It’s a Huck Finn sort of world along the Santiam River as you motor through “Short Bridge” – a wooden shingle covered bridge built in 1945.
The bridge connects you with adventure at Cascadia State Park.
The quiet times rule at Cascadia State Park where 24 sites for tent or small trailer provide base camp into an intriguing chapter of Oregon history.
The serene camp setting was once a center for those seeking healthy remedies for whatever ailed them from mineral water that bubbled out of the ground.
A century ago it was a resort with a health spa and included a post office, hotel and camping area that became a vacation destination for thousands.
The spa operated for a half century until Oregon State Parks purchased the 254-acre property in 1941.
These days, there is a huge picnic area to explore before you find the signs that take you up a trail along Soda Creek.
It's a 3/4 of a mile hike to reach Soda Falls on a moderate trail that is steep and muddy in spots.
An old growth forest shades you on this route that follows the tiny creek, so allow yourself some time to stop along the way and savor the scenes.
The payoff is worth the effort when you reach end of the line at Soda Waterfall; over 150 feet top to bottom in a cool, refreshing moment.
It is soggy times as the water pours thru a rocky cleft and after a long hike it feels fine to simply sit and watch.
But don’t linger too long for there’s another nearby trail that you’ll want to stroll just a few miles east of Cascadia SP along the Over the River and Through the Woods Scenic Byway and Oregon State Highway Route 20
US Forest Service Campgrounds dominate this route: Yukwah Campground is a favorite for streamside sites that put you in touch with a true Oregon rain forest according to USFS spokesperson, Jennifer O’Leary,
She adds that thus year campers should be prepared for a lingering cold, wet spring season:
“Expect a wide range of weather conditions and definitely check the forecast before you head out. Also check the road conditions and dress in layers and be ready to change your attire for warmer or cooler temperatures. Spring rains are such an important part of the western cascades forest. You look around and see the ferns and undergrowth that’s just come to life – and look even closer to see the spring wildflowers popping up as well.”
In fact, it’s downright cold at alpine sites like the Iron Mountain Trailhead; the trail to the iron giant is still deep under snow and O’Leary noted that it could be several weeks until it thaws. So, it is best to be cautious:
“Don’t chance it! It’s often hard to tell just how deep that snow is – and even if you do get thru that snowy patch, you may not have a good spot on the road to turn around if you encounter more snow.”
But at lower elevations, the hiking is exceptional right now.
In fact, there are many hiking options along this route. So pick up a free brochure at the Sweet Home Ranger District Office and discover unique places like the Walton Ranch Interpretive Trail.
A spacious, barrier free “Walton Ranch Trail” is wheelchair accessible and leads you up a gentle grade thru a lichen draped forest before you arrive at a huge wooden deck – more than a hundred feet long – that offers a wonderful, albeit peak-a-boo view to the South Fork of the Santiam River and just beyond, the Walton Ranch Wildlife Area.
The Walton Ranch meadow is protected territory for a herd of elk you may catch browsing across the grassland.
Closer at hand, you are surrounded with colorful bursts of sapphire blue iris or crimson paintbrush wildflowers.
When the river and the roadway call you back, be sure to duck in a whopper of a wildflower show that’s at its finest this week.
The Camas Prairie is a forest service managed site just off Moose Creek Road near Cascadia State Park.
It is a site best enjoyed from a distance so bring a camera and please stay out of the meadows. The site is an important cultural and natural resource and it is protected.
The prairie visit is a perfect cap to the day’s getaway adventure along a unique Oregon Scenic Byway.