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Washington, Oregon routes among top 10 picturesque drives

Story by Tim Fitzharris and Donna B. Ulrich It meanders through ancient forests, winds alongside the rocky Nisqually River and hugs Mount Rainier’s rugged terrain, all the while snaking up the volcano’s southern slope. Washington Route 706, known as the “Road to Paradise,” delivers on every promise its name implies. Route 706 was recently named among the top 10 picturesque drives in Country Magazine. For one, this scenic road literally takes you to Paradise, an area about 5,400 feet up that’s one of the most stunning locations in Mount Rainier National Park. But every moment spent on this road brings paradise to your soul. Driving under the imposing cedar log gate of the western Nisqually entrance, with columns nearly 4 feet in diameter, visitors get a hint of what’s to come. Old-growth red cedar, Douglas fir and hemlock soar so far out of sight motorists have to stop and hang their head out the window, staring straight up, to see their tops. Moss-wrapped trunks offer a thousand shades of vibrant green. Bigleaf maples and alders line the route when it runs alongside a creek or a tumbling river, and every cascade tempts people to stop and photograph the silky streams. Climbing into higher elevations, the road emerges from the forest now and then to skirt a curving rock prominence, reminding motorists of the utter immensity of this alpine country.  A favorite location for photographers can be found in the national park: the meadows at Paradise. In early August, when paintbrush, beargrass and lupines stand in profuse bouquets among the bubbling creeks and lingering snow patches, these are the sights set against the glacier-clad backdrop of Mount Rainier. Also making the top 10 picturesque drives in Country Magazine is the Oregon coast. The breathtaking views, forested headlands, sublime sandy beaches and, best of all, accessibility of the Oregon coast make for a scenic drive unlike any other in the country. The ocean is often within sight of the road, which offers easy access to more than 80 state parks and recreation areas. The Oregon shore truly is “the people’s coast,” as it’s been dubbed. One hundred years ago, Gov. Oswald West went before the state legislature and successfully argued that the state’s entire 363-mile coastline should be established as a public thoroughfare. Construction of what is now Highway 101 soon followed. In conjunction with this plan, the state’s parks department bought land for 36 state parks along the scenic coastal road, an average of one every 10 miles. Tourists soon took advantage of the improved roadways, putting little towns like Depoe Bay and Yachats on the map. In 1967 the legislature passed the Oregon Beach Bill, preserving free beach access for all. There is the trail up to the top of Humbug Mountain near Port Orford—the view from the top is spectacular. Or head to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, where more than 40 miles of coastline are waiting for your footprints. Whale-watching is a year-round activity on the Oregon coast. Gray whales make their way up the coast from late March to June and down from mid-December through January. For a week during each peak season, volunteers at 28 sites help visitors spot the giant mammals. Bird-watching, when the whales are playing hard-to-get, can lend itself to the opportunity to spot brown pelicans diving for fish or osprey soaring above. Whether you’re taking pictures, fishing or watching whales or birds, the Oregon Coast Highway offers an accessible adventure, free of freeways and full of enough beauty to stop traffic. ‑ Country is part of The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. Visit www.country-magazine for more information.

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Photo by Tim Fitzharris/Country Magazine

Traversing Route 706, motorists can view glorious sunsets on Mt. Rainier.

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Photo by Larry Ulrich/Country Magazine

The picturesque Youngs River Falls photographed along the Oregon coast is one of the sights to capture the attention of travelers.

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The coastal shores of Oregon can lend themselves to spectacular scenery. This is a view of Haceta Head Beach from Rocky Point.

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Photo by Tim Fitzharris/Country Magazine

The Paradise River during the spring looks like a pixie land amongst the trees that line Route 706 in Washington state.

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Photo by Larry Ulrich/Country Magazine

Nestled along the Oregon coastal highway are dairy farms that supply milk to the Tillamook Cheese Factory, a popular attraction for motorists.

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