The Blue Mountain Scenic Byway is known for its diversity. As you travel the route, enjoy its charming towns, majestic national forests, rocky peaks, and wild rivers. After climbing from the striking Wallowa-Whitman National Forest replete with hiking, snowmobiling, camping, and horseback riding opportunities, the byway winds north through agricultural hills and small towns to the border of Washington and the stately Columbia River.
1. Oregon Trail
The Oregon Trail enters Morrow County from the east in the Butter Creek area and leaves in the west near Cecil. The popular stopping places were at Wells Spring and at Willow Creek near Cecil. A kiosk has been constructed at Wells Spring featuring an information center. Travelers on the scenic byway can visit Wells Spring by turning east at Cecil and traveling 14 miles.
Ione is a lovely community of gracious homes and several business facilities, nestled along Willow Creek. This city is surrounded by rolling wheat fields and landscapes dotted with livestock. The historic Oregon Trail crosses near Ione at Wells Spring, a favorite stopover for early century wagon trains. For more information contact the Ione City Hall at (541) 422-7414.
Lexington, in the center of agricultural Morrow County, is home for the county-wide school district office, the county airport and the Morrow County Public Works Dept., where a traveler’s information kiosk is provided. In the early 1900’s, this busy community was the trading center for products entering and leaving the county.
Heppner, the county seat for Morrow County, is knows for Irish heritage and its notable 1902 vintage Courthouse Heppner is the gateway to the western portion of the Blue Mountains and provides easy access to nearby mountain recreation areas. Agriculture and forestry provide the base economy for this community of 1,500 residents. The Morrow County Museum and Agricultural Collections contain historic displays of pioneer life.
This ghost town is a short 40-mile round-trip off the byway. It was once a favorite stopover for freighters and stage drivers in the late 1800s. The community thrived until the 1920s when the railroad was built to Heppner rather than to Hardman. Today, the town’s buildings remain, and along with the renovated dance hall, give tourists an insight into the town, just as it was at the beginning of the 20th century.
6. Willow Creek Dam & Lake
The Willow Creek Dam is the first entirely roller-compacted concrete dam in the world. You pass right by it as you travel on toward the Blue Mountains. This structure, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1983, created a 125-acre lake with year-round fishing, swimming, camping, and boating. The lake includes a day park, RV Park, boat launch, docking facilities, and handicapped parking and restroom. For reservations call: Willow Creek RV Park at (541) 676-5576
7. Cutsforth Park
Cutsforth Park 22 miles southeast of Heppner on the Willow Creek Road, was donated to Morrow County by Orville and Barbara Cutsforth. The park offers 15 trailer pads with full hookups and 7 trailer/tent sites without hookups but with water. There’s a picnic area for large and small groups, a children’s playground with play equipment, restroom facilities with showers, trails for hiking, and both a pond and a stream for fishing. For more information contact the Morrow County Public Works Dept. (541) 989-9500
8. Penland Lake
Penland lake, 27 miles southeast of Heppner, is located on both Forest Service public lands and privately owned lands. Picnic and restroom facilities, available though camping spaces, are limited to seven tent sites and one trailer site. The lake provides recreationists with access to fishing, swimming and boating. Only electric motors are allowed. Access: Right on Forest Road 21, left on 2103 (dirt road), follow signs. Approx. 5 miles from the Byway.
9. Potamus Point
A panoramic view of Potamus Canyon highlights scenery of the Wild and Scenic North Fork John Day drainage from Potamus Point. From this point, herds of wintering deer and elk can be seen along with mountain lakes, wet and dry meadows, and interesting and unusual rock formations. Access: Take a right on Forest Road 5377, then right on 5316. While this site is somewhat remote, there is a day-use parking area featuring a geological interpretive sign. Approx. 15 miles from the Byway.
10. Aspen Interpretative Site
The aspen interpretive site offers travelers a close-up view, along with interpretive signing, of an enclosed aspen grove. The grove has been protected in order to help ensure aspen survival in the Blue Mountains. Access: Take a left at the Junction of Forest Roads 53 & 5311, travel 1/4 miles, then take a right on Road 5308-020 for 1/4 mile to site.
Geologists tell us the Ukiah area was once covered by a large lake. The Indians speak of a “great rumbling” that happened “many moons ago” and the lake vanished as through it had never been there. Indians have been coming to the area for many years to gather wild blue camas root early in the summer, relying on the root as a food source. Originally called Camas Prairie, the name was changed to Ukiah by E.B. Gambee who lived in Ukiah, California prior to Ukiah, Oregon. With just at 250 people, Ukiah still maintains the “small-town, independent” character it did when it was first founded in the late 1800’s. The town welcomes visitors and provides receptionists essential services as they enjoy the many outdoor activities readily available in the area:birding, biking, hiking, hunting and camping.
12. Bridge Creek Wildlife Area
The Bridge Creek area began as a way-stop on the first stagecoach route in NE Oregon from Pendleton to the John Day mines. During the mining excitement of the early 1860’s, the packers made such improvements on the trail as constructing pole bridges over the creek, hence the name. In 1962, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife began buying land as it became available in order to provide a wintering area for elk. Features at this site include: interpretive trail and signing, day use parking and forest information.
13. North Fork-John Day Overlook
Along the byway is the spectacular overlook. The pull-off allows you to get out, stretch, and enjoy the view of the area. looking to the southeast, you can view the North Fork John Day Wilderness and the North Fork John Day River drainage. If the sky is clear, you may be able to spot the Strawberry Mountains on the Malheur National Forest. To the southeast, you will see Bridge Creek Flats where elk are frequently sighted.
14. Winom Frazier OHV Complex
This OHV complex offers over 140 miles of challenging trails as well as access to scenic views, fishing, hunting and camping. Local volunteers maintain most trails for use from June through September. Two campgrounds, Frazier to the north and Winom to the south, provide campsites, staging areas, day-use areas with shelters and vault toilets. An Oregon Parks and Recreation Decal is required when riding in this area.
15. North Fork John Day Campground and Trailhead
The North Fork John Day Campground provides a wide variety of recreational opportunities for a small overnight fee. The Wild and Scenic North Fork John Day River supports a trout population for avid fishermen and is a popular camping sight for hunters during fall. The North Fork John day wilderness borders on this campground, providing access to hunters, hikers, and horseback riders. There are 16 tent/trailer sites and 2 tent sites. The wilderness trailhead at this site features horse-handling facilities such as a loading ramp, corrals and hitching posts. A scenic byway information board is conveniently located nearby. drinking water and garbage facilities are not provided. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at this trailhead if you are not staying overnight at the campground.
16. Fremont Powerhouse & Olive Lake
The Fremont powerhouse was constructed in 1908 and, after 59 years of continuous service, generated its last electrical power in October 1967. In 1968, the California Pacific Utilities Company donated the entire complex to the U.S. Forest Service. The need for economic power surfaced in 1903 when the earnings of some local mines began to decrease. In an effort to operate the mines more economically, local waterpower was piped from nearby Olive Lake through an eight-mile long wood and steel pipeline to generate the much needed electrical power. (Some of the houses at the Fremont Powerhouse Complex are included in the cabin rental program. Please contact the Umatilla National Forest form more information.) Olive Lake Campground offers 21 trailer/tent campsites, 2 group sites, 2 tent sites and 3 day-use areas and allows both gas and electric trolling motors on the lake.