the Oregon Trail at Baker City at the eastern end, as well as the Barlow Road at the western end near Biggs. Attractions include the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Sumpter Valley Railway, Kam Wah Chung & Company Museum (State Heritage Site) depicting the Chinese participation in Oregon history, and gold rush mining settlements. Geologic history unfolds on painted hills and palisades along the route.

For more information on this byway, please visit the America's Byways site.

Additional Information

For more information on Scenic Byways, please visit the America's Byways site and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The BLM also provides a comprehensive list of Backcountry Byways and Scenic Byways throughout Oregon.