Along The Saniam Pass Highway
Detroit Lake is the summertime center of activity on this route--fishing and water-skiing are the most popular activities. North of the lake, you'll find Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center (tel. 503/854-3320; www.breitenbush.com), a New Age community/retreat center that has rustic cabins, dorms, and campsites and allows day use of its hot springs by advance reservation. The fee is between $13 and $26 per person, and inexpensive vegetarian meals are available ($11). Breitenbush offers massage, yoga, meditation classes, and a wide range of other programs focusing on holistic health and spiritual growth.
At Santiam Pass, you'll find the Hoodoo Ski Area (tel. 541/822-3799 for snow report or 541/822-3337; www.hoodoo.com), which is the best little ski area in Oregon. Hoodoo has five chair lifts and 30 runs for all levels of experience. Lift tickets are $42 to $45 for adults and $29 to $31 for children. Night skiing is available. Here you'll also find an awesome tubing run for the kids and the Hoodoo Nordic Center, which has almost 10 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails and charges $10 to $12 for a trail pass. Also in the Santiam Pass area, you'll find several Sno-Parks. The Maxwell, Big Springs, and Lava Lake East Sno-Parks access the best trails in the area. However, these trails are very popular with snowshoers. Consequently, you might want to leave the skinny skis at home and bring snowshoes instead.
Up The McKenzie River
The McKenzie River is one of Oregon's most popular white-water-rafting rivers, and the cold blue waters challenge a wide range of experience levels. Oregon Whitewater Adventures (tel. 800/820-RAFT ; www.oregonwhitewater.com) and A Helfrich Outfitter (tel. 800/328-7688 or 541/726-5039; www.raft2fish.com) both offer half- and full-day trips. Expect to pay $60 to $65 for a half day of rafting and $80 to $90 for a full day.
If you're interested in seeing this area by bike, contact Oregon Adventures (tel. 541/968-5397; www.oregon-adventures.com), which offers a variety of bike rides, both road and trail, for $25 to $75 per person per day. This company can also arrange car shuttles for one-way bike rides.
The McKenzie River town of Blue River is home to one of the best golf courses in Oregon. Tokatee Golf Club, 54947 McKenzie Hwy., McKenzie Bridge (tel. 800/452-6376 or 541/822-3220; www.tokatee.com), gets consistently high ratings and has a spectacular setting with views of snowcapped Cascade peaks and lush forests. The greens fee is $42 ($30 for electric cart) for 18 holes.
Off Ore. 126, between the towns of Blue River and McKenzie Bridge, you'll find the turnoff for the Aufderheide National Scenic Byway (Forest Service Rd. 19). This road meanders for 54 miles through the foothills of the Cascades, first following the South Fork McKenzie River (and Cougar Reservoir) and then following the North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette River, which offers excellent fly-fishing and numerous swimming holes. Along the route, you'll find several hiking trails and, at the south end of Cougar Reservoir, a trail that leads to the very popular Terwilliger Hot Springs. The southernmost stretch of Forest Service Road 19 is the most scenic portion and passes through a deep, narrow gorge formed by the North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette River. At the southern end of the scenic byway is the community of Westfir, which is the site of the longest covered bridge in Oregon.
Between the turnoff for McKenzie Pass and the junction of Ore. 126 and U.S. 20, you'll find some of the Cascades' most enchanting water features. Southernmost of these is Belknap Resort and Hot Springs (tel. 541/822-3512; www.belknaphotsprings.com), where, for $7 for 1 hour or $12 for the day, you can soak in a hot mineral swimming pool. Just north of Trail Bridge Reservoir, on a side road off the highway, a 4-mile round-trip hike on a section of the McKenzie River Trail leads to the startlingly blue waters of the Tamolitch Pool. This pool is formed by the McKenzie River welling up out of the ground after flowing underground for 3 miles. Five miles south of the junction with Ore. 20, you'll come to two picturesque waterfalls, Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls. Across the highway from these falls is Clear Lake, the source of the McKenzie River. This spring-fed lake truly lives up to its name, and a rustic lakeside resort rents rowboats so you can get out on the water and see for yourself. Be sure to hike the trail on the east side of the lake; it leads to the turquoise waters of Great Springs, which is connected to the lake by a 100-yard stream.
One of the most breathtaking sections of road in the state begins just east of Belknap Hot Springs. Ore. 242, which is open only in the summer, is a narrow, winding road that climbs up through forests and lava fields to McKenzie Pass, from which there's a sweeping panorama of the Cascades and some of the youngest lava fields in Oregon. An observation building made of lava rock provides sighting tubes so that you can identify all the visible peaks, and a couple of trails will lead you out into this otherworldly landscape. In autumn this road has some of the best fall color in the state. On the west side of the pass, the short Proxy Falls trail leads through old lava flows to a waterfall that in late summer has no outlet stream. The water simply disappears into the porous lava.