Every couple years my partner and I like to take a little drive down the back roads from Cottage Grove to Oakland, Oregon. It is a great way to get out and see the rural country side, get a sense of the history of our region, and compare the two historic towns. The drive is fairly simple and just about 70 miles, round trip, from start to finish. It gives the opportunity to walk through the countryside, see the differences between the Douglas fir forests of the Willamette Valley and the Oak woodlands of the Umpqua Valley, plus enjoy the beautiful, small, historic town of Oakland, Oregon.
The start is downtown Cottage Grove (roughly Sixth and Main Streets). Head south on Sixth Street which eventually becomes London Road. Go all the way to the town of London, passing by the Cottage Grove Reservoir. At just over 12 miles, you’ll reach Shoestring Road going off to your right. On your left, will be the cute “Church at London” built in 1898.
Once you turn right onto Shoestring, the road immediately begins a windy climb into the hills, going through forests, clear cuts, and regrowth lands. It crests in about 2.5 miles and you slowly begin to descend into the Umpqua Valley. It is here that you will start to notice the differences between the ecological zones. The Oak trees become prominent, both as singular specimens and as oak woodlands. While oak woodlands were once found in the Willamette Valley region as well, they are now dominated by Douglas fir. Heading over Shoestring road demonstrates the differences.
About a mile after the crest (mile 16 from Cottage Grove) the road becomes gravel and alternates between gravel and paved for the next 4.5 miles as you drive past fields, pastures, oak groves, homesteads, and old barns. At the stop sign 21.9 miles from our start in Cottage Grove, turn left on Scotts Valley Road toward Oakland. Again, you’ll enjoy the views as you drive through the hills and dells; pastures alternating with oak woodlands.
Continue on, staying on the main road which eventually becomes Elkhead Road. Twenty-eight miles after leaving Cottage Grove, you’ll pass Mildred Kanipe Memorial Park. This is a highly suggested stop, as the park – designed to be a historical working ranch — offers historical farm buildings; hiking, nature, and equestrian trails; many picnic tables; the chance to enjoy the local scenery on a more personal basis; and a resident flock of peacocks.
From Mildred Kanipe Memorial Park, in 3 miles you’ll take a right at a yield sign onto Driver Valley Road, and in another 3 miles you’ll reach Oakland. Coming into Oakland, Driver Valley Road turns into Oak Street. Turn left onto 4th or 3rd streets and right at the next block onto Locust Street. This is historical downtown Oakland.
If you love old, historical buildings, you’ll love Oakland. A small town of under 1,000 people, Oakland’s historical downtown is made up of many brick buildings built in the 1890s. Plus, a walk through the streets surrounding downtown showcases many old, well-tended homes built in the 1880s and later. It’s fun to just get out and stroll.
After you are done exploring Oakland, it is easy to get back onto I-5 and head north back to Cottage Grove, turn right (heading north) on 1st Street/Highway 99 and follow the signs. OR, you can extend your trip like we did by turning left (heading south) on Highway 99 and turning right onto Stearns Lane. Travel about 3.5 miles on Stearns Lane and turn right on Rochester Bridge Road to see the Rochester Covered Bridge, a one-land bridge built in 1933.
After enjoying the Rochester Bridge, continue on. You are heading north on Rochester Bridge Road which turns into Green Valley Road. In 3 miles it will pass over the freeway, in another mile you’ll turn left (there will be a sign pointing toward I-5 north bound) and in another mile you’ll be merging onto the I-5 freeway roughly a half mile before freeway mile marker 141.
If all the travelling has made you hungry, a stop at the Drive-In in Rice Hill is a local treat. Just take exit 148 off the freeway and turn right at the stop sign. You’ll pass under the freeway before reaching K&R Drive Inn – or as locals say “the ice cream place at Rice Hill” or often, just “Rice Hill”.
In all, this drive is about a 70 mile loop. It can take just a couple hours if you like to see everything from your car window, to all day if you get out and explore Mildred Kanipe’s and shop at Oakland.