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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

McKenzie Pass - Santiam Pass Scenic Byway (Eugene to Bend)

After eating far too much Broasted Chicken, we were well on our way to Bend, Oregon.  We were so excited to see the McKenzie was after everyone at Ninkasi kept talking about how beautiful the drive was.  By the time we left Ike's following the McKenzie (its a gorgeous river!) into the Willamette, we realized they were right and we were so glad we took their advice to take the McKenzie River - Santiam Pass Scenic Byway to Bend. 

The Willamette National Forest is a gorgeous place between Eugene and Bend Oregon, and one that I had never heard of until this trip. Home to the McKenzie River, beautiful waterfalls, the Pacific Crest Trail, and views of amazing peaks. I hate to sound corny but this section of the trip, this forest was like out of a dream. The green lush forest contrasted with the burned sections, the roaring McKenzie, crazy waterfalls, and the sun setting over the peaks. One of my most memorable scenic drives to date (and you all know there have been a few...). 

McKenzie River and Willamette National Forest
We followed 126 to the town of Sisters, passing Sahalie and Koosah waterfalls, the Hoodoo Ski area, the McKenzie Pass, the trailhead for the Pacific Crest Scenic Trail through burned sections of the forest, and Mt Washington overlook, with amazing views of Mt. Washington (7,794'), Black Butte (6,436'), and the three sisters (North, Middle and South Sister) at around 10,000'. 

Driving along 126 through the Willamette National Forest between Eugene and Bend
Willamette National Forest
We stopped at many of the view points along the way, one of them being the intense Sahalie Falls.
"Sahalie Falls is a mass of foaming white water plunging 100 feet (30 m) over a natural lava dam. This famous falls can be spotted in Disney's movie Homeward Bound. The viewing platform is less then 100 feet (30 m) from the parking lot. Making for a quick and very rewarding stop. An easy family-friendly 2.6 mile (4.1843 km) loop trail starts at Sahalie Falls and connects to Koosah Falls. It is not wheelchair accessible due to stairs. The trail borders the McKenzie River through towering forest. Koosah Falls drops approximately 70 feet (21 m) into a deep pool. " Source
Sahalie Falls
We both agreed that there was something so refreshing about the cool damp air in this spot.  The lush green forest and powerful waterfall reminded us we were well into the woods of the Pacific Northwest.
Falls Facts McKenzie River
We continued our way through the forest, taking in the views as the sun set in Oregon.  We joked and laughed about the mass murder that was happening on our windshield.  Make sure your wiper fluid is stocked, and be prepared to spend some time at the gas station cleaning the bug massacre off our windshield and headlights. Our car took a beating from traveling through the Willamette at dusk. Pretty sure we made a serious dent in the bug population in Oregon.

If you have time to stop and play in this beautiful place, popular activities in the national forest include hiking, fishing, rafting, mountain biking, kayaking, canoeing and camping. Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are popular in the winter when the road closes due to snow.

Pacific Crest Trailhead at Santiam Pass
The trip had some exciting moments, two of which were getting a first hand glimpse of the Pacific Crest Trail. We crossed it once in northern Oregon at the Bridge of the Gods and again at the Pacific Crest Trailhead at Santiam Pass in the Willamette. I had read a lot about the PCT from Cheryl Strayed Wild, and other blogs and diaries from through hikers on the trail. While the entire trail is an amazing fete with over 2,600 miles from border to border, and through hiking is something I have never done, I would love to come back and hike a section of the trail one day. 

"The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is the jewel in the crown of America's scenic trails, spanning 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada through three western states...
Thousands of hikers and equestrians enjoy this national treasure each year. Some only travel a few miles, while others complete every mile in a single season!

The route was first explored in the late 1930s by teams of young men from the YMCA. Once proven feasible, trail pioneers Clinton Clarke and Warren Rogers lobbied the federal government to secure a border-to-border trail corridor. They had to settle, however, for several disconnected trails along the crest of each state. Largely through the efforts of hikers and equestrians, the PCT was eventually designated one of the first scenic trails in the National Trails System authorized by Congress in 1968, and was dedicated in 1993.

The PCT has five distinct sections, each having unique climate, geology, flora, and fauna. These sections are: Southern California, Central California, Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. A trail description is presented on the following pages in the order of the seasons in which each is at its optimum. The Pacific Crest Trail Association is an excellent source of information for anyone planning a trip on the PCT." -- Pacific Crest Trail Association:

Pacific Crest Trailhead at Santiam Pass
At this trailhead we got to see a unique section of the trail crossing through a charred landscape. This landscape is a unique post-fire forest that burned in the 2003 B&B Complex fire. Even after 13 years, the area still looks mostly barren. Lodgepole pine and beargrass are the primary plants repopulating the area. During my reading I discovered that post-fire early seral forest is very rare because it is often salvage-logged. However, this area was left as is because it’s within a wilderness boundary.
Mt Washington charred from B&B Complex Fires
According to Wikipedia "the B&B Complex Fires that burned this section of the forest were a linked pair of wildfires that together burned 90,769 acres (367.33 km2) of Oregon forest during the summer of 2003. The fire complex began as two separate fires, the Bear Butte Fire and the Booth Fire. The two fires were reported on the same day and eventually burned together, forming a single fire area that stretched along the crest of the Cascade Mountains between Mount Jefferson and Mount Washington".
Mt Washington
We captured some rad photos of Mt. Washington peaking through the burned forest. Mt Washington with its distinct peak formation is among the most recognized mountains in Oregon's northern Cascade Range. Following Highway 20 over Santiam Pass on a clear day you can see the shield volcano high above the burned forest, covered with snow even in early May.
Three Sisters Peaks
The Three Sisters is a series of three volcanic peaks, a part of the Cascade volcanic Arc and the Cascade Range. Each exceeding 10,000 feet in elevation, they are the third, fourth, and fifth highest peaks in the state of Oregon. They are located in the Three Sisters Wilderness, about 10 miles south of the town of Sisters. This shot was taken from Sisters, looking back at the Three Sisters.

We arrive in Bend in the dark, so bummed we didn't have a few days to explore this amazing town, the nearby peaks, and the Cascades.  Another trip, another day Bend.  


  1. Wow so stunning! That WATERFALL!!!!!

    1. I know! It is so beautiful and its from Homeward Bound! I feel like Oregon was a mini movie tour set!

  2. In kindergarten I spent every single day after school alternating between watching each of the homeward bound movies... Glad you got to see the falls from them! - Heather []

    1. oh my goodness that is too cute! It was fun to see them first hand! I feel like Oregon was a movie tour (blast from the past!) Goonies and Kindergarten Cop in Astoria, and now this one!

  3. In kindergarten I spent every single day after school alternating between watching each of the homeward bound movies... Glad you got to see the falls from them! - Heather []


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