20 facts in 20 miles: A Central Cascades mini road trip – Clear Lake Cutoff

*Disclaimer: not all locations may be open due to COVID-19. Please follow all posted guidelines for individual locations.* Above photo by Whitney Misch @bigmisch

Hello fellow travelers. We are Together Anywhere, a partnership of lifelong and transplanted Oregonians and your tour guides for a new, Oregon-based, GPS audio driving tours. This tour section of the Clear Lake Cutoff is just one small part of an ever growing network of tours on our app.

If you want to take an ACTUAL road trip, just make sure to download our app for Apple iOS or Google Play before you go. The following are just ten of the HUNDREDS of narration points along Oregon roads.

Ready to take a road trip? Well let’s get going!

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Clickable map link: Mini Oregon Road Trips.
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What this section looks like on our app.

Fact #1: Traveling between Eugene and Bend used to be a lot more difficult.

What stands in the way between Eugene and Bend? The Cascade Range. Before this 20 mile section of highway was completed in 1962, travelers from Eugene had to attempt to cross the mountains over dirt roads or the difficult lava (and often snow) terrain of the McKenzie Pass. Known as the “Clear Lake Cutoff”, this 20 miles now serves as a faster connection to Central Oregon for those driving down the McKenzie River Highway. With this addition, it is now possible to travel from Eugene to Bend in just over 2 hours.

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The Dee Wright Observatory, constructed of lava, sits at the summit of the McKenzie Pass.

Fact #2: The original pass is now closed half of the year.

In 1910, as cars were making their debut as a replacement for wagons, the first automobile successfully tackled the McKenzie Pass. But because of the difficulty maintaining the McKenzie Pass road surface through the harsh winters, the formerly known McKenzie and Eastern Road was not the most pleasant of trips to say the least. By 1920, the road was able to be relocated and widened with the help of federal money. It finally became known as Oregon State Highway 126 in 1925 making the area accessible to tourism.

It continued to be a struggle to keep it open year round with the abundance of heavy snow, high elevation, and steep grades. In the early 1960s, when the Clear Lake cutoff road was built, it became the new Highway 126. The old highway was renamed McKenzie Highway 242 and it became a seasonal scenic byway, open from the middle of June to early November, dependant upon snowfall. It became a National Scenic Byway in 1998 and in 2011 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of the accomplishments with the difficult road construction of the early 1900s. Our driving tour is available here starting June 15th, 2020!

Fact #3: People now fly down the mostly straight road.

In extreme contrast to the McKenzie Pass section, the Clear Lake Cutoff has some pretty solid straightaways. From our experience, people FLY down these sections and we really recommend to not join in the game. At under 2000 vehicles a day, it is one of the lesser traveled roads in Oregon but the crash rate more than doubled between 2014 and 2017. Plus, there are some choices to make with turnoffs. North of Clear Lake, there is the option to head west on Highway 20 towards Sweet Home, Lebanon, and eventually, the Oregon Coast. Just after Highway 20 joins 126, travelers choose to either head west towards Salem on Highway 22 or east towards Bend. Luckily, our tours go both ways!

Fact #4: Belknap Hot Springs sits at one end.

Let me tell you a little about the well known Belknap Hot Springs Resort. R. Simeon Belknap discovered and initially developed the area in 1870, where it was promoted as a salt and mineral spa. While similar resorts existed in Lane County since the late 1800s, this is the only one that stood the test of time. Today, the resort includes a hotel, several cabins, and RV and tent spots. They also own the Camp Yale property just after the turnoff on to Highway 242. The hot springs water is treated with chlorine before being diverted into two concrete swimming pools, one limited to overnight guests, the other also available for day use. The resort and pools are open year round with pool temperatures in the low 90s for the summer months and at 102 degrees during the colder months.

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The back side of Belknap Hot Springs along the McKenzie River.

The actual Belknap Hot Spring is situated along the north side of the McKenzie River. As you cross the wooden foot bridge, you are introduced to a network of walking paths leading you to several tent sites, a family cabin, and the Secret Garden where several weddings take place every summer. The McKenzie River Trail runs through their property as well. It can get a little…ok pretty busy during peak hours but weather you experience the property on foot or completely submerged in hot water, I think you will be happy with your choice to visit.

Fact #5: Fish Lake sits at the other end.

While Fish Lake is one of the top of Oregon destinations these days, the location here on your left is a historical mecca in Oregon terms. In the mid-1800s, settlers and Native people passed through this area on the Santiam Wagon Road where 100 or more wagons could be parked on their way to and from the Willamette Valley. Today, you can stop here to read the interpretive historical signs, view the historical buildings still used by the forest service, and even visit a pioneer gravesite. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014 and is supported today by a not-for-profit group called the Friends of Fish Lake. They are always looking for members to assist in the preservation of Oregon history and can be found at fishlakehistoricsite.org.

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The McKenzie River Trail splits around Clear Lake, giving you perfect views of the crystal water.

Fact #6: The McKenzie River Trail runs almost the entire length of the highway.

Have you heard of the McKenzie River Trail? Some people would call this the most quintessential trail in Oregon, offering a varied landscape of lakes, rivers, mountains, and waterfalls. By starting just north of Clear Lake, you can experience a mostly downhill adventure for the 26 mile route as you work your way back towards Eugene tracing all kinds of features along your journey. As it starts above the 3,000 foot elevation point, the trail can be snowy up until early June at this upper trailhead.

Fact #7: The entire road sits in the Willamette National Forest.

At this point in the drive, we are going deeper into the nearly 1.7 million acre Willamette National Forest. There will not be another piece of commercial property or land until we notice Hoodoo Ski Resort near the Santiam Pass in about a half an hour. As we turn north and make our way to Highway 20, we will experience a dense canopy of trees, and likely snow if you are traveling in the winter as the elevation begins to increase as we make our way towards the Cascades mountain pass.

Fact #8: There is boating… but be wise.

Just north of Belknap, the McKenzie River Viewpoint offers a chance to pull over and walk a very short accessible path to a viewpoint of the river that includes an informational kiosk, stunning views of the crystal clear waters below, and a chance to sit and watch kayakers or whitewater rafters navigate their way down the increasingly rough river. While it may look easy, guides are trained and hold permits to make sure everybody goes down the river with the proper equipment and safety measures. McKenzie River Guides offers an updated list of all fishing and whitewater guides in the area.

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Make sure you have a film crew (and a bunch of training) before attempting this kind of boating down the McKenzie River! Here, a kayaker going down Koosah Falls.

Fact #9: There are more hot springs.

Just off the forest service road north of the viewpoint is Bigelow Hot Springs. Look for a parking area just over the bridge as you cross the McKenzie River. This clothing optional locale, also known as Deer Creek Hot Springs, contains a small sand and gravel pool. It only holds about 4 to 6 people, so consider yourself lucky if you have this place all to yourself! At just over 100 degrees, this pool is best enjoyed in summer or fall as it is too frigid for soaking during the rest of the year.

Fact #10: One of the biggest monoliths in the WORLD is accessible here.

Wolf Rock is the third largest monolith in the world! There is an access point down Forest Road 2654. It takes about 30 minutes to get there via forests roads, and we suggest to only do it with a map and information about road conditions. However, this one of a kind structure is worth the journey at certain times of the year. Made of hard volcanic rock from an ancient magma core, Wolf Rock is likely the last 1,000 foot remainder of a 40-million-year-old volcano over 10,000 feet. To understand how big that is, imagine the Eiffel Tower is one piece of solid rock. Or have you ever been to Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach? Wolf Rock is nearly four times the size!

Fact #11: There is a lot of camping.

Just as you cross the 2,000 foot elevation point, we leave Lane County for Linn County. One of the more than 70 developed campgrounds in the Willamette Forest can be found here. Olallie Campground and day use area provides for fishing, swimming, picnicking and hiking as well as a bathroom stop. Use recreation.gov to reserve one of their sites between April and October. The lower loop offers mesmerizing views of both the river and the creek while the upper loop is set further in the trees with many sites facing the creek. Be careful when booking however; much like Clear Lake, Haystack Rock, and Blue Pool, the name “olallie” appears in Oregon more than once. Just make sure you book the correct one! Along with Olallie, there is camping at Coldwater Cove next to Clear Lake, or off one of the many forest roads in the area.

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Fact #12: One of Oregon’s most Insta-famous spots is along this road.

Our next landmark is the first of my favorite stops of the tour! But, you can’t just jump out of the car and see it. In fact, you might want to pack a lunch. It is fitting that Tamolitch is a Chinook word for ‘bucket’ as this destination is on the bucket list of many Oregonians and tourists alike. This heavily used trail takes you to a beautiful, blue-green glass-like pool that holds a section of the McKenzie River after it emerges from its three mile underground journey. While this has been called one of the world’s best places to swim, this magical pool has dangers of hypothermia and rocks that are closer to the surface than they appear. As we pass the Trail Bridge Reservoir to our left, be ready for the turnoff to Tamolitch Blue Pool trailhead parking. The 3.7 mile round trip hike isn’t exactly what I call hilly, but it’s not quite completely flat either. Worth it though? Absolutely.

Fact #13: The eruptive history of this area is not that old… relatively speaking.

As we continue north, you will start to see evidence of the volcanic history of this area which is less than 3,000 years old. That’s right…volcanoes exploding and releasing lava when Oregon was inhabited by the Native Americans. This area is still considered seismically active but we can’t let that stop us from enjoying what this extraordinary area provides…after all, it could be 3,000 more years until something happens. Less than two thousand years ago, as the Romans were conquering Europe almost halfway around the world, Oregon was experiencing the most recent geological formative period. The Belknap Crater was producing lava flows that impacted this part of the Oregon Cascades. The lava flow covered up the river bed of the McKenzie, causing it to flow underground north of Tamolitch Blue Pool. In some areas, the encompassing lava landscape, will feel as if you have landed on the moon.

 

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TA writer Christy and her dog at Sahalie Falls.

Fact #14: Sky and Heaven can be found here.

Up next, two spectacular waterfalls that I don’t think we should pass up. Known by the Chinook people as “Sky” and “Heaven”, Koosah Falls and Sahalie Falls drop the frigid waters of the McKenzie 70 feet and 100 feet respectively over the basalt lava that landed here 3,000 years ago. The first option for parking is the left here at Ice Cap Creek Day Use Area. This choice requires a hike north on the Waterfalls Loop Trail to get to Koosah Falls. Less than a quarter mile ahead, the small parking lot near Sahalie Falls offers an opportunity to view the waterfall just a short distance from the parking lot. Both parking areas offer bathrooms and interpretive signage about the geology of the area. Please be advised that during busy tourist times the Sahalie Falls parking lot area fills up. If you park alongside the highway, please be careful crossing the road as vehicles travel very fast down this thoroughfare.

Fact #15: Clear Lake has an underwater forest.

Clear Lake, at 3,000 feet, sits between the diverse ecosystems of the lava strewn High Cascades and the lush, dense forest of the Western Cascades.

Experienced scuba divers also brave the frigid temperatures of this lake to explore the underwater forest that was first petrified when drowned 3,000 years ago with the eruption of Sand Mountain.

You will surely feel the ghost-like eeriness of sitting on top of trees over 100 feet tall.

Fact #16: There is way more than one Clear Lake in Oregon.

There are 11 lakes listed as Clear Lake in Oregon! This one surely HAS to be the clearest!

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The clarity of the lake offers prime viewing of the underwater forest!

Fact #17: Clear Lake has camping… but book the right spot!

Cold Water Cove Campground offers summertime camping next to one of Oregon’s clearest, and coldest lakes. Reservations are recommended and make sure you book the right one. In the summer of 2017, we thought we booked a spot but it turned out to be the Clear Lake near Mount Hood! Luckily our plans were flexible and we went there instead… lucky for us, too, as forest fires had smoked out this area at that time.

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TA friend Josh and our narrator Andrew playing a game of horseshoes at Clear Lake Resort.

Fact #18: Clear Lake has cabins, a store, and games.

Owned and operated by Linn County, Oregon, Clear Lake Resort offers many activities, boat rentals, and lodging options. Make sure to check the website for open details. From the Linn County website:

A sparkling lake, forests, and the beauty of the Cascade Mountains all combine to make Clear Lake Resort into a nature lover’s dream. Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to fish, amazing views, or a place to bring the kids for an adventure, you’ll find it at Clear Lake Resort. Visitors can enjoy a hike, run, or bike around the Clear Lake Loop Trail or connect to the 26 mile McKenzie River Trail. The Resort is located near the McKenzie and Santiam Rivers; great waterways for river rafting, floating and boating.

 

Fact #19: Clear Lake has awesome hiking.

It is best experienced taking the 5 mile hiking path around the entire lake. A mixture of forest paths and lava terrain, it provides for an easy day hike after the snow melts each June.

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TA narrator Andrew hiking around Clear Lake.

Fact #20: Clear Lake is best experienced on a boat… but don’t swim or fall in!

The spring fed lake offers excellent non-motorized boating opportunities and fishing with the annual stocking of rainbow trout along with brook and cutthroat trout that reproduce naturally. However, as with all water activities, please be safe, wear a life jacket, and know your surroundings. This lake is COLD and hypothermia can set in within minutes, no matter what time of year!

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We hope you enjoyed our 20 facts in 20 miles of the Clear Lake Cutoff!

With Together Anywhere, you can experience a road trip like you never have before. Our GPS location based app tells you stories and places to visit that you may have missed before. We’ve spent years discovering, researching, and writing down the best information that make these areas worthwhile destinations, especially during this time of social distancing and staying close to home.

We hope you take the time to explore our app and learn more about your Oregon! Your adventure is ready with Together Anywhere.

 

 

10 places to see one hour from Eugene: A mini road trip down the McKenzie River

*Disclaimer: not all locations may be open due to COVID-19. Please follow all posted guidelines for individual locations.*

Hello fellow travelers. We are Together Anywhere, a partnership of lifelong and transplanted Oregonians and your tour guides for a new, Oregon-based, GPS audio driving tours. This tour section down the McKenzie River is just one small part of an ever growing network of tours on our app.

If you are more of a watcher than a reader, you can check out our McKenzie River Road Trip YouTube video here. And if you want to take an ACTUAL road trip, just make sure to download our app for Apple iOS or Google Play before you go. The following are just ten of the HUNDREDS of narration points along Oregon roads.

Ready to take a road trip? Well let’s get going!

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Clickable map: Eugene down Highway 126 towards the Cascade Range.
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The same route using our app while driving.

Location #1: Downtown Eugene. Our journey begins at the Eugene, Cascades and Coast Visitors Center. If you have completed our introduction and taken time to explore the resources available then let’s start with our brief trip through Eugene and Springfield! As we leave downtown, you can catch a quick glimpse of Alton Baker Park, which is settled on the Willamette River. Like most of Eugene is, this park filled with walking and biking paths and a great place to relax. The Mckenzie River links up with the Willamette about 5 miles north of here, and the Willamette runs north to Portland where it connects to the Columbia River on its way to the Pacific Ocean. We next pass the turnoff for Autzen Stadium, home of the Oregon Ducks!

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Looking out from the Graduate Hotel in Downtown Eugene.

Let’s continue straight towards Highway 126 as we are now leaving Eugene, a really special town if you are an outdoor enthusiast, sports fan or just looking for a unique cultural experience. We really hope you get a chance to come back and visit. I can’t say unique and Eugene in the same sentence without mentioning notable author Ken Kesey. Raised in Springfield and attended the University of Oregon, his famous book “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was later made into an Academy Award winning movie that was filmed right down the road in Salem. We are looking forward to providing you with a great Eugene specific experience in future Together Anywhere Guides.

Location #2: Springfield, Oregon. Now entering Springfield, and as I like to think of it: the home of the Simpsons. My favorite animated family made their mark on American television by becoming the longest running US sitcom in history. Though it’s not officially recognized as the home of the Simpsons, this Springfield has taken some ownership over the idea considering the creator, Matt Groening, is from Oregon and drops plenty of references throughout the show. They even have an unofficial tour with three stops: You can start by visiting a statue of a rider outside of the Chamber of Commerce that surely must be Jebediah Springfield. Next, you can go have a beer in Moe’s Tavern. Sure it was opened after the show began in 1987 but, it’s still nice to sit back with a drink and enjoy the Simpsons memorabilia. I wonder if they make Flaming Moes? The last stop of the tour, the Emerald Art Center at the corner of Main St and South 5th for a couple great photos. Inside, you can sit next to a larger than life version of the family on the iconic orange couch. Outside is a mural that Matt Groening himself collaborated to create for the city in 2014. Sorry Springfield, Vermont, if that doesn’t make it official, I’m not sure what’s gonna convince you.

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The Simpsons at Ike’s Pizza (near Goodpasture Bridge).

Location #3: Hendricks Bridge Park and the McKenzie River. Now approaching Hendricks Bridge County Park. I wouldn’t suggest pulling over as we are just getting going, but I thought you should know that the former ferry here used to transport people, animals, and goods to the Eugene-Springfield area. And just like that, it’s our first look at the McKenzie River itself. The next 50 miles will be filled with views like that and even some spots where the frigid water’s color turns deep blues and greens as we get closer to the headwaters near Clear Lake. But, it’s gonna stay flat for a little longer. It’s actually a little too flat for this wet and rainy area. In the 1800s and early 1900s, six dams were built in the McKenzie River watershed for struggling residents and farmers: three on the river and three on tributaries feeding into the river. The McKenzie and these dams now provide electricity and is the sole source for drinking water for over 200,000 people in the Eugene-Springfield area.

Location #4: Goodpasture Bridge. Covered bridges carry with them a charm and romanticism of times gone by. And in Oregon, we are lucky to have many of them preserved. Before the development of concrete bridges, wooden bridges had a lifespan of less than 10 years if they were not covered in some way. The bridge that is up ahead has stood the test of time since 1938. It boasts itself the second largest covered bridge in Oregon at 165 feet long. The best way to get a photograph is on the river, either indulging in a trip down the river in a famous McKenzie dory boat or on a raft adventure from one of the many outfitters in the region. If you are looking for a quick stop, just pull over, take a photo or even drive over the bridge. The town of Vida up ahead was once a vital link between Eugene-Springfield and the upper McKenzie area. This community now offers a stop for gas and some food and a couple lodging opportunities to serve as a home base for your fishing or outdoor adventure.

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Goodpasture Bridge

Location #5: Ben & Kay Dorris Park. In the early 1940s, Ben and Kay Dorris donated their land to the state which is now a day use park up ahead. The couple was connected to both the timber industry and the river guide community, as many settlers in the 1900s were. Today, this 79 acre property maintained by Lane County offers picnic areas and restrooms as well as the unique chance to view rafts, McKenzie River dory boats, and kayakers go through Marten Rapids, one of the more popular water features on the McKenzie River. Just a half mile east of the entrance is a rock overhang where John Templeton Craig is said to have often stayed the night on his journeys down the McKenzie River. Who is John Templeton Craig? If you are joining us on the McKenzie Scenic Highway 242, you will soon find out!

Location #6: Finn Rock. Now that we have passed the town of Nimrod, we are passing Quartz Creek Road on our right. This road crosses a one lane bridge over the McKenzie and takes us to Finn Rock Landing, a pretty convenient and quiet stop with a restroom and boat launch. After we pass Quartz Creek Road, we encounter Finn Rock itself. Not named after a shark fin but a man by the name of Benjamin Franklin Finn, a settler in the area known as the “biggest liar on the McKenzie” even claiming that Mark Twain’s character, Huck Finn, was based on him. There used to be a post office and a large logging camp there and is protected by the McKenzie River Trust, a non-profit land conservation group. The Finn Rock Reach was a focus area for a $4.6 million dollar campaign aimed to protect this place for decades to come.

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Christmas Treasures is open year round!

Location #7: Christmas Treasures and Blue River Reservoir. It’s beginning to look a little like Christmas in the forest. Coming up on your left, Christmas Treasures, the self proclaimed World’s Best Novelty Christmas Store offers 15,000 unique gifts from around the world and is open year round. If you prefer to just jingle on by, Old Scout Road, the turnoff a minute past the store on your left, has been called the “gateway to the beginning of a recreational wonderland.” Down that road you can find Blue River Rd. #15, for campgrounds, hiking and H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, one of 5 ecosystem research forests in the United States. If you are up for a longer search in that network of forest roads, you can find Wolf Rock. At over 900 feet tall, it is the largest monolith in Oregon and the third largest in the world!

Location #8: Cougar Hot Springs/Aufderheide Drive. As the trees start to get a little more dense here, it is safe to say that there is something to be discovered down almost any road you take. Aufderheide Drive on our right needs a couple hours to really enjoy the scenery that makes this drive so special. Sixty miles of windy and sometimes treacherous roads take you past an overhead view of Terwilliger Reservoir and one of my favorites, Cougar Hot Springs, with a short hike and a small fee necessary to get in. It is clothing optional and very popular, but we are lucky to have it reopened after it was one of the latest victims of human caused wildfire and closed for just under a year. The drive eventually connects to the town of Westfir which makes it a popular ride for motorcyclists and cyclists if you have legs of steel. There used to be a free cassette and CD audio tour of the area. But, most people who borrowed the tours never returned them. So I guess you are just stuck waiting for us to make one for now.

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Together Anywhere narrator Andrew Hussey and family at Cougar Hot Springs.

Location #9: Rainbow, Oregon. We are coming up on the most iconic, most fulfilling and unforgettable experience on the tour, maybe even in the world. Of course, I am talking about none other than a meal at Takodas. Ok, that might be an exaggeration, and no one’s paying me to say that. But I just love coming to the town of Rainbow either before or after a long adventure whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, pasta, pizza, prime rib and definitely a frosty beverage. This junction is also your last chance for gas before Sisters, still one hour away. For all you covered bridge buffs, and I imagine that is most of you, there is another one up ahead, Belknap Bridge. Just turn right past the gas station onto Mill Creek Rd and then right onto McKenzie River Drive. Crossing the river less than half a mile ahead, you’ll see the fourth covered bridge that has been at this location since 1890. The current incarnation was erected in 1966 and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.

Location #10: McKenzie River Ranger District Office. On the right, our turnoff for the McKenzie River Ranger District Office serving the middle part of the Willamette National Forest up until you cross the Cascades into Deschutes County. On weekdays, and Saturdays between Memorial Day and Labor Day, they offer the most up-to-date reports to be found on weather, fire, snow, trail, and road conditions. They also have restrooms, a topographical map of the area, a gift store, permits and general visitor information that can assist with creating a well organized day of exploring.

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Smokey the Bear (and Otter the dog) right outside the McKenzie River Ranger District Office.

With Together Anywhere, you can experience a road trip like you never have before. Our GPS location based app tells you stories and places to visit that you may have missed before. We’ve spent years discovering, researching, and writing down the best information that make these areas worthwhile destinations, especially during this time of social distancing and staying close to home.

We hope you take the time to explore our app and learn more about your Oregon! Your adventure is ready with Together Anywhere.

 

10 places to see in a one hour drive: A mini road trip down the North Santiam Canyon

Are you finding out new ways to explore Oregon during this time of social distancing? With Together Anywhere, you can experience a mini road trip like you never have before. Our GPS location based app tells you stories and places to visit that you may have missed before. We’ve spent years discovering, researching, and writing down the best information that make these areas worthwhile destinations, especially during this time of social distancing and staying close to home.

If you are more of a watcher than a reader, you can check out our North Santiam Canyon Road Trip YouTube video here. And if you want to take an ACTUAL road trip, just make sure to download our app for Apple iOS or Google Play before you go. The following are just ten of the HUNDREDS of narration points along Oregon roads.

Ready to take a road trip? Well let’s get going!

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Clickable map: Sixty miles down the North Santiam Canyon Corridor
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In the same area, here is what our app looks like!

Location #1: Salem, Oregon. Our journey begins here at the Travel Salem Visitor Center. This location is a great resource for all adventures starting and ending in the Willamette Valley. We drive east on State Street as we make our way out of town.

Ahead to the right, you will first notice the Hallie Ford Art Museum that sits at the corner of the Willamette University campus. Willamette is now known as the oldest university in the Western United States, after being founded as the Oregon Institute by missionary Jason Lee in 1842. This 60 acre campus sits in the middle of Salem and educates about 3000 students a year.

On the opposite side of the street, you might catch a glimpse of the eight and a half ton Gold Man, sitting on top of the third Oregon State Capitol building, constructed in the 1930s after the first two were burned. The city of Salem, named from the Hebrew word for peace, became the official capital city of the Oregon Territory in 1855. It would be 4 more years before Oregon became a state in 1859.

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Oregon statehood sign near the State Capitol… “She flies with her own wings”

Location #2: Highway 22 journey begins. Welcome to the North Santiam Canyon Highway 22 where we won’t see another stop light for nearly 100 miles. Enjoy the transition out of the city while I tell you a little bit more about how the day is going to work. I’ll point out anything I find interesting along the way while telling you the history of how this area came to be what it is today. The first portion of our tour passes through many small towns, once booming from the mill and timber industries, now shifted their focus to recreation such as hiking, rafting and fishing to name a few. There will be a lot to see along the way, but I have a few great spots in mind that I would like to tell you about. This is a journey with winding turns, cyclists, pedestrians and maybe even some wildlife. I have some great suggestions for places to pull over, but should you choose to stop elsewhere, be sure to get fully off the road while paying close attention to your surroundings. The short of it: Take your time, share the road, and enjoy this wonderful part of Oregon.

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Stayton-Jordan Covered Bridge.

Location #3: Stayton-Jordan Covered Bridge. Oregon has the largest collection of covered bridges in the west and one of the largest in the nation. The turnoff to Stayton ahead provides the opportunity to take a short covered bridge tour between the towns of Stayton and Scio, giving you the opportunity to see 6 of the 51 covered bridges in Oregon. I recommend that you start at the Stayton-Jordan covered bridge located at Pioneer Park just near the center of town and follow signs to complete the short loop to Scio and back. When looking at the map, you can observe that Stayton is a confluence of waterways surrounding the Santiam River and began as many towns in Oregon did, as a hub for sawmill industries. With a population around 8000 people, Stayton offers another opportunity to find a large grocery store and other amenities before we head down the sparsely populated canyon. The town just north of the highway, Sublimity, was named for none other than its “sublime scenery in the hills” back in 1852.

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Location #4: A confluence of waterways and a waterfall. This merger into a two lane highway indicates our arrival to the North Santiam Canyon corridor where we will closely follow the North Santiam River for nearly 60 miles. While loosely called the Santiam River, this is actually the North Santiam River, joined along its 92 mile journey by many tributaries on the western side of the Cascades. The North Santiam joins the South Santiam near Jefferson, Oregon and travels about 12 miles before it reaches the Willamette River and heads north to the Columbia River before meeting the Pacific Ocean.

While occupied by the Santiam people of the Kalapuyan tribe, this river was an obstacle to overcome by the early settlers in this region. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the Oregon Pacific Railroad laid the foundation for opening up the canyon and providing opportunities for industry and settlement. The construction of the Detroit Dam in the 1950s changed the natural flow of the river, reducing the likelihood of floods in the farming communities around the North Santiam.

If you have an hour or two to spare, turn left on Fern Ridge Road in Mehema and drive just over a mile to reach the Shellburg Falls Trailhead. This easy 2.8 mile out and back is identified by Oregonhikers.org as a “great way to spend a lazy afternoon, particularly with children or inexperienced hikers.”

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Paddling the Santiam River at sunset.

Location #5: A timber story. When you ask any local in the area about the history of their Oregon, you will surely hear the storied past of the timber industry. While we make our way towards the steep mountains that flank the North Santiam River, we can only imagine the difficult journeys of Native Americans and early settlers of the region. It was the arrival of transcontinental railroads in the 1880s that changed all of that. Once there was a way to carry the Douglas-firs out of the area, these forested valleys became the epicenter of lumber production. The railroad was eventually replaced by the arrival of heavy duty logging trucks in the 1930s with most rail lines ceasing operations in the late 1960s.

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There is a story behind every forest.

While the Depression Era affected the rapid growth of the timber industry in the early 1900s, by the post-war 50s and 60s, these communities were booming again with life and industry. Dams were being built, trees were coming down, and there was nothing but optimism in the valley. Once the effects of pesticides and herbicides were deemed unhealthy for the forests, practices were greatly reduced but no one saw it coming when the small, Northern Spotted Owl was placed on the Endangered Species Act in 1990 and single handedly decimated the industry as it finds its home in Oregon forests. During the 1990s, the harvest from federal forests fell by more than 90 percent. Oregon’s employment hit was mostly offset by the arrival of the tech industry but rural communities who found their identity in timber are still feeling the effects of the end and repositioning themselves as centers for outdoor recreation which, has its own impact on the sustainability of the area.

You can learn more about the rise and fall of the timber industry by visiting the Canyon Life Museum up ahead in Mill City. One of the two buildings in housed in the old train depot and the other, a former Santiam Lumber Company building, both renovated by the North Santiam Historical Society.

Location #6: Mill City. We will gradually slow all the way down to 40 miles per hour as we enter Mill City. Make sure to keep an eye out for bigfoot on the left! Even with the decline of the mill industry, this has remained the largest community in the North Santiam Canyon with about 2000 people seeking a respite from the big city living. This quaint town provides another chance to fuel up or stop at one of their popular eateries. My favorite place to stop after a hiking or boating adventure has always been Giovanni’s Mountain Pizza where you can watch them spin the handmade pizza dough or eat some of their famous breadsticks. I recommend the Roman pizza.

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Uncle Carlos and Bigfoot in Mill City!

The city had a successful campaign to save their historic railroad bridge with a centennial celebration in 2019. This bridge was actually constructed in 1888 and moved to Mill City in 1919, by Southern Pacific Railroad.

The bridge reflects the connection that Mill City and the North Santiam Canyon have had with the railroad. If it wasn’t for the railroad and the timber industry, Mill City would not be what it is today. Southern Pacific Railroad suspended service to Mill City in 1967, and in 1971 the last train crossed the bridge.
Mill City’s Historic Railroad Bridge will continue its use as a bike and pedestrian trail, enhancing civic vitality in the North Santiam Canyon.

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A photo taken from the historic bridge in Mill City.

Location #7: Niagara Park and waterwheel. We just passed Packsaddle County Park, a popular launching spot for those adventurers going down the Santiam River whitewater. Two features up ahead on opposite sides of the road are worth a photo if you have the chance. On the left, the Niagara Heights Water Wheel sits as a roadside attraction on private property. Thanks to the work of the machinist owner and a bit of crowdfunding, the wheel has started turning again. While it does not actively generate power, it is a wonderful replica of the first machinery to replace human and animal power. Across the road from the wheel is Niagara Park, the oldest Marion county park established in 1955. It is named Niagara for the narrow gorge in the North Santiam River that settlers viewed as a perfect waterpower site in the late 1800s. You can see the gorge and the masonry dam that was abandoned in 1912 by walking down a short flight of stairs.

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Park of the old dam structure at Niagara Park.

Location #8: Detroit Reservoir. The North Santiam River is about to open up into a large reservoir that is known in recreation speak as Detroit Lake. This 9 mile long reservoir starts here at the Detroit Dam, which rises 463 feet out of the North Santiam River. Completed in 1953 alongside the Big Cliff Dam, it transformed the 60 miles of land down the canyon and works to regulate the amount of water flowing into the lower parts of the North Santiam River. Managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, you can visit the dam daily by walking or taking a drive over it, but maybe you are more interested in just taking a dam picture. The reservoir behind the dam changes in size with the season, and dependant on rainfall the surface of the water can fluctuate up and down by 120 feet. In the summer, it is usually at its fullest and is known by recreation tourists for its fishing, boating, water sports, and swimming. In the winter, you can view a forest of tree stumps, uncovered as the water level drops after the typical dry Oregon summers. But year round, those alongside the North Santiam Canyon experience the riches of the Detroit Reservoir as it is the source of their drinking water. Ten cities, including Salem, draw their water from the North Santiam watershed. We will be driving along this reservoir for awhile longer so I’ll tell you a bit more as we slow down for some tight curves and enjoy the scenery of the Detroit Lake area.

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Looking out across an empty Detroit Reservoir in the fall.

Location #9: Detroit, Oregon. As we curve around this upcoming bend, we will slow down and see the town of Detroit found at this location since the 1950s. This is your last chance to stock up on fuel and other provisions before heading over the pass. While we will have one more opportunity for snacks, the next gas station will not appear for another hour.

By taking a left turn over the bridge, you have the chance to travel the northern section of the 220 mile West Cascades Scenic Byway. Skirting the west side of the Cascade mountains, the byway follows Forest Road 46 along the Breitenbush River until it parallels the “Wild and Scenic” Clackamas River all the way to Estacada, a small community southeast of Portland.

This route is also known as the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway, a 71 mile expert trek for the most serious cyclists out there.

Eight miles down Forest Road 46 is a location that deserves more story time than is available as we pass by. But I’ll try to give you a good synopsis.

Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center sits on top of the natural geothermal springs area that was once a frequent gathering place for Native American groups passing through.

The springs were first encountered by European trappers well before the establishment of canyon settlements as early as the 1840s. John Minto, a name I have already mentioned once today and will talk about more in a minute, named this spot Breitenbush after a one-armed hunter living in the area during the 1870s.

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The grounds at Breitenbush Hot Springs.

The springs at Breitenbush emerge from the ground at one hundred and eighty degrees fahrenheit. The current retreat center, known for its counterculture, holistic, spiritual, and New Age workshops, was developed in 1981 after a storied history of ownership and threats to the natural environment. The community of Breitenbush now operates seven, clothing optional pools. The center is the largest private geothermal facility in the Northwest and holds sustainability in high regard, producing their own hydroelectricity and preparing only vegetarian food for their guests. The permanent cooperative community has between 50 and 70 residents and provides opportunities for camping, staying in one of their cabins, or just visiting for the day. Make your reservation online before visiting the retreat center as the number of allowed daily visitors is limited.

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Tubs away from the center are also available… if you know where to look!

Location #10: Idanha, Oregon. Nothing ties this road trip together like a stop at the Idahna Country Store up ahead. I just love coming to this small store to stock up on snacks and other road trip worthy items. And nothing beats a cone of Oregon made ice cream and a conversation with Sharene, always serving up a smile for travelers passing through. My favorite is the salted caramel ice cream topped with a shot of espresso. Just tell her Together Anywhere sent you!

Idanha, originally known as Muskrat Camp, was the eastern endpoint of Colonel Hogg’s Oregon Pacific Railroad dream after the company ran out of money to go any further. The rail line continued running to Idanha until the 1950s primarily serving the timber industry. But when the Detroit reservoir filled, the tracks were removed, and this rail line met its fateful end.

Once home to 5 mills, Idanha is now a small community in the center of an outdoor tourism mecca…and continues to be the best ice cream stop I’ve found in Oregon.

Well folks, that is it for now. I have so many Oregon adventures to share with you. Hopefully you will check out my app and let me know what you think… and tell me about which Oregon roads you want to hear about next! And remember – your adventure is ready with Together Anywhere!

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A socially distant mini road trip up the Santiam Pass

In this time of social distance measures, many of us have been good citizens, staying home to stop the spread of COVID-19. But has anyone started to feel that itch to go somewhere, even if you can’t interact?

Together Anywhere has created a way to explore Oregon through stories while driving, remaining separate from other travelers as you go down the road, learning more about this beautiful place we get to live. This short post is an example of our tours, except our tours speak to you! You just download the app, choose your drive, and you are on your way!

This segment covers just 5 miles of road as we head east from Santiam Junction up to the Santiam Pass. It is available to hear on both of our Cascade Mountains tours between Salem, Eugene, and Bend.

Are you ready? Let’s go take a mini-road trip!

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Example of tour and audio points between Eugene and Bend.

Our tour starts at the Santiam Junction. This merger of three highways is known as the Santiam Junction. Travelers heading east on Highway 126 from Eugene, Highway 20 from Albany, and Highway 22 from Salem have now merged to head over this mountain pass together. Two of the highways diverge to their own destinations further east once we arrive in the town of Sisters.

Heading east from Santiam Junction, you might first spot a view of Three Fingered Jack on the left, a unique peak in the Cascade range, remarkable for its’ three spires jutting out from the top. Rumor has it that this is named after a three fingered trapper named Jack. Both Mount Washington (ahead on the right) and Three Fingered Jack are about 8000 feet up and both were first summited in 1923. Still today, they should only be attempted by the experienced climber. Just as you notice the mountain, you find one of the twenty, yes twenty, lakes named Lost Lake in Oregon. This one is likely the most aptly named as it has a mysterious seven foot hole at one end that quickly starts to drain the lake as it fills up from snow run off each spring. Many a fisherperson has tried to plug the hole with debris and earth, in order to save their catch, but to no avail. There is no blocking a three millennia old lava tube that sends water down towards Clear Lake, about six miles away. By summer, the lake is almost completely gone but offers a meadow surrounded by willows with first come, first serve camping, hunting and fishing, well, as long as the hole doesn’t get to them as well.

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Our dog swimming in Lost Lake near Santiam Junction in the spring before the lake disappears!

As we continue to approach the pass, you will start to notice the landscape change dramatically from a lush, green forest to fallen trees and bare trunks, leaving behind a ghost like forest. This is the remnants of the B&B Complex fires that burned for nearly 35 days in the summer of 2003. What first began as two lightning caused fires, the Bear Butte Fire and the Booth Fire, eventually became one as it tore through 90,000 acres, or seven times the size of Crater Lake, of the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests, along with parts of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Over 2000 people worked to suppress this fire for over a month, costing almost 40 million dollars. It’s always been a little sad passing this area, but as the years have gone by we can see new life springing forth from the ground, demonstrating the resilience of nature and a future lush forest in the making.

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A view of Mount Washington and a forest of burned trees.

As we continue to gain elevation, you may notice a steep grade to the south of Three-Fingered Jack. That giant rock is an 80,000 year old flat topped volcano and there is quite a story here. Colonel Hogg was a confederate officer sent to Alcatraz Island to serve his post-war sentence. After release, he came up to Oregon with a dream: to build the next great railroad. He worked for years securing local and international funders, promising them wealth beyond their imaginations. If Colonel Hogg had successfully built the railroad he desired to engineer between Newport and Boise, Idaho, we would probably be driving on Hogg Highway, crossing the formerly named Hogg Pass, and the Hogg family would be in Hogg Heaven. But long story short, Colonel Hogg went bankrupt after spending 5 million dollars on the railroad in the 1870s, which would be equivalent to over 100 million dollars today. You can learn more about Colonel Hogg and his ill-fated dream from Oregon’s most prominent outdoor writer Bill Sullivan, in his book “Hiking Oregon’s History.”

Next, we near Hoodoo Butte. A ski area since 1939, and still in use today. Hoodoo has 34 runs, 5 lifts and one of the largest tubing parks in the West. You can explore the 800 acres of terrain in the winter by turning right up ahead. Ray Benson SnoPark is highly popular as well and can by found at the same turn off. It offers a network of eight trails providing over 60 miles of exploring for beginning to advanced skiers, snowshoers, snowmobilers, and even dog mushers! Big Lake, further down the turnoff is located along the historic Santiam Wagon Road and offers campgrounds and summertime lake escapes for swimming, motor boats, and water skiing. Santiam SnoPark on the opposite side of the road is popular with families for sledding and tubing. You can also access the Pacific Crest Trail from this location.

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Skiing at Hoodoo Butte in a pre-COVID.

In less than 5 miles, we have made it to the Santiam Pass Summit at 4,817 feet and crossed over the Pacific Crest Trail, known as the PCT for short. So what exactly is the PCT? The PCT is a 2600 mile hiking route that extends from the border of Mexico all the way to the border of Canada, through California, Oregon and Washington. Less than one thousand people attempt to hike the whole route each year and just over half of them actually make it. Oregon author Cheryl Strayed made her 1990s hike through the PCT famous in a memoir by the name of “Wild” that was later turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. Many parts of the PCT are available to hike in Oregon, check out Travel Oregon for a list of popular PCT day hikes.

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The ghost-like forest provides for sweet mountain views.

Before we leave our stories today, let us imagine it just over 150 years ago. Settlers had been arriving to the Willamette Valley for over 30 years and it was getting quite crowded. The Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 had allowed husband and wife settlers to claim 640 acres of land in the Oregon territory. This free land would be worth over 10 million dollars in today’s terms! In just ten years, the population of Oregon increased from 12,000 to over 60,000 people! It is therefore no surprise that the dream of free open space and promises of gold resulted in a new “go east” mentality by the late 1860s. The Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Road, locally known as the Santiam Wagon Road, was officially opened in 1868 and allowed travelers to go all the way from Albany to Ontario, Oregon, nearly 400 miles. It was the first road to be built from west to east, hoping to give those settlers from the valley opportunities for cattle and sheep grazing as well as faster access to the gold that had been discovered in Eastern Oregon in the late 1860s. Ranchers quickly discovered that Central Oregon was not ideal grazing land but it did allow for population growth in what we now call the High Desert region. The wagon road was paved in 1939 and became what we know today as the Santiam Highway 20. We’ll head further down the 75 year Santiam Wagon Road history in a future Together Anywhere drive from Albany to the Santiam Junction.

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A picture of all the narration points between Salem and Bend. Blue dots tell the story eastbound, orange dots to the west.

This was just an example of six points from our 200+ points of narration between Salem, Eugene, and Bend. We have so many stories ready and waiting! Just download the app and head out for your next Oregon mini-road trip, even for just a few hours. And remember… wear a mask!

The Together Anywhere Audio Guides are available on both Apple iOS and Google Play stores.

A history of travel in Oregon: Part Three – the last 100 years on Mount Hood

With the arrival of COVID-19, Together Anywhere is asking, what can we learn from history regarding the transience of our humanity and the way we move about space? What are the benefits of our travel? What are the consequences? How might these answers inform us of where we need to go next? In our last post, we explored the beginnings of the Oregon Trail and the century leading up to the the age of the automobile. This is where our next story begins.

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After the state purchased the Barlow Road in 1919, the Oregon Highway Commission and the federal government worked for five years on expansion. It opened to traffic as a two way road on June 21, 1925 after the last snow cleared. Barlow’s and Wemme’s road was officially Highway 26. And the series of roads, from Portland, down Highway 26, and up Highway 35 to Hood River, became known as the Mount Hood Loop Highway. 

Travelers who once spent days to get to the mountain could now complete the journey in just a few hours. Highway 26 was now plowed in the winter, no longer just a place for summer recreation with year round accessibility. 

During the 1930s, the CCC built more campgrounds in the Mount Hood National Forest to handle the increased use of the area for recreation and tourism. Then, in 1942, the United States entered World War II. Visitation numbers plummeted and the developing areas became stalled and were already deteriorating by the time the war ended in 1945. Timberline and the small villages struggled to regain momentum. People were still visiting the mountain for recreation but now, because of quick access and improved roads, city dwellers could make the journey to the mountain and back without the need for overnight accommodations. Just ten years after the war, Timberline Lodge was closed and Government Camp had only one small motel. 

During those difficult post-war years, major highway construction was underway to expand the highway and straighten it, allowing for even faster travel between Portland and Central Oregon.  The highway was relocated away from places like Laurel Hill and allowed the traveler to avoid slowing down through the center of small villages like Government Camp, now bypassing the community completely. Ski recreation with Bend’s Mount Bachelor and Mount Hood Meadows in the 1950s and 60s increased competition for recreation dollars. The highway development and increased facilities meant more consumer access but indicated a possible economic death for the smaller communities. These years threatened the economic future of the Mount Hood area. 

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The modern highway development as seen from the original Mount Hood road.

Combined with the economic struggles, lax environmental laws, logging, and increased vehicle traffic were also threatening the ecological future of Mount Hood.

The post-war years increased the demand for lumber as more Americans were building houses. And the government needed money. Eyes turned toward the public forests of Oregon knowing its worth as a commodity. What’s a national forest needing money to do? The answer: it’s complicated.

As we know from recent media, the rule book for public lands is still being written. If you recall, individuals and families first came to Oregon in search of the free land they could claim. With people quickly gobbling up the land out West, the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 was created so that portions of public domain lands could remain in the ownership of the federal government with a primary goal of conserving the forests and watershed. The Bull Run Forest Reserve, now located within the boundaries of the Mount Hood National Forest, was the first protected land in Oregon, established in 1892. Most Portlanders will recognize the name Bull Run as it is the source of their drinking water. In 1908, that reserve merged with the Cascade National Forest to become the 1.8 million acre Oregon National Forest. While portions were transferred to the Willamette National Forest in 1911, just over 1 million acres remained and officially became known as the Mount Hood National Forest in 1924. 

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Little Zigzag Falls in Mount Hood National Forest.

When the national park system was established in 1916, many were interested in a potential Mount Hood National Park that would highlight the beauty of Mount Hood and the nearby Columbia River Gorge. This idea has been revitalized at many points in the last century, and, in the post-war era, a national park status may have saved this area from years of struggle. 

In the 1950s, under the Forest Service direction, the old-growth forests on public land were able to be sold to the highest bidder. This turning point in Oregon history began the expansion of thousands of miles of forest roads and began the decades long battle for logging rights. Today, Oregon has over 70,000 miles of forest roads, more than any other state in the nation and nearly three times more than California, the state with the second highest amount. It is estimated that over 150,000 acres of land, or 15%, of the Mount Hood National Forest has been changed by logging practices often under the guise as a solution to fire management and forest restoration. At the height of the industry in 1977, over 500 million board feet of wood were produced in Mount Hood National Forest. That, my friends, is enough wood to build 40 thousand 2,000 square foot houses! And that was in just one year. And in just one forest.

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A typical Oregon forest.

Many organizations and environmental laws enacted during the 60s, 70s, and 80s changed the practices of the Forest Service and the future of the logging industry forever. By 1990, only 25 million boards were produced, down over 90% from the peak of production. Logging practices on Mount Hood today are closely monitored by non-profit conservation organizations like Bark, Oregon Wild, and Cascadia Wildlands.

Organizations and citizens have played a major role in the development and commercialization of Mount Hood as a recreation area. They have  halted freeway development and protected the land, water, and animals.

While many ideas of development, from railroads to national parks, have come and gone, the history of Mount Hood has been full of schemes and dreams and continues to this day.

Mount Hood villages and Timberline, through the last 50 years, have been able to develop their own identity and have positioned themselves as one of the most popular destinations in all of Oregon. In 2005, recognition for the importance and impact of Mount Hood area came when it was designated as a National Scenic Byway. As we have experienced today, a visit to the Mount Hood Loop Highway stands out amidst the Oregon landscape with its cultural and historical significance, unparalleled scenery, world-class recreation, and geological wonders. 

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The Mt. Hood Territory Heritage Trail app shares information at multiple points along the highway.

In 2009, over 35,000 acres were designated as a National Recreation Area under the US Forest Service and in 2010, Mount Hood National Forest was honored with its own quarter under the America the Beautiful quarters program. 

The future of Mount Hood is still being written. Changing snowfall amounts and climate change threatens a volatile economy built largely on winter recreation. Increased tourism and car travel continues to threaten the noise levels, pollution, and parking difficulties around the area.  In 2020, all resorts and businesses were closed for months with the unprecedented arrival of COVID-19. The Mount Hood Territory tourism development agency that had grown to 13 staff during the 2000s was drastically reduced to a staff of two. To support the economic and environmental future, I always recommend we slow down, stay a night or two, utilize public transportation options, and support the small businesses that require us, the visitors, to keep the viability of this area going.  

It is difficult to predict what happens over the next 10, 50, or 100 years on Mount Hood. But no matter what, the wonder and magic of Mount Hood will hopefully never cease to exist… uh, unless it blows up of course. But let’s hope that day never comes!

To quote Franklin Roosevelt at his dedication of Timberline, I really hope Mount Hood always remains as a “place to play for generations of Americans in the days to come.”

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A recent addition to the Timberline area in 2019.
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