McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (1998)
- Intrinsic QualitiesScenic
- Length82 miles
Experience dramatic views of the snowcapped High Cascade Peaks. The panorama of lava fields and six Cascade peaks is made more striking by the contrast between the black lava and white snow. The mountains are mirrored in crystal-clear lakes, and the byway passes beautiful waterfalls, including Sahalie and Koosah Falls.
Story of the Byway
Oregon’s highest mountains create wildly contrasting landscapes, which you’ll clearly witness on this drive. On the east side of the Cascade Mountains, golden grasslands and lodgepole pine prevail; over the passes, you’ll cross into fir and cedar forests and mossy-green river valleys. Fire juxtaposes with ice, too, where snowy, glaciated peaks rise up from stark black lava fields. It’s a region of national significance — home to several endangered species, centuries-old pristine forest and noteworthy volcanic geology — that you can experience up close on a weekend road trip.
Start in Sisters and drive west along US Hwy 20. The road becomes SR 126 near Suttle Lake and continues west past the junction with SR 26. There it turns south past the junction with US Hwy 20. Continue until the junction with SR 242, then head east onto SR 242. Finish the byway along SR 242 through the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests and the Three Sisters Wilderness Area, until you reach Sisters and the end of the byway.
Points of Interest
10,000-foot volcanic peaks rising up to the southwest.
A cool spot along the spring-fed Metolius River, it’s been a favorite summer retreat since the homesteader days, when wheat farmers came to fish and escape the high-desert heat. A scenic viewpoint overlooks the Metolius head-waters, meadows and a grand view of Mt. Jefferson to the north.
Santiam Pass takes its name from the Santiam Indians, a Kalapooian tribe native to the area. Several ashen buttes and other volcanic features are visible from the 4,817-foot pass.
Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail
Particularly memorable stretch of the famous Canada-to-Mexico route, threading high among several volcanic peaks. This section of the road passes by mysterious Lost Lake, which fills up with water every spring and disappears in the fall down a hole into a lava tube.
McKenzie River National Recreation Trail
Showcases the beautiful peacock-blue waters of the Upper McKenzie, as the river tumbles south over waterfalls and through lava flows with several well-marked access points from the byway.
Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls
Two beautiful cascades that you can see by hiking an easy 2.6-mile loop trail. For non-hikers, Sahalie Falls can be viewed from the parking lot.
Tamolitch Pool "the Blue Pool"
The McKenzie River reappears from a 3-mile underground detour through a lava tube into a pool that is an impossibly iridescent blue.
The lovely two-part falls spills over mosses and ferns, its waters largely disappearing right back into the green-blanketed rocks.
The forest abruptly ends just shy of McKenzie Pass, replaced by an expanse of dark and broken lava that stretches for 65 square miles. It’s one of the most recent and most remarkable examples of volcanic activity in North America, the result of eruptions from Belknap Crater about 2,000 years ago.
Lava River National Recreation Trail
A paved path through lava gutters and ridges.
Dee Wright Observatory
Constructed of lava rock by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 — has viewing ports to see many surrounding Cascade peaks. Mt. Washington, just 5 miles away, looks close enough to touch.
A Trip through the Deschutes National Forest
Starting in the city of Sisters and heading north along route 20, your journey along the McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway has officially begun. Once on the road, you immediately find yourself in the middle of the Deschutes National Forest and surrounded by some of the most beautiful natural landscapes. Soon after you begin your journey, you will find multiple overlooks that capture the views of multiple mountains, and even volcanoes. Black Butte is a non-active volcano, and there are multiple overlooks located along the Byway to highlight its beauty. If you want to do more than just look at it, there are multiple hiking trails to get an even better view of it. Shortly after that location, you will find another overlook, this time for Mount Washington.
Continuing on after those overlooks, you will cross over Santiam Pass. Here you can find the most gorgeous views in the entire area. You can stop right after the pass and take a walk along the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, which spans over the entire west coast for almost 3,000 miles. After that, follow the Byway until you reach both the Sahalie and Koosah Falls, whose picturesque views will leave you in awe of their natural beauty.
After that, continue driving until you reach SR 242 and then make a left onto the road. On this last leg of the journey, you will find wonderful places to stop and enjoy the scenery. This includes Proxy Falls and the Belknap Viewpoint eight before the McKenzie Pass. After you drive over the pass, you will find the Dee Wright Observatory, to give you even better views of the mountains and the natural landscape. Your journey will end here, but there is still plenty more to explore in the area!
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