Pros: Beautiful stretch of highway through a mixed deciduous, hemlock and old-growth Douglas fir forest.
Cons: The stretch of highway detracts from the beauty and lack of hiking trails.
The year is 1912 and you are traveling across the coastal mountains of Oregon making your way from Salem or Portland to the coast. The road is little more than an improved elk trail and you come to a stretch of trail in which you must pay the toll to cross. Today, you can still travel that same stretch of trail only now we call it Highway 18 and you no longer have to pay to cross the mountains. The area that once consisted of a small post office and the toll crossing now is home to one of Oregons protected areas and state parks: H.B. Van Duzer Forest State Scenic Corridor.
The H.B. Van Duzer Forest State Scenic Corridor, only about 15 miles from Oregons coastline, is a small stretch of road within a much larger forest protected by the state. Along this highway corridor, five miles or so in length, you travel along a portion of the Salmon River. The drive is beautiful as you follow the river through a forest of old-growth Douglas-fir trees as well as Western Hemlocks, Red Alder, Bigleaf Maples and Oregon White Oaks. During the spring, the skunk cabbage begins to bloom along the boggier areas turning this into a river of beautiful yellow and green. The elevation if fairly low for a mountain pass, just over 1000 feet, and does get sporadic snow during the winter turning this pass into a beautiful winter wonderland. This area can see more than 80 inches of rainfall each year and, as a result, vegetation seems lush no matter what time of year you visit.
After driving a ways through the corridor youll come across a wayside on either side of the road. If you are heading west, your wayside is more of a rest stop with a small creek along one side. If you are heading east, your wayside consists of larger grassy areas and the Salmon River. The southern entrance gives you a bit of the parks history in the form of historical signs. The area around the waysides are heavily forested but the waysides themselves have been cleared a bit and the trees are further apart giving you plenty of sun which is always a good thing in Oregon.
Whats to do within the corridor?
The waysides are a nice place to stop if you want to rest for a while. Basic restroom facilities are available. Each wayside has numerous picnic tables spread out so you are not sitting next to your neighbor. The wayside on the south has plenty of room and grassy areas to play ball or just let the kids run around. If you have your fishing license, you can find yourself a nice peaceful spot along the river and just fish to your hearts content. The forest affords quite a bit of privacy so you wont be staring at the highway or the families picnicking in the park. Several trees on the south side are notorious for drawing younger tree climbers. You may also bring your dog, but signs say he must be leashed. During the summer, you find pullouts filled with several cars and youll find paths leading to a nice little swimming hole or just more peaceful spots to fish. I see people fishing the river throughout the year but the best time to fish is late summer, fall and winter for, go figure, Chinook salmon and steelhead. The river also contains the protected coho salmon, which you must throw back if caught. Believe me, if you like fishing this corridor is just the beautiful spot to do enjoy the sport.
Ive traveled through this corridor more times than I can count. Ive spotted deer numerous times both along the road and within the forest. If you stop at the wayside, youll find evidence of beavers when you look at the rounded shape of the tree stumps. Walking up the river, youll find a woody debris cachment and I suspect many a beaver have made their homes in this log-filled wonderland. I know there are also elk in the area but I havent seen any through the corridor but Im sure I will at some point.
What I like about this area
I like that this state park, although right off the highway, is very peaceful. One of the picnic tables faces a sweet little waterfall and is a ways away from the parking lot so we try to grab that table. Having a young son with an active bladder, this site is the perfect stop on our way to the coast and during the summer, the weather is perfect to just enjoy the sun, the water, the beauty of the forest and the family.
What doesnt thrill me about this area
Truth be told, this area is beautiful. Id love to see some hikes within the corridor. Weve followed some fishing trails and they are beautiful but they are relatively short. The waysides remind me of many of the rest stops in Oregon. Many of the stops are scenic but they are still rest stops and, for that reason, dont thrill me as much. Id much prefer to find a state park off the well-traveled road with trails and ones that people seek out rather than stumble across in their haste to find a restroom.
Since youre in the area
If youre looking for a good hike, I really recommend the Drift Creek Falls hike (as you drive toward Lincoln City, youll see the signs, just follow them). The trail is only a mile and a half or so, but youll get to walk over a suspended bridge 100 feet above the creek and overlooking a 70 or 80-foot waterfall. Dont stop there as many do, hike down to the creek on the well-worn trail and enjoy the peace and quiet. Along the drive up to the trailhead, keep an eye out for the Drift Creek Covered Bridge built in 1914. While traveling through the area, if youre looking for a wonderful cafe-type restaurant, try the Wildwood Cafe, which youll pass once you turn on 101 toward Lincoln City. The cafe is awash in coastal wildflowers and the food is wonderful. You might also want to take in the sites of D River, which Lincoln City claims to be the worlds shortest river. You cannot miss it as you enter the city. Although, Id recommend, traveling elsewhere for a good beach experience. The D River beach is often crowded and often, sadly, littered with cigarette butts and other garbage. All in all, the beaches in Oregon are beautiful and this one seems to be the exception. If youre heading east toward Portland or Salem, you can stop only ten minutes or so away at the Spirit Mountain Lodge and Casino, the top-grossing casino in Oregon. Although Im not a gambler, they have several wonderful restaurants and a play area for children. I could also mention the hiking and beauty of Cascade Head, north of Lincoln City or the infamous Tillamook Cheese Factory even further north, but there is just not enough room in this review. I just recommend when you travel to the region, you plan some time to take in its beauty and nifty attractions.
Final Thoughts on H.B. Van Duzer
I dont think Id recommend going out of your way to visit this state park. However, with all that this region has to offer and you are already traveling from the Willamette Valley to the coast or vice versa, you might want to plan time for a picnic lunch and maybe, depending on the time of year, some time to fish or let the kids play in the river. The old-growth Doug Firs are majestic and the forest can be quite breathtaking. Find a quiet spot along the Salmon River and find yourself drawn back to a time nearly a century ago when others were most likely enjoying that same peace and quiet with those same trees and views.
Enjoy your trip!