This week, join me on a trek into the heart of the Oregon Cascade Mountains, east of Eugene, where we discover a hot shot for a cold spell!
The McKenzie River Scenic Byway may leave you slack jawed and spellbound for the gorgeous scenery this time of year.
State Highway 126 near McKenzie Bridge is a timeless transition on the western approach into Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.
“It is scenic and it is beautiful,” noted local travel expert Meg Trendler.
“You are driving along the river and you get these glimpses of an absolutely crystal-clear river all along the way and lots of greenery too.”
Photos: Grant's Getaways: A scenic drive to Belknap Hot Springs
Like century old drawing cards along the way, Lane County’s covered bridges including “Goodpasture Covered Bridge;” at 165 feet it’s Oregon’s second longest and “Belknap Bridge,” a river cross-over since 1890.
“The bridges were generally made of wood back in the 20’s and 30’s but if you covered them the timbers would last twice or three times longer in Oregon’s wet weather.”
Wet may be what you’ll get when you reach the plunge pool world of Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls – the trail is always open and easily reached along off the highway.
“The water just comes shooting out like a fire hydrant,” said Trendler with a smile. “It’s a huge wall of water any time of year and then there’s a great path you can walk from Sahalie to Koosah falls so it’s not even five minutes from your car to the falls.”
The McKenzie River Valley is a year round recreation destination and centerpiece for many is the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail.
The trail is 26 miles long and about half that distance is below the snow line, so you’ve good opportunities for hiking and biking anytime.
People have long enjoyed the McKenize River; often called Oregon’s first fishing and boating playground.
Local historian and owner of River’s Touch, Roger Fletcher, said that “drift-boating” was spawned on the McKenzie River; the birthplace for the “All Oregon Boat” with its unique style of riding atop the rapids.
“The McKenzie boats evolved in the 1920’s as fishing guides searched for boats with maneuverability and capacity... it made water previously inaccessible, accessible. Of course, that was a two edged sword…because as people discovered the opportunities, more and more people came to the river.”
When they came, many visitors also found a distinct way to warm up after a long day on the water.
Belknap Hot Springs has been a hot shot for a wintertime cold spell since the 1850’s and you can even see the water bubbling out of the ground.
It’s 200 degrees at the source, according to Marlene Watson the Belknap Resort Manager, who noted that at that temperature, you could cook an egg.
A series of underground pipes cool the water so by the time it reaches the nearby pool, it’s a warm and relaxing environment.
“We have family groups who get together here because it is so relaxing,” added Watson. They can swim, hike, read and relax and they love it.”
Belknap Hot Springs Resort offers full service accommodations including overnight camping for RV, tent or trailer – even rental cabins and a full-service lodge.
Watson adds that the McKenzie River draws visitors back along a scenic drive that is “steady and serene.”
“You hear the river go by and it’s just a wonderful place to get away and forget all your troubles – relax!”
If you would like to visit more of Oregon – consider a walk on the wild side with my new book: “Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures With the Kids.” You’ll find activities to engage any kid, from archery to clamming on the coast to hunting for thundereggs to zip-lining through trees in an aerial adventure park. In addition, be sure to check out “Grant’s Getaways Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon.” You will enjoy 48 uniquely Oregon adventures highlighting my fish and wildlife encounters. Scores of colorful photos by “Grant’s Getaways” photographer, Jeff Kastner, show off some of our finest moments in the field. You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon adventures in: "Grant's Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures"