Scenic Drive: The Old Coos Bay Wagon Road

This 45 mile trip follows, west to east, the roadbed of an 1872 wagon road straight through the Coast Range. The original road continued another 15 miles to the railhead at Roseburg; it is now buried under modern highways. This description follows the portion that remains in its original condition. For the history of the Old Wagon Road click here. For an overview map, click here.
 
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Upper Brewster Canyon, View of Middle East Fork Falls from the Old Wagon Road; in flood. [Ask for #276.285.]


Middle East Fork Falls in winter flood, as viewed from The Old Wagon Road. [Ask for #276.285.]

Starting Point of the Old Wagon Road Scenic Drive

The Old Wagon Road (as it is generally known) traditionally started at the southward extension of Coos Bay known as Isthmus Slough, probably at a point marking the head of navigation by deep draft boats. An optimistic developer dubbed this spot "Coos City", but no real settlement ever took place. Today it's best feature is the stunning modern bridge, a sculptural sweep of concrete.

From downtown Coos Bay's Visitors Center, take US 101 south for 5.3 miles to a left turn onto the Coos City Bridge. The next 4.1 miles are on a two-lane paved county road named the Sumner-Fairview Road, a typical mountain road.
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Coos City, A logging mill sits at the far end of the Coos City Bridge, the western terminus of the Old Wagon Road. Reflections on Isthmus Slough at sunrise. [Ask for #276.231.]


A logging mill sits at the far end of the Coos City Bridge, the western terminus of the Old Wagon Road, reflecting on Isthmus Slough at sunrise. [Ask for #276.231.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Coos City, Early morning view over Isthmus Slough towards Coos City Bridge, the western terminus of the Old Wagon Road [Ask for #274.312.]


OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Coos City, Early morning view over Isthmus Slough towards Coos City Bridge, the western end of the Old Wagon Road [Ask for #274.312.]

The Catching Slough Alternate Route

The final four miles of the Old Wagon Road climbed steeply and unnecessarily over a 400 foot pass (now the Sumner-Fairview Road, above). Wagoneers quickly found a better way and this, too, is part of the Old Wagon Road. This branch led the wagons to the actual docks at "Marshfield" (Coos Bay's former name) rather than leaving them at a shallow slough. It is by far the more scenic of the two alternatives, passing through some lovely farmland and along the banks of Catching Slough with wide views over the water. It takes longer, though.

  • From the downtown Coos Bay Visitors Center go 1.2 miles south on US 101 to a large intersection marked "Allegany".
  • This quickly leads to a bridge. As soon as you are over the bridge make a very sharp right onto Olive Barber Road.
  • Take Olive Barber Road 1.9 miles to a left onto Old Wagon Road.
  • Go 400 feet uphill, then take a right onto Isthmus Hieights Road.
  • Take this for 0.5 miles to a four way intersection. Continue straight.
  • In 1.7 miles you'll reach a T-intersection. Turn right.
  • You are now driving along Catching Slough with frequent beautiful views. After 2.8 of this you'll meet up with the Wagon Road's other alternate route. Turn left, signposted to Sumner.
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coos Bay Area, South Side, Catching Slough, Farm on the banks of the slough from the Coos Bay Wagon Road; pilings are relics of early timber operations [Ask for #274.058.]


Farm on the banks of Catching Slough from the Coos Bay Wagon Road; pilings are relics of early timber operations. [Ask for #274.058.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coos Bay Area, South Side, Catching Slough, Farm on the banks of the slough from the Coos Bay Wagon Road; pilings are relics of early timber operations [Ask for #274.060.]


A side road off the alternate Old Wagon Road leads to a farm on Catching Slough. [Ask for #274.060.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Coos Bay Wagon Road, Catching Slough, The historic road parallels Catching Slough, here lined with pilings, relics of early logging operations [Ask for #274.202.]


The historic road parallels Catching Slough, here lined with pilings, relics of early logging operations. [Ask for #274.202.]

Sumner

The two alternatives intersect at the community of Sumner at the head of Catching Slough.

OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Sumner Community, The community of Sumner, with early morning fog, reflects into the winter flood waters of Catching Slough. [Ask for #276.240.]


The Old Wagon Road crosses the Catching Slough at the village of Sumner, at an elevation less than ten feet above sea level. Winter flooding is common. [Ask for #276.240.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, The Coast Range, The Old Coos Bay Wagon Road. A county sign marks the Old Wagon Road at its intersection in Sumner Community.  [Ask for 276.243.]


A county sign marks the Old Wagon Road at its intersection in Sumner Community. [Ask for 276.243.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Sumner Community, The Old Wagon Road east of Sumner has a four mile long gravel section as it crosses Blue Mountain. [Ask for #276.248.]


Contrary to some accounts, the gravel sections of the Old Wagon Road are county maintained, including the winter months. [Ask for #276.248.]

McKinley

A short climb brings you across a mountain spur to the first of several box valleys, known as McKinley.

OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, McKinley Community, Cows graze in the meadows. [Ask for #276.252.]


Cows graze in the meadows of this box valley. [Ask for #276.252.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, McKinley Community, Creekside picnic table at Cherry Creek Park. [Ask for #276.256.]


The county's Cherry Creek Park, at the eastern end of McKinley, offers picnicking and camping. [Ask for #276.256.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, McKinley Community, The Old Wagon Road runs through McKinley community. [Ask for #276.257.]


The Old Wagon Road runs through McKinley community. [Ask for #276.257.]

Dora

Another short hop over a low mountain brings you to your second box valley, known as Dora. The sharp fork backwards to your right leads to Myrtle Point; if you're going the other way, look out for the turn here.

OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Dora Community, East Fork of the Cocquille River as it runs through Dora, paralleling the Old Wagon Road [Ask for #274.561.]


The Old Wagon Road meets the East Fork Coquille River at Dora and follows it upstream to the Pacific Divide. [Ask for #274.561.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Coos Bay Wagon Road, Dora Community, The Dora community along the Old Wagon Road; Miller Road leads off into the valley. [Ask for #274.209.]


Miller Road leads off the Old Wagon Road at the center of Dora. The Abernethy House is located here. [Ask for #274.209.]

The Abernethy House, built in fits and starts between 1905 and 1922, is the only structure standing from the Old Wagon Road's main period. In 1905 Edwin and Ethel Abernethy anticipated that Coos Bay's only east-west artery would form the corridor for both a railroad and a highway as the port grew. It turned out to be a bad guess. In 1911 the railroad came in from the north along the coast. Then in 1922 the state announced that they would build the new paved highway, SR 42, many miles to the south. The upstairs part of the house, meant to house the guests, remains unfinished to this day. The house is on the National Register, but is not open to the public.

For more information check out its National Register paperwork.

OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Dora Community, The Edwin and Ethel Abernethy House, built in the early 20th century as a travelers lodge and guest house, faces the Old Wagon Road. [Ask for #276.259.]


The Edwin and Ethel Abernethy House, built in the early 20th century as a travelers lodge and guest house, faces the Old Wagon Road. [Ask for #276.259.]

Lower Brewster Canyon

OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Lower Brewster Canyon, The East Fork Coquille River in the western (downstream) end of Brewster Canyon, viewed through forests. [Ask for #274.210.]


Past Dora the Old Wagon Road follows the gorge of the East Fork Coquille River, known as Brewster Canyon, in a shelf carved above the river. [Ask for #274.210.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Coos Bay Wagon Road, Lower Brewster Canyon, The Coos Bay Wagon Road goes through the lower section of Brewster Canyon as a paved, single lane road [Ask for #274.212.]


The shelf carved into the side of Brewster Canyon above the East Fork Coquille River is exceedingly narrow, and the Old Wagon Road, although paved, is frequently reduced to a single lane.[Ask for #274.212.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Lower Brewster Canyon, The Coos Bay Wagon Road goes through the lower section of Brewster Canyon as a paved, single lane road. [Ask for #274.215.]


The Old Wagon Road goes through the lower section of Brewster Canyon as a paved, single lane road. [Ask for #274.215.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Sitkum Community, The East Fork Coquille River in flood, at the Weaver Road Bridge off the Old Wagon Road. [Ask for #276.268.]


Rapids mark the upper end of the canyon, here seen in winter flood. [Ask for #276.268.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Sitkum Community, The East Fork Coquille River in flood underneath the Weaver Road Bridge, a BLM access road off the Old Wagon Road. [Ask for #276.269.]


You can view these rapids from this BLM bridge. It's very typical of its type. [Ask for #276.269.]

Sitkum

The third valley along the Old Wagon Road, called Sitkum, splits Brewster Canyon in two. That is, the East Fork Coquille River carves out a deep canyon, then empties into a fertile, completely flat valley surrounded by cliffs on all sides, then carves another canyon in the rock as it flows out of the flat, loose soil. This makes it a true box valley, large and flat but surrounded by mountains on every side — a very rare feature.

This is also called Brewster Valley. In the winter it can flood so deeply (as the East Fork tries to jam itself into Lower Brewster Canyon) that it becomes literally a lake for a day or two, covering the Old Wagon Road. It is probably this that gives the road its undeserved reputation for not being maintained in the winter. It is (I've seen the maintenance crew), but you still shouldn't try it after a Pacific Coast rain event.

OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Lower Brewster Canyon, Rapids in the East Fork Coquille River in Brewster Canyon [Ask for #274.218.]


These rapids mark the eastern edge of Sitkum, as the East Fork flows down over the valley's edge. [Ask for #274.218.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Coos Bay Wagon Road, Sitkum Community, Panoramic view over meadows towards the steep mountains that ring this isolated cove [Ask for #274.232.]


Panoramic view over meadows towards the steep mountains that ring this isolated cove. Even these extremely steep slopes have been both logged and successfully replanted, par for the course in these parts. [Ask for #274.232.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Sitkum Community, The Old Wagon Road passes rock cliffss at the eastern edge of Sitkum. [Ask for #276.272.]


The Old Wagon Road passes rock cliffs at the eastern edge of Sitkum. The second gravel section starts here, and lasts for ten miles. [Ask for #276.272.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Sitkum Community, The East Fork Coquille River runs through Brewster Valley, in flood stage. Cliffs, partially forested, rise straight out of this cove. [Ask for #276.271.]


The cliffs that completely ring Brewster Valley are truly remarkable. Here you can see the Old Wagon Road running along the base. [Ask for #276.271.]

Upper Brewster Canyon

This mountain gorge is about 800 feet deep. It's so covered by forest, though, that you can hardly see the cliffs rising above you. There are multiple waterfalls along this stretch.

OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Upper Brewster Canyon, Sunlight hits the graveled surface of the Old Wagon Road as it enters Upper Brewster Canyon [Ask for #276.274.]


Sunlight hits the graveled surface of the Old Wagon Road as it enters Upper Brewster Canyon [Ask for #276.274.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Upper Brewster Canyon, Lower East Fork Falls, on the East Fork Coquille River, in flood [Ask for #276.280.]


This is Lower East Fork Falls, viewed from the Old Wagon Road in winter flood. [Ask for #276.280.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Upper Brewster Canyon, A small waterfall on the East Fork Coquille River, in flood [Ask for #276.283.]


A closer view of that small waterfall. [Ask for #276.283.]

Middle East Fork Falls

OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Upper Brewster Canyon, Waterfall on the East Fork Coquille River, as viewed from the Old Wagon Road [Ask for #274.234.]


Middle East Fork Falls, as viewed from the Old Wagon Road in summer. [Ask for #274.234.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Upper Brewster Canyon, Waterfall on the East Fork Coquille River, as viewed from the Old Wagon Road [Ask for #274.237.]


Middle East Fork Falls is the largest and most spectacular waterfall on the Old Wagon Road. It is easily seen from the road if you are driving west-to-east, but you might miss it if you drive east-to-west. If you are coming from the eastern end at Reston it's 5.1 miles past the end of the pavement, on your right. [Ask for #274.237.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Upper Brewster Canyon, View of Middle East Fork Falls from the Old Wagon Road; in flood. [Ask for #276.290.]
Here's what the winter flood looks like facing downstream from the falls. [Ask for #276.290.]



OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Upper Brewster Canyon, Waterfall on the East Fork Coquille River, as viewed from the Old Wagon Road [Ask for #274.235.]


Viewed from the front at low water, in summer. [Ask for #274.235.]
OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Upper Brewster Canyon, The stone cliffs of Brewster Canyon protrude from the trees above the Old Wagon Road [Ask for #276.291.]


The stone cliffs of Upper Brewster Canyon protrude from the trees above the Old Wagon Road. This is what the road looks like in the waterfall area. [Ask for #276.291.]

The Pacific Divide

OR: South Coast Region, Douglas County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Coastal Divide, View from a clearcut atop the divide eastward towards Reston and the Umpqua Valley [Ask for #274.240.]


When you top out on the Pacific Divide a narrow gravel forestry road on you left goes 500 feet to this wide view over a clearcut towards Reston and the Umpqua Valley. (If you are reading this after 2020 the replanted trees have likely grown high enough to block this view.) [Ask for #274.240.]


OR: South Coast Region, Douglas County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Coastal Divide, View east from the Coastal Divide, towards Reston, with the Old Wagon Road running beneath [Ask for #274.A86.]


The view from this spot continues to your right. It's just shy of a full 180 degrees. [Ask for #274.A86.]
OR: South Coast Region, Douglas County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Coastal Divide, View from a clearcut atop the divide eastward towards Reston and the Umpqua Valley, towards the red sandstone cliff known as Bushnell Rock [Ask for #274.242.]


Here's a closer look at the red cliff ahead and to your left. It's known as Bushnell Rock, and it's a bit less than four miles away as the crow flies. [Ask for #274.242.]

Reston

Reston is the name given to next intersection; go straight. The scenery is already dry compared to Brewster Canyon, and it will get even drier up ahead. And a lot hotter in the summer as well. Roseburg can be thirty degrees warmer than Coos Bay on a July day.

OR: South Coast Region, Douglas County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Reston Community, Grassy meadows beneath mountains [Ask for #274.243.]


View over ranchlands towards mountains. [Ask for #274.243.]
OR: South Coast Region, Douglas County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Reston Community, Grassy meadows beneath mountains [Ask for #274.246.]


Reston gives wide views over grassy meadows towards a low range of mountains to the southeast (known as Sugar Pine Ridge). [Ask for #274.246.]


Beyond this point the Old Wagon Road is hidden beneath modern asphalt. It's easy enough to follow though. Turn right at the next intersection, towards Lookinglass, go through the Lookinglass to the T-intersection, then go left and follow the signs to Roseburg. The Old Wagon Road had its eastern terminus at the depot. Now you'll find it converted into an excellent brewpub with good food, McMenamins Roseburg Station Pub & Brewery.

For a loop drive through the mountains surrounding the Old Wagon Road click here.

For a highly detailed pdf map click here.

OR: South Coast Region, Coos County, Coast Range, Old Coos Bay Wagon Road, Map of the Old Coos Bay Wagon Road [Ask for #990.142.]


A map of the Old Coos Bay Wagon Road. [Ask for #990.142.]
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