As the snow melts and winter withdraws further up the mountainsides, scouting the McKenzie River for emerging wildlife and wildflowers makes an enticing road trip. Flush with a veneer of damp green across the slopes, Highway 126 winds north, paralleling the rushing springtime river. Fishing, foraging, hiking, waterfall expeditions and soaking in the hot springs are main attractions. Be prepared for all kinds of weather, pack extra layers, food and water and don't be surprised to encounter lingering snow and ice, and some occasional snow flurries as elevation increases.

In the warmer summer months we also recommend the McKenzie River foodshed tour or the longer Cascades roadtrip which loops from the McKenzie River to Oakridge, only possible when Road #19 (Aufderheide) is no longer adrift with snow.

A white covered bridge with slated windows spans a river.

Goodpasture Covered Bridge

Here are a few springtime highlights not to miss:

  • Plein air paint Leaburg Reservoir or the Goodpasture Covered Bridge. The scenic beauty of the region inspires the artist within us. Early on into the road trip there is a collection of intriguing sites that lend themselves well to photography, painting or just quiet reflection. Bring a camping chair and find a seat along the river bank. Leaburg Reservoir stretches from bank to bank, glassy smooth or swathed in mist, or gleaming with colorful reflections — all depending on the season, time of day and current weather conditions. Visit the Leaburg Fish Hatchery is also nearby. After the reservoir and before the bridge is Goodpasture boat landing, which provides restrooms and a boat launch. Around the bend is the picturesque Goodpasture Covered Bridge.

  • Wrestle a wiley trout or a spring Chinook salmon from the crisp, cold waters of the McKenzie River. Fishing in the ultra-clear and clean waters of the McKenzie River draws anglers from across the nation. Go with a guide in a drift boat or don your waders and cast in the shallows.

  • Hike or snowshoe the MRT. Depending on the snow conditions, enjoy hiking or snowshoeing along the McKenzie River Trail. This famous meandering trail offers many trailheads, so you can customize your distance, as it follows the river course through old growth forests.

  • Swim at Belknap Hot Springs Resort.
    Even if snow still blocks Road 19/Aufderheide to the natural setting of Terwilliger Hot Springs, you can still submerge in the hot spring-fed pool at Belknap Hot Springs Resort. Purchase a day pass to use their swimming pool and locker rooms. Soak in the steamy mineral waters overlooking the McKenzie River. A second pool is available to overnight lodge and campground guests.

  • Visit the roaring waterfalls. The thundering waters of Koosah and Sahalie falls are impressive sights to behold. Close to the highway, these waterfalls are either a quick stop or can be turned into an afternoon adventure with their adjacent hiking trails.

McKenzie River Trail without hikers or bikers.

McKenzie River Trail (MRT)

There are several eateries and markets along the way, but it is always a good idea to pack snacks as open hours vary. Book a riverside lodge or cabin to transform your road trip into a mountain getaway. Stay at Belknap Hot Springs Resort to get access to the second soaking pool exclusive for lodging guests.