Feeling the need for a sunny mountain hike, wanting to support a local tourism business without overspending, and wanting to follow the current safety guidelines led me to craft a perfect 24-hour outing that guarantees to recharge the soul.
Leaving the Eugene-Springfield metro area on a Thursday afternoon, I and a hiking friend arrived at Westfir Lodge and Mountain Market in under an hour, already relaxed from the glorious scenery of Highway 58. Perched right across the street from the red Office Bridge, the longest (180 ft) covered bridge in Oregon, Westfir Lodge is the historic “office” of Western Lumber Company, where workers would pick up their paychecks during the heyday of logging.
Now it's a sparkling clean nine-room lodge, with remote check in and social distancing protocols that feel safe and friendly at the same time. Featuring local art, the spacious gathering room provides access to the mountain store for sundries as well as an outdoor patio for a socially distanced breakfast or an afternoon beer with an amazing view and ambiance.
After a friendly greeting from proprietor Noah, we walked out the door, across the street, through the covered bridge and directly on to the North Fork Trail for an out-and-back of a few miles of river sounds and scenic views wrapped in a sun-splotched forest of big trees and spots of wildflowers. The great trail surface made us wonder why we weren’t running rather than hiking. Passing no one on the trail itself, we did see a couple of folks enjoying sunny rocks along the river’s edge in complete bliss.
With plenty of daylight, we meandered back to the Lodge for the car and headed to the 3 Legged Crane brewery in uptown Oakridge for a beer, a burger and sweet potato fries. Outdoor and indoor seating options kept folks distanced and the food and service were both exceptional. Patrons arrived and departed in masks and everyone was chill. Impromptu music sessions were underway with applause and relaxed laughter all around.
My friend and I had chosen a double queen room with private bath – large, clean and comfortable. Splitting the tab made the outing very affordable, and a hearty packaged breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, yogurt with granola, toast with jam and fresh fruit, juice and coffee in a flower-filled outdoor setting was a great start to our day of hiking.
Tasty trail lunches were available for purchase. We asked our knowledgeable hosts for hike recommendations and ideas which inspired us to change up our planned 15-mile hike for two shorter forays linked by the scenic 63-mile Aufderheide National Scenic Byway. The Aufderheide connects Highways 58 and 126 and reaches an elevation of 3300 ft. and is only open during the summer months.
Rather than hiking out directly from Westfir Lodge, a definite option to hit Alpine and Tire Mountain Trails, we chose to drive just a few miles along the Aufderheide (also known as North Fork Road) and up FS Road 1912, just past a three-way junction to a mid-mountain trailhead along the famous Alpine Trail. This cut our Tire Mountain foray to a 5-mile round-trip but still ensured we had a good dose of old-growth, open valley and mountain views, and the wildflower meadows that make Tire Mountain a favorite.
We encountered a couple of exceedingly polite and careful mountain bikers and passed a handful of hikers who all donned masks for passing on the trail. We filled up on mountain and meadow sights and smells on a trail in excellent shape.
Back at the car we drove north along the Aufderheide National Scenic Byway, designated as such for good reason, and about mid-way turned off to drive a few miles into Skookum Creek Campground and the Erma Bell Lakes Trail. This trail features lower, middle and upper Erma Bell Lakes along with a couple of other small lakes. In the early summer months, this is mosquito country. We were unfortunately not prepared and our hike turned in to a trail run with a quick lakeside look and a promised to return better prepared.
We continued by car to Cougar Reservoir, stopping at the overlooks and marveling at the views, passing by Terwilliger Hot Springs. After turning west on Highway 126, we pulled off in Blue River to enjoy a treat from the incredible permanent food cart set up along the river just behind McKenzie Mountain Resort. We continued along the loop to enjoy views of the McKenzie Track and then on Highway 126 to hit the metro area just over 24 hours after leaving with three hikes under our belts – feeling renewed, lucky to live here, and already plotting future adventures in Lane County’s spectacular section of the Cascades.