Drive up into the Cascade Mountains on this beautiful and leisurely road trip. Want to breathe fresh mountain air? Hear birds chirp and water rush over mossy rocks? Sometimes you 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; November - March for fall foliage and a chance of snow (some areas are closed seasonally; check road conditions before you go)

  • Travel tip: expect to lose cell service in some areas; enjoy the opportunity to unplug and reconnect with the great Oregon outdoors

A rainbow emerges from the mist of a waterfall in the forest.
: Melanie Griffin
Sahalie Falls in the summer

Anytime you drive into the mountains, it is a good idea to be prepared. Please see our Adventure Checklist for 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.

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. Autumn 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. Please note that sections along the way are still recovering from wildfires in 2020 and 2023.

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

A red barn, a green field full of geese and a foggy mountain with fall colors fills this photo.
: Melanie Ryan Griffin
McKenzie River Highway in Autumn

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

After the covered bridge, stop by the Vida Café, known for its burgers, tasty specials, and homemade desserts. Mountain restaurants and shops often have limited hours of operation, so when you spot an open restaurant, it's a good idea to take advantage of the opportunity. 

If the McKenzie River calls to you, launch a kayak or river raft for an afternoon float. Call ahead to a local river rafting or fishing guide to book a tour. These half or full-day excursions are an unbeatable way to experience the crisp and clear river. 

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. Stock up on road trip supplies and snacks at Blue Sky Market. And fuel up too, as this is the last gas station for the next 50 miles upriver.

Further along the highway in McKenzie Bridge is the Obsidian Grill Restaurant at McKenzie River General Store. At this outdoor recreation hub, you'll find locally sourced products that create their menu of burgers, soups, salads and sandwiches. Here you can dine on their outside patio and occasionally catch live music. 

Old Growth on the McKenzie River Trail
Old Growth on the McKenzie River Trail

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 Station (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 along the river and take a dip in the hot springs-fed swimming pools. 

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. Hiking opportunities abound along this road. (Please note: This mountain road is not maintained during the winter season, so check current weather conditions and road status before departing.)

At the end of the Aufderheide Scenic Drive, you'll arrive in the tiny community of Westfir. Check-in at the historic Westfir Lodge across from the historic Office Covered 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.

Two mountain bikers with their bikes nearby sit and cheers with their beers on a patio at Westfir Lodge in the evening. There is a fire in a firepit in the foreground and the red Office Covered Bridge in the background
: Turell Group
Westfir Lodge

For lunch, drive into nearby Oakridge. 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. 

Round out your outdoor adventures 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.

Soaking at McCredie Hot Springs by Melanie Griffin
Soaking at McCredie Hot Springs

Day 3

Oakridge to Lowell to Eugene

For the final day of your mountain road trip, follow Highway 58 back toward Eugene and Springfield. Along the way, you'll pass the Lowell Covered Bridge Interpretive Center, worth a stop for photos and history of 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 Bolf
Lowell Covered Bridge at Dexter Reservoir

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.

Woman walks through a hazelnut orchard.
: Joni Kabana
Dorris Ranch Hazelnut Orchards

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 the campus arboretum, 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