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Grant's Getaways: A Colorful Byway

Join Grant as we set our clocks back and slow down to enjoy the views along the Lower Nehalem River.

ELSIE, Ore. — I’ve a favorite adage that goes, “It is the journey that supports the destination.”

It is an insightful phrase that I have lived by whenever I travel throughout Oregon’s great outdoors.

This week, getting from this place to that is a journey to savor along a coastal byway that offers leaping salmon and spectacular fall colors – all within a 90-minute drive from Portland.

If the roadway flanking the Nehalem River has a number, I surely cannot find it on a map. Perhaps that’s why I’ve such a love affair with this backdoor byway that takes a bit longer to get from this place to that.

It breezes along nearly 30 miles beginning at a small whistle stop village called Elsie (located on State Highway 26) and bounds down a narrow lane past limb-framed farms that cry “photo-opp,” before it zips past softly rounded hillsides whose trees sport what calendars told us nearly a month ago: the seasons are changing!

Photos: Lower Nehalem River

The Nehalem River’s tributaries also show you the changing times. Some start as tiny, spring-fed trickles across spongy moss and later grow giant and creek-sized and where husky salmon have muscled their way back from salty sea to find their birth home in time to spawn.

“It is so exciting, you just don’t want to leave, can’t stop watching them,” said local photographer Don Best who was perched above popular Nehalem Falls at the Oregon Dept of Forestry’s Nehalem Falls Campground. (Note: the campground has closed for the fall-winter season, but the trail to the falls remains open.)

Nehalem Falls does so in a short, 30-yard series of churning drops that give salmon little choice but a gang-up approach to leaping for their lives.

Best is an avid fan of the site and tries to capture the salmon show each fall.

“I’ll be here for hours trying to get that ‘oooh-ahhh’ shot,” said the longtime outdoor photographer. “They jump high and they jump low and you never know where they’ll show up. Plus, they’re only in the air for half a second so you don’t always get them in the perfect shot. Some people take pictures underwater and they turn out really great – but to get them flying thru the air is a different story – that’s fun for me.”

The water hand springs over unseen rocks through the falls while other river spots show off a distinct river’s rhythm that provides a source of restoration for the life that grows here.

The Nehalem River is always by your side on this scenic drive but you can enjoy a chance to break off from the roadway at Spruce Run Campground.

Abundant picnic tables compliment a perfect riverside stop and rest and breathe in relaxation before you continue on your way.

It is the colorful, wonderful show along this back road that I cherish most where the big leaf maple leaves, already mottled brown or gray, sometimes fall gently, gliding by the way.

While other times, a breeze kicks up a blizzard and the leaves drop and stop on placid pools where barely a ripple to marks the moment or the giant leaves collect and build in piles along the road providing a drive-through too inviting to refuse.

So, hurry here soon and then slow down on a back road without numbers that is one of the very best around! 

Please consider the Oregon Fall Foliage Hotline (operates Sept-Nov) for it offers weekly reports on the status of the fall colors across Oregon.

If you would like to visit more of Oregon – consider a walk on the wild side with my latest book: “Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids.” You’ll find activities to engage any kid, from archery to clamming on the coast to hunting for thundereggs to zip-lining through trees in an aerial adventure park.

In addition, be sure to check out  “Grant’s Getaways Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon.” You will enjoy 48 uniquely Oregon adventures highlighting my fish and wildlife encounters. scores of colorful photos by “Grant’s Getaways” photographer, Jeff Kastner, show off some of our finest moments in the field.  You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon adventures in: "Grant's Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures."

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