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Road Trip: Cascade Mountains

Published: March 01, 2020


Drive up into the mountains on this beautiful and leisurely road trip. Want to breathe the fresh mountain air? Hear birds twitter and water rush over mossy rocks? Sometimes you just need three days in the mountains to reset. 

For a little forest bathing getaway, follow our suggested road trip with a mix of solitude, stunning scenic stops and insider tips. Along the way you'll see historic covered bridges, stay in wonderfully unique lodging and find time to slow down and immerse yourself in the Oregon outdoors. 

  • Good for: solo trips, couples, families, outdoor enthusiasts
  • Best time to drive: April - October (some areas are closed seasonally; check road conditions before you go)
  • Travel tip: expect limited cell service in some areas; enjoy the opportunity to unplug and reconnect with the great Oregon outdoors

Anytime you drive into the mountains, it is a good idea to be prepared. Please see our road trip recommendations. And if you are a tree buff (or want to be) use an online tree guide to learn about the trees of the Cascades you're about to see.

Organic Redneck Farm by Joni KabanaOrganic Redneck Farm by Joni Kabana

Day 1

Eugene-Springfield to McKenzie River

Go east on Highway 126 as it follows the course of the McKenzie River, skirting small farms and woodlands along the way. Fall is a popular time for this drive, when you'll see bright red maple and yellow oaks against the vibrant evergreens, but year-round the forests are spectacular. 

One special spot where you'll want to plan a stop is the Organic Redneck Growers at 44382 McKenzie Hwy. At their rustic market, stock up on fresh produce and preserves for the road. Just beyond their farm stand is Ike's Lakeside Pizza. Fans of "The Simpsons" will want to take a photo with their life-size Simpson family statues.

Goodpasture Covered Bridge by Melanie GriffinGoodpasture Covered Bridge by Melanie Griffin


Intersecting that same stretch of highway is the historic Goodpasture Covered Bridge. This is one of the historic covered bridges that you can still drive through!

If the McKenzie River calls to you, pull over at Finn Rock. From this wayside preserve that stretches two miles on both sides of the river, walk the river path or launch a kayak or river raft for an afternoon float. Local river rafting guides offer a variety of rafting tours.

Because dining options are limited in the mountains, you may choose to stop early at the few open restaurants along the way. Takoda's Restaurant is located right on the highway just past the town of Rainbow and serves pizza, salads and burgers on its beautiful outdoor patio. Further along the highway in McKenzie Bridge is the Obsidian Grill Restaurant at McKenzie River General Store. Here you'll find locally-sourced products that create their menu of burgers, soups, salads and sandwiches. Here you can also dine on their patio or stock up on market items for the car ride.

McKenzie River Trail with Old Growth by Thomas MoserMcKenzie River Trail with Old Growth by Thomas Moser


You won't want to miss one of the crown jewels of this region: the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail (MRT). Popular with hikers, runners and mountain bikers, sections of the trail are accessible from multiple trailheads along the river, some leading to waterfalls. Purchase a map or get trail recommendations at the McKenzie River Ranger District (open weekdays only). 

If you have time for a greater adventure, and the road is open (it closes seasonally, so check before you go), detour onto Highway 242 to the lava fields surrounding the Dee Wright Observatory. This is a magnificent landscape with hiking trails and scenic views.

Tuck in for the night at Belknap Hot Springs Resort which is just off Highway 126, past the turnoff for Highway 242. Overnight options include the lodge, cabins, RV and tent camping. Plan ahead so you can arrive early enough to enjoy the extensive gardens and take a dip in the hot springs-fed swimming pools.

Wonders of the Forest by Rick FaberPhoto by Rick Faber

Day 2

McKenzie River to Oakridge

After a morning dip in the hot springs-fed pool at Belknap Hot Springs Resort, drive the scenic Aufderheide Byway (Road 19) toward Westfir/Oakridge. (Note: This mountain road is not maintained during the winter season, so check current weather conditions and road status before departing.)

Forest bathing opportunities abound along this road. Meander under the canopy of old growth on the Delta Old Growth Grove Nature Trail, a half-mile loop trail at Delta Campground. A quick stop at Constitution Grove Trail leads you through 200-year-old trees that were just seedlings when the United States Constitution was drafted; many trees have plaques honoring the signees. This trail also connects with other trails if you're after a longer hike into the forest.

At the end of the Aufderheide Scenic Drive, you'll arrive in the tiny community of Westfir. Check in at the historic Westfir Lodge on the other side of the historic Office Covered Bridge (also known as the Westfir Bridge). The lodge was once the office for the local timber industry and has been converted into a bed and breakfast that makes an ideal launching place for hiking or mountain biking from the trailhead just next door.

Office Bridge with Cyclists by Todd Cooper

Office Bridge with Cyclists by Todd Cooper


For lunch, drive into nearby Oakridge and detour off the highway to 1st Street. Here you can pop into the local hub for hikers, mountain bikers and naturalists: 3 Legged Crane Pub and Brewhouse, a comfortable, community-inspired must-visit hangout that happens to serve great burgers and their own cask-style craft beer. After lunch, amble down the street to Deep Woods Distillery for tastes and small cocktails using locally-sourced and organic ingredients. This small mountain distillery has an eclectic and entertaining vibe, and you'll likely return home with great stories (and probably a bottle of their Fir of the Doug vodka).

Round out your forest bathing with the most rustic hot springs experience you'll find in this area: McCredie Hot Springs. Located eight miles east of Oakridge, hike through mossy forests to the second set of pools located on the west bank of the river. Enjoy a soak in the natural springs and be prepared for muddy waters (it feels great!).

If you still have time for an additional afternoon excursion, drive to Waldo Lake, one of the most pristine lakes in the world, or to Salt Creek Falls,one of Oregon's highest drop waterfalls. It's second only to the highly-trafficked and often full Multnomah Falls.

Salt Creek Falls in Oakridge by Katie McGuigan
Salt Creek Falls in Oakridge by Katie McGuigan

Day 3

Oakridge to Lowell to Eugene

For the final day in your mountain road trip, follow Highway 58 back toward Eugene and Springfield. Along the way you'll pass the Lowell Covered Bridge Interpretive Center, worthy of a stop for photos and history on the region's many covered bridges. Grab lunch at the Rattlesnake BBQ at the Dexter Lake Club. This destination diner was featured in the cult classic movie "Animal House."

Lowell Covered Bridge by Ken BolfLowell Covered Bridge by Ken Bolf


The nearby Fall Creek State Recreation Area is rich with natural landscapes to explore. Follow the Fall Creek National Recreation Trail by the lake and deep into the forest to discover creeks and waterfalls.

Finish your forest foray strong at Elijah Bristow State Park. With ten miles of trails crisscrossing over 800 acres of woods and meadows, Elijah Bristow promotes deep immersion in nature.

Just before entering Eugene, stop at Plank Town's Hilltop Bar & Grill for excellent craft beer and great dining. The brewery's name is inspired by the region's lumber industry and the restaurant is full of beautiful, local woods.

Plank Town's Hilltop Bar & Grill by Colin MortonPlank Town's Hilltop Bar & Grill by Colin Morton


You've covered some mileage on this road trip, with lots of opportunities for solitude in the deep, still forests. Back in the metro area you can still connect with the energy of trees. The Owen Rose Garden is home to a heritage cherry tree. This massive icon is believed to have been planted by Eugene Skinner, the town's founder. The University of Oregon offers a tree walking tour around campus, and in Springfield, wander the Dorris Ranch Hazelnut Orchard with hundreds of trees first planted in the early 1900s.

Spend a day exploring Eugene and Springfield, or start planning your next road trip to nearby wine country.

Places Mentioned in this Itinerary

Deer Creek Hot Springs by Melanie Griffin
Retreat to the heart of the forests, up high, close to the sky… More Info
Author: Taj Barnhart Morgan

Taj Barnhart Morgan is the Director of Content Strategy for Travel Lane County. A journalism graduate from the University of Oregon, Taj has two decades of special event management and hospitality marketing experience in San Diego, CA and Maui, HI. Passionate about mothering, and back to her Oregon roots, she is discovering the Eugene, Cascades & Coast region all over again through the eyes of her daughter.