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Grant's Getaways: McKenzie River Valley

Grant McOmie traveled into heart of the Oregon cascades east of Eugene and discovered a hot shot for a cold spell!

LANE COUNTY, Ore — This week, we travel into the heart of the Oregon Cascades and discover a hot spot for a cold spell! The century old Belknap Hot Springs is one of many stops along a scenic holiday season drive. 

The McKenzie River Scenic Byway may leave you slack jawed and spellbound. State Highway 126 is a timeless transition on western approach into Oregon’s cascade mountains. 

 “It is scenic and it is beautiful,” said 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.” 

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 is a river cross-over since 1890.

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“The bridges were generally made of wood back in the '20s and '30s but if you covered them the timbers would last twice or three times longer in Oregon’s wet weather,” said Trendler. 

Wet may be what you’ll get when you reach the plunge pool world of Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls. The trails to the falls are always open and easily reached along off the highway. 

“The water just comes shooting out like a fire hydrant,” said Trendler. “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, which is 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 1920s 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.” 

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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 1850s and you can even see the water bubbling out of the ground. 

It’s 200 degrees at the source, according to Marlene Watson, spokesperson for the Belknap Resort. She noted that at that temperature, you could cook an egg. 

However, a series of underground pipes cool the water by the time it reaches the nearby pool where you’ll enjoy 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!” 

Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the new Grant’s Getaways Podcast: Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.  

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:  

 "Grants Getaways I," Photography by Steve Terrill 

 "Grant's Getaways II," Photography by Steve Terrill 

 “Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures,” Photography by Jeff Kastner 

 “Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon,” Photography by Jeff Kastner 

 “Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids,” Photography by Jeff Kastner 

The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.  

My next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in November, ‘22

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