Coast to the coast

Take time to savor the sights along Oregon's State 126
Bonnie Henderson

It's not easy, taking all day to drive to the beach from Eugene on State 126. Barely 60 miles of blacktop beg you to make it in one breath. But try leaving efficiency back at the office some weekend this fall, and instead meander along this classic Coast Range road.

Start by sleeping in, then go get scrambled free-range eggs and a short stack (and maybe some picnic fixings to go) at Our Daily Bread Restaurant-Bakery, housed in a former church in Veneta, 1/2 mile south of State 126 and about 8 miles west of Eugene.

Or rise early and stop first at the Fisher Butte Unit parking lot (milepost 49) for a waterfowl-watching walk at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area; keep an eye peeled for hunters. Nearby, along the Fern Ridge Reservoir, are a few good spots for fishing.

Back on State 126, Secret House Winery & Vineyards is just beyond milepost 44. If you did sleep in, they might be pouring Pinot Noir by now. Continue past woods, small fields, and orchards ― and an espresso stop in Walton ― to Siuslaw River Road, on the left beyond milepost 27. Whittaker Creek Recreation Site, leafy and serene in fall, is up the road. This month is prime chinook salmon-spawning time in the area's rivers and streams. The recreation site's gate will be closed, but walk past it to look for salmon in Whittaker Creek, or stretch your legs on the Old Growth Ridge Trail. Alternatively, back at State 126, curve under the highway at milepost 26.5 to reach the 1925 Wildcat Covered Bridge.

Once again heading west on State 126, you'll pass through a tunnel; consider stopping for a stroll at pretty Archie Knowles Campground (past milepost 18). In warmer months, there's excellent wading in the river here. Two miles ahead is the Gingerbread Village Restaurant, a roadside fixture since 1966. Try a cup of clam chowder or a piece of the homemade gingerbread topped with vanilla ice cream, an old-fashioned treat that should never go away.

Cross the bridge to Mapleton, arrayed along the Siuslaw River, for an honest sandwich or cup of soup at Alpha-Bit, a bookstore, cafe, and craft store run by residents of the nearby Alpha Farm commune.

Farther west, watch for Sweet Creek Road on the left just before driving back across the Siuslaw River. Follow the road 11 miles to reach the start of Sweet Creek Trail, with railed catwalks hugging the cliff where the canyon narrows. At Sweet Creek Falls, cross on boulders to continue upstream to other waterfalls.

After Sweet Creek Road, the highway follows the river west 14 miles to end at U.S. 101 ― you can't see the beach yet from there, but you can smell it. In Florence, browse the shops in Old Town or pick up a license and try your hand at clamming in the mud flats of the Siuslaw River estuary just outside town. If you're staying overnight, find oceanfront lodging to the north, toward Yachats--or turn around and head back to Eugene. Hey, it's only about an hour's drive.

Highway discoveries

1 Our Daily Bread Restaurant-Bakery. $; 8 a.m.-2 p.m. daily, all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner 5-8 Thu. 88170 Territorial Rd., Veneta; 541/935-4921.

2 Fern Ridge Wildlife Area. Bird-watching trail open Wed, Sat, and Sun; free. Off State 126, 2 miles west of Eugene; 541/935-2591.

3 Secret House Winery & Vineyards. 11-5 daily; free tasting. 88324 Vineyard Lane, Veneta; 541/935-3774.

4 Whittaker Creek Recreation Site. No day-use fee. Siuslaw River Rd. 2 miles south of State 126, 5 miles west of Walton; 541/683-6606.

5 Old Growth Ridge Trail.2 1/2-mile moderate loop trail rises 1,000 feet from Whittaker Creek. In Whittaker Creek Recreation Site (see above).

6 Wildcat (Austa) Covered Bridge. On Austa Rd., just north of State 126; 541/682-6911.

7 Archie Knowles Campground. $5 day-use fee. 541/902-8526.

8 Gingerbread Village Restaurant. $. 6-9 Mon-Sat, 8-8 Sun. 12300 State 126; 541/268-4713.

9 Alpha-Bit. $; 10-6 Sun-Mon and Wed-Sat; 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Fri (reservations suggested). 10780 State 126, Mapleton; 541/268-4311.

10 Sweet Creek Trail. From Homestead Trailhead, follow the moderate to difficult trail up-stream 1 1/2 miles to Sweet Creek Falls. Off Sweet Creek Rd., Mapleton; 541/902-8526.

11 Clamming. Stop by the Sportsman outdoor store for advice on where to go and to get a permit ($6.50 for Oregon residents). 249 U.S. 101, Florence; 541/997-3336.