Oregon Scenic Drives: The McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway

The McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway is filled with natural wonders. Experience dramatic views of the most beautiful of the High Cascade Peaks. The panorama of lava fields and six Cascade peaks, as viewed from the McKenzie Pass summit, is made even more striking by the contrast between the black lava and white snow. The mountains are mirrored in crystal-clear lakes, and the byway passes amazing waterfalls.

Archaeological Qualities of the McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway

Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls are located on the old Clear Lake Cutoff on Highway 126. Sahalie (meaning "heaven") and Koosah (meaning "sky") are Chinook Jargon words -- part of a rudimentary trade language that allowed people to exchange news and goods in the area. The Kalapuya, Molala, Sahaptain, and Chinook peoples traveled and traded here, perhaps on their way to obtain obsidian in the high Cascades for tools or to gather huckleberries.

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Connecting the two waterfalls is a loop trail that offers views of foaming white water pouring over 3,000-year-old lava flows.

View Enlarged Image This map will guide you along the McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway.
View Enlarged Image This map will guide you along the McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway.

Cultural Qualities of the McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway

Communities that reflect rural Western charm anchor the McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway and lead you to a variety of cultural events on both sides of the mountains. The town of Sisters, especially, recalls the Old West with a sophisticated town center. The town of McKenzie Bridge, known as Strawberry Flat back in 1902, is a small river settlement located on Highway 126 on the east end of the loop.

The annual John Craig Memorial Race commemorates mail carrier John Craig's journeys across the McKenzie Pass. Craig (1832-1877) died carrying the Christmas mail over this route. Today, Nordic skiers endure winter rain, sleet, hail, and snow to race over historic Highway 242, which is closed in the winter.

Historical Qualities of the McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway

The Santiam Pass was discovered in 1859 by Andrew Wiley and was named for the Santiam Indians, a Kalapooian nation living near the Santiam River. The byway crosses the route of the Willamette Valley Cascade Mountain Wagon Road, later known as the Santiam Wagon Road. A portion of the original railroad grade of the Hogg Railroad, constructed as early as 1888, is visible from Santiam Pass near Hogg Rock.

In Oregon during the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) enhanced numerous recreational opportunities along the McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway, including building the lava rock structure at the top of McKenzie Pass and naming it after the group's foreman, Dee Wright. Since its completion in 1935, the observatory has been a popular attraction.

Natural Qualities of the McKenzie/Santiam

Pass Scenic Byway

The natural qualities of the McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway are of national significance. You can find outstanding examples of both ancient and recent volcanoes, cinder cones, lava flows, and deep glaciated canyons.

Forests along the byway contain rare old-growth fir and ponderosa pine and are home to a great variety of fish and wildlife, including several threatened species, such as the bald eagle, northern spotted owl, steelhead, and bull trout.

Recreational Qualities of the

McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway

The McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway area offers three wilderness areas, two national trails, several lakes, many snowcapped volcanoes, two rivers, and a major resort. The Pacific Crest Scenic Trail provides an opportunity that is unique in the country: to hike the crest of a major volcanic mountain range.

If you're a boater, you can choose lakes or white-water rafting and kayaking on the McKenzie River. Anglers come from all over the United States to fly-fish for wild trout and to fish for trout, salmon, and steelhead on the rivers near the byway.

During the winter, you can downhill ski at the Hoodoo Ski

Area and snowmobile and cross-country ski on miles of marked trails.

Find more useful information related to Oregon's McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway:

  • Oregon Scenic Drives: The McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway is just one of the scenic byways in Oregon. Check out the others.
  • Sisters: Read about what to do in cities along the McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Oregon? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.

Highlights of the McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway

The North and Middle Sisters can be seen beyond Scott Lake from the McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway.
The North and Middle Sisters can be seen beyond Scott Lake from the McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway.

The view of the Three Sisters and Broken Top Mountains from the McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway represents the greatest concentration of snowcapped volcanoes with glaciers in the lower 48 states. In addition, the panoramic view of lava fields, six Cascade peaks, and lakes from the summit of McKenzie Pass is breathtaking.

If you're heading west from Eugene/Springfield, begin the byway at the junction of historic Highway 242 and Highway 126. If you're arriving from the east, access the byway from Sisters, a lively town chock-full of arts and crafts offerings and special events.

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Junction Highway 126 and 242: Turn right to travel to 242, the McKenzie Pass Route. The forest along the byway on this portion is dark green, characterized by water-loving species such as hemlocks, cedars, and firs. The climb eastward is through a thickly vegetated, narrow corridor. Here, the road meanders, and travel is slow.

Proxy Falls Trailhead: To take in the beauty of both falls, spend about an hour to hike the 1-1/4-mile trail into the Three Sisters Wilderness.

Scott Road Historical Marker/Pull-Off: Open views of the Three Sisters Mountains -- originally named Faith, Hope, and Charity in the 1840s -- lie to the east. The Scott Road was really a settler trail named after Felix Scott, Jr. (1829-1879), who pioneered a wagon trail/road over the Cascades northeast of McKenzie Bridge. This route, part of which is a maintained trail into the Three Sisters Wilderness, proved to be almost impassible for wagons.

Belknap Crater Viewpoint: View Big Belknap Crater and the smaller cone of Little Belknap Crater here. Little Belknap was the origin of the immense lava fields in the foreground. Use caution when walking out onto the lava.

Dee Wright Observatory: Plan on an hour to tour the observatory and walk the 1/2-mile Lava River Trail.

Windy Point Viewpoint: At an elevation of 4,909 feet, Windy Point offers a picturesque view of the lava flows and volcanic peaks. Although little vegetation grows on the lava fields, as you make your descent from the summit of the McKenzie Pass, a mixed conifer forest returns, eventually giving way to ponderosa pines at the lower elevation.

East Portal and Sisters: The Santiam Pass Route begins at the Sisters Portal, heading north at the junction of Highway 126/20 and 242.

: Black Butte is the prominent composite cone north of the highway. Black Butte is older than many of the dissected High Cascade peaks. The U.S. Forest Service still operates a lookout on the top.

Mount Washington Viewpoint: For a quick stop, this roadside pull-off offers a spectacular view of the volcanic peak and basin.

Sahalie Falls : The McKenzie River surges over a 70-foot-high basalt cliff called Koosah Falls. From here you can hike for an hour on the Waterfalls Loop trail that connects this site with Sahalie Falls (or drive to the site).

How could you pass up a drive like this? Get packing today, and point your car in the direction of the the McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway.

Find more useful information related to Oregon's McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway:

  • Oregon Scenic Drives: The McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway is just one of the scenic byways in Oregon. Check out the others.
  • Sisters: Read about what to do in cities along the McKenzie/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Oregon? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.