Willamette National Forest


There are 1,400 miles (2,253 km) of trails on the Willamette National Forest. Several of these trails are at lower elevations and easy to access for year-round hiking pleasure. Three very scenic low-elevation trails—the McKenzie River, Fall Creek, and South Breitenbush Gorge Trails—have been designated as National Recreation Trails. The McKenzie River trail is 27 miles long, with gentle terrain. Here, you'll see old lava flows and one of the prettiest rivers in the Northwest. Portions of the trail, typically the lower 8-10 miles, remain snow-free, and are suitable for year-round use. The Fall Creek and McKenzie River Trails are within 50 miles (80 km) of Eugene (with bus service available from Eugene to McKenzie Bridge).

Larison Rock, a moderately difficult 4.5-mile trail in the Rigdon district, is a hike through old growth Douglas fir, cedar, hemlock, madrone, and dogwood. From the upper trailhead, it's a short hike to the top of Larison Rock, with a 360-degree panorama of the Oakridge and Rigdon Ranger Districts, the Three Sisters, and Diamond Peak. Be careful—there's a 70-foot vertical drop on the west side of the rock.

Pyramid is a short but difficult climb up steep wooded slopes, interspersed with broad open meadows. Near the top, rocky crags are covered with many species of alpine plants providing spectacular spring color. Remains of the Three Pyramids Lookout, built in 1934, lay scattered about the peak. Here diligent hikers are rewarded with impressive views of the Cascade Range.

The Willamette National Forest also holds 118 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. The Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail is known as the shortest and easiest section, with no significant climbs or drops in altitude, yet managing to provide a tour of volcanoes and lakes in the area. This is definitely worth checking out.

Developed downhill exists in the area: Hoodoo Ski Bowl and Willamette Pass. Both areas have cross-country trails nearby. In the Detroit Ranger District, the Fay Lake trail passes Big Meadows Campground, which has two toilets. It continues on to cross the North Santiam River. More advanced skiers may want to strike out on their own to explore the open areas to the east of the road, or may wish to follow the unmarked trail into Pika and Fir Lakes. The Fay Lake Ski Trail is a six-mile loop marked with blue diamonds. In the McKenzie Ranger District, the Pacific Crest Trail bisects the Northand South Loops as it winds in a north-south direction the length of Santiam Pass. The portion, which is marked for winter travel, begins on the northern edge of North Loop about 1.5 miles northeast of Ray Benson Sno-Park and ends along the southern edge of the South Loop near the old Santiam Wagon Road. The Pacific Crest Trail is not constructed or cleared specifically for winter travel. It is narrow, and frequent "tree wells" may be encountered north of its crossing with Fireline Snowmobile Loop. During the winter months, many Forest roads and trails lend themselves to cross-country skiing.

There are plenty of opportunities for mountain biking in this area. Most hiking trails are available for biking as well.

In the McKenzie Ranger District, Castle Rock Road is a very difficult nine-mile climb that ends with an outstanding view as a reward for reaching the top. The elevation gain is approximately 2,100 feet. Castle Rock was probably named because of its large, tall cone shape that resembles a fortress or castle overlooking much of the upper McKenzie Valley. For a difficult but scenic trail that passes through meadows and winds around six lakes, try the Blair Lake Trail, a 16-mile trail in the Oakridge Ranger District. Also in the Oakridge Ranger District is the shorter Diamond Creek Falls Trail, a scenic loop that provides views of Salt Creek Canyon, Too Much Bear Lake, and Diamond Creek Falls, all in less than three miles.

More on biking in Willamette National Forest

Runnable year round and designated a wild and scenic river, the McKenzie is a Class II-III. Perfect for a day-trip, this pleasant 18-mile river is in the heart of the Willamette National Forest. You'll travel by Koosah falls, and through some excellent waters for fishing.

The South Fork of the McKenzie is an 8 1/2-mile stretch of Class III-IV water, runnable from November to May. The North Fork/Mid Fork Willamette as well as the Middle Santiam are also possibilities.

Scenic Driving
A few scenic routes in the area include Clackamas-Breitenbush Road, Quartzville Creek Road, and Diamond Drive. Here are a couple of options:

Aufderheide National Scenic Byway winds through the lush undergrowth of the majestic Willamette National Forest and meanders along the cold, clear waters of the South Fork of the McKenzie. Points of interest include the Westfir Covered Bridge, the longest covered bridge in the state, and the George, featuring lichen-covered lava rocks and a spectacular river-carved canyon.

The view at the start of the McKenzie Pass/Santiam Pass byway on Hwy 242 represents the greatest concentration of snow-capped volcanoes with glaciers in the lower 48 states. The Three Sisters and Broken Top Mountain tower above the byway in all their glory; waterfalls along the route compliment their grandeur. Lava fields laid next to calm, clear lakes are spread throughout the scenic drive, a gentle reminder of its violent beginning. The McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass area is the best place in the Pacific Northwest to see how the great bulk of the volcanic Cascade Range has been built.

Sparkling Lakes and rivers provide numerous opportunities to test your angling skills. Over 350 lakes are contained in the Forest. Most of these are high country lakes above 4,000 feet. Access to most of these lakes is via hiking trails. Those willing to hike into these lakes are rewarded with solitude, beauty and excellent fishing.

Heavily fished lakes in the Willamette are stocked annually. More isolated ones are planted every two to three years. Fish found in the Willamette's lakes and rivers include rainbow, cutthroat, brook and steelhead trout. Some recommended lakes and streams to try include Daly Lake, Parish Lake, Riggs Lake, and Gordon Lakes. Rivers and streams recommended for fishing are South Santiam, Quartzville, Calapoonia, North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River, Salmon Creek, Salt Creek, and the Middle Fork of the Santiam.

The forest is home to the northern spotted owl, northern bald eagle, wolverine, and several other sensitive and threatened species. Steelhead, bass, Chinook and Kokanee salmon, and many kinds of trout are found in Forest lakes and streams that afford excellent fishing. Big game animals common on the Forest include Roosevelt elk, black bear, cougar, and blacktailed and mule deer.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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