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A family trip along the Marys Peak to Pacific Scenic Byway

Guest Author | 04/29/2019 | Bird Watching, Camping & RV Parks, Family Friendly, Hiking, Historic Places, History, Nature Walks/Trails, Outdoor Recreation, Restaurants, Wildlife

Journeying through Oregon’s Past, Present and Future

Each time you visit Marys Peak to Pacific Scenic Byway, a new experience awaits – especially if you stop and enjoy all the hidden gems along the way. I decided to explore one of Oregon’s newest scenic byways with my family of four.

We began our quintessentially Oregon mountain-to-ocean excursion by turning off I-5 in Tangent and traveling west towards coastal Waldport on Highway 34. Rather than driving the most direct route to the coast, we wanted to take it slow and explore the entire area, so we took two byway spurs to both Marys Peak and Alsea Falls as well as an initial side trip down 99W to the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge.

After leaving I-5, my husband Neil, my two daughters - Patricia and Becky - and I quickly found ourselves in Corvallis, a busy college town in the western heart of Oregon. Wanting to start our journey with some historical and cultural background, our first stop was the Corvallis Visitors Center (410 NW 2nd Street) where we learned about the Benton County Courthouse. Built between 1888 and 1889 by the two co-founding families of Marysville - later known as Corvallis - the Benton County Courthouse is still in operation today. The Corvallis Visitor’s Center has brochures that contain information on ten different historic walking tours of the area. We followed one and I enjoyed the Italianate architecture of the courthouse while my youngest, Patricia, loved Central Park with the kid’s play area and sculptures. After our walk some caffeine was in order so we stopped at Coffee Culture, a local coffeehouse, for coffees and cocoas and a few baked goodies before traveling onward.

Fortified with our snacks, the family and I made our first detour and traveled about 12 miles South on 99W to the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge. As part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, this refuge is home to a wide variety of fowl, mammals, and reptiles. According to their website, this includes the dusky Canada goose, Roosevelt Elk, and the Western pond turtle – which is currently under review for the endangered species act. I enjoyed the call and response of birds while exploring a portion of the twelve miles of trails. We learned that my husband Neil is a huge raptor fan! Who knew?

Next we drove back to Highway 34 and west to Philomath. We drove straight to the Benton County Historical Museum. Home to the amazing Cockrell Quilt Collection, the Benton County Historical Museum houses ever-changing exhibits as well as permanent collections, such as the Horner Collection of artifacts and Meola Family Movies that show popular Oregon landmarks of days gone by. The girls were transfixed, watching old video of Oregon attractions that they recognized from their own family road trips.

While in Philomath, I had to stop by Softstar Shoes for a tour of their shoe shop. Known for their soft, handcrafted shoes, leather working artisans (who call themselves elves) often offer tours to share their craft with visitors.  After enjoying the scent and feel of new leather, we were again traveling westward and arrived at the trailhead to Marys Peak in a little more than 30 minutes.

Marys Peak is worth multiple trips and is constantly changing with each season. Accessible year-round, it’s the highest peak in the Coastal Range at 4,097 feet. It offers a panoramic view from the summit as well as views of the coast’s only alpine meadow. Wild flowers and wildlife abound and each trail offers a new perspective of the surrounding countryside. We appreciated the cool mountain breezes as we hiked towards the peak and could only gasp at the world that seemed to spread before our feet. The quilted nature of farmlands bled into evergreen forests and rolling hills. This spot became “ours” and we were planning our next ascent at our campsite that night. Information about Marys Peak and the availability of day use and overnight facilities are available through the US Forest Service or on their website.

After hiking and camping at Marys Peak, we left the splendor of the mountains and continued our journey westward. Only a half hour from Marys Peak is Alsea, Oregon. This quaint little Western town is home to both John Boys Alsea Mercantile, located at 180 E. Main Street and Deb’s Café, nearby at 185 W Main Street.

You’ll know you’re at John Boys Alsea Mercantile by the large robin’s egg blue bench in front of the store. John Boys is a wealth of goods. It offers their customers a bit of everything, just like a good little country store should! We left with snacks for the trip back but couldn’t help but notice the fantastic fishing tackle section. It’s the perfect stop before catching those stream trout or chinook salmon that populate the areas river and streams. The kids were disappointed that we left the fishing poles behind.

Our stomachs growling with hunger, we then visited Deb’s Café for hamburgers and were not disappointed. Knowing we couldn’t eat both the juicy hamburger and pie, we opted to take fresh slices of pie to go. We drove south and visited the Alsea Falls Recreation Area. The trail to the picturesque falls wound its way beneath Douglas fir and vine maple trees. When we returned to the picnic facilities we enjoyed our slice of pie. While there, Neil learned that the nearby Falls Creek Day Use Site has 12 miles of mixed use mountain bike and hiking trails. Neil is an avid mountain biker and we added another future visit to our growing list.

After hiking the Alsea Falls, we drove back to Highway 34 and towards the Hayden Covered Bridge. Located 1.5 miles further west, the Hayden Covered Bridge was built in 1918 and spans the Alsea River. We walked over the bright white bridge so we could hear the babble of the river below and appreciate the craftsmanship of this amazing structure. It’s built so well that you can still drive through this charming historical landmark.

Our final stop was an hour west on Highway 34. We drove the serpentine by-way through the remainder of the Siuslaw National Forest to Waldport, Oregon, arriving at the Alsea Bay Historic Interpretive Center. Here, models and displays explain the importance of both Waldport’s historic 1936 bridge and its 1991 replacement as well as offer information on native people and the tidal community. Oregon State Park naturalists offer tours of the bridge in summer along with clamming and crabbing demonstrations in the flats below. You can learn more at TravelOregon.com.

Walking the windy beach in view of those magnificent bridges and tasting the salty air was the perfect way to end our uniquely Oregon excursion. The girls played in the waves and dug through the sand as Neil and I wandered the shoreline. At only 72 miles, the Mary Peak to Pacific Scenic Byway is the perfect day trip, though it could certainly be extended into an overnight or weekend adventure. Traveling from the oak savanna, to the city, to the mountains, to the ocean – there are few road trips that are as diverse in scenery and experience in such a small geographical area. There is something here for every outdoor enthusiast! We had only begun to explore the region.

Article by Heather McBride. Photo by Lainey Morse. Keep up with Corvallis news, events and happening by signing up for our email newsletter.

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