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Grant's Getaways: Fall for color

Grant McOmie travels along the Lower Nehalem River in Tillamook County for scenic views of spectacular fall colors.

NEHALEM, Ore. — I have 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 along the Lower Nehalem River, 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. 

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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! It then zips past softly rounded hillsides whose trees sport what the calendar confirms: the seasons are changing! 

The Nehalem River’s tributaries also show you the changing times: some start as tiny, spring fed trickles across spongy moss that 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 Department of Forestry’s Nehalem Falls Campground. 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.  

Local photographer Don 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 through the air is a different story and that’s the most fun for me.” 

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The waterfalls seem to hand spring over unseen rocks while other river spots in this stretch show off a distinct river’s rhythm and provide 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. 

Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the new Grant’s Getaways podcast. Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting. 

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:  

"Grants Getaways I," Photography by Steve Terrill 

"Grant's Getaways II," Photography by Steve Terrill 

Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures,” Photography by Jeff Kastner 

Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon,” Photography by Jeff Kastner 

Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids,” Photography by Jeff Kastner 

The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.  

My next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in 2022.