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Road Trip: Cascade Mountains

Published: February 28, 2021

 

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

Diamond Creek Falls Trail

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.

What about the wildfires of 2020? Is McKenzie River accessible now?

In late 2020 the McKenzie River region experienced an extreme wildfire event that displaced residents and destroyed some businesses. We are glad to share that the community is reopening. Along the McKenzie River corridor you will see some fire damage alongside the shops and restaurants that are open.

Please support the local community by visiting open businesses, and respecting posted signage for closed areas. Many local residents along the McKenzie River are working hard to recover and rebuild lost livelihoods. The community appreciates your balance of patronage with respect for the privacy of personal property.

If you are interested in hands-on helping, there are volunteer lodging packages available that include tree planting, trail repair and wilderness restoration efforts combined with guided outdoor activities from rafting to mountain biking. There are numerous packages offered throughout the summer, so inquire directly with the organizers to find the best package for you.

Join a small group of eight volunteers maintaining hiking trails in the McKenzie River Ranger District. Help the McKenzie River area recover… More Info
Join a small group of eight volunteers restoring campsites, installing signs and decommissiong trails as needed in the Mt. Washington… More Info

The Road Trip

Organic Redneck Farm
Organic 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
Goodpasture 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!

Just after the covered bridge, stop by the Vida Café, famous for its burgers, tasty specials, and home made desserts. Mountain restaurants and shops often have limited or unusual 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. If you go near the water, make sure to pay attention to these water safety tips

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.

McKenzie River Trail with Old Growth by Thomas Moser
McKenzie 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 TripCheck.com 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. Explore tranquil spots to sleep and take a night to relax near the river.

Eagle Rock Lodge Songbird Room by Jumping Rocks Photography
Pace your journey by staying an extra night or two in a mountain lodge or riverside cabin… More Info
Hiking in the Forest
Photo 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. Forest bathing opportunities abound along this road. (Note: Watch for cyclists as this is a popular pathway. 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 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 Cyclists

Office Bridge with Cyclists by Todd Cooper
Stay at the historic Westfir Lodge and ride with the Cascades Outdoor Center. Package includes a premium room with an ensuite bath,… More Info

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 Morton
Plank 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.

A couple with matching blue luggage enters the lobby at Three Rivers Casino
Book a hotel package featuring deals, dining or special opportunities and activities.… More Info

Places Mentioned in this Itinerary

Deer Creek Hot Springs by Melanie Griffin
A mountainous region easily accessible from Eugene-Springfield offers forest retreats, hiking and biking… 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.