McKenzie Pass - Santiam Pass Scenic Byway
On the morning after leaving Sisters, we took the 82 mile drive along the McKenzie Pass - Santiam Pass Scenic Byway. This is a spectacular drive with unending views of snowcapped peaks, ancient lava flows, sparkling lakes, breathtaking waterfalls and cool green forests. The road winds its way through the highest concentration of snowcapped volcanoes and associated glaciers in the lower 48 states. I don't know anywhere a person could go to find more scenic beauty in so few miles.
Travel brochures say the drive takes about two hours. Maybe so, but we spent much more time because of stops along the way to take photos and just drink in the majestic scenery. I will share a few of the highlights in the following tips.
- Road Trip
Less than a half mile south of the Sahalie Falls is the equally beautiful Koosah Falls This 80-foot waterfall splits into two or three segments, depending on the water level. The name "Koosah" is Chinook for "sky." Perhaps that is because the deep pool of water below the falls reflects the blue of the heavens above.
Koosah Falls has its own parking area for easy access. However, we thought it was more fun to walk down the trail along the McKenzie River from Sahalie Falls and back, a scenic round trip hike of about eight-tenths of a mile.
- Road Trip
You will seldom see a body of water anywhere any prettier than Clear Lake The transparent water of the lake reflects the blue of the sky and mirrors the surrounding forest of dark green conifers. Motorized boats are not allowed on the lake and I felt the man resting here beside his canoe made for a particularly idyllic scene.
The lake is fed by snow runoff that forms numerous mountain streams. Before reaching the lake, the water is filtered and purified by miles of volcanic rock. The water is always cold at this high elevation, giving little opportunity for the growth of algae. We didn't go out onto the lake, but it is said that from the middle one can see the bottom, dozens of feet below.
- Adventure Travel
Our first stop along the McKenzie Pass - Santium Pass Scenic Byway was the Belknap Crater Viewpoint. This is an amazing place. Immense lava fields stretch as far as the eye can see, interspersed with patches of conifer forests and punctuated with snowcapped peaks.
A short half-mile hike leads up to the Dee Wright Observatory and another half-mile walk on the Lava River Trail leads to the Windy Point Viewpoint. Here, at an elevation of 4,909 feet, we got the most picturesque view of the lava flows and volcanic peaks.
Travel brochures say the best time to visit Sahalie Falls is during the snowmelt of Spring. We were there in August, and I can't imagine the falls being more spectacular - or more lovely.
This thundering falls plunges more than 100 feet over a lava cliff to form a glorious display. On the day of our visit there was even a rainbow in the mist. The waterfall is reached by an easy paved path from a parking area to a an overlook with guardrails. We took the dirt trail downstream below the main waterfall and discovered another very interesting cascade of 30 to 40 feet which was impressive in its own right.
Sahalie is a Chinook Indian word meaning "high," and we found visiting the falls to be a high experience in more ways than one.
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