McKenzie-Santiam Pass - Oregon Scenic Drives

These are some of Oregon's most beautiful mountain landscapes, right in the heart of volcano country. The byway follows rivers, climbs over high passes, crosses lava flows, passes picturesque lakes and winds through old growth forest. The highest point is McKenzie Pass, at 5,321 feet. Here, and at Santiam Pass, you can walk on the famous Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.

Travel either way on the loop and bring your camera; you'll see many great shots, including some you might recognize from magazines, calendars or other publications. The volcanic peaks here rise up to over 11,000 feet.

The features you're most likely to remember are the lava flows, particularly along Route 242 on the south side of the loop. One flow covers 65 square miles and is only 2,700 years old (yesterday in geologic time). There are also lava tube caves scattered around large enough to walk into.

If you like to camp, this is your byway. There are many choices in many settings all the way around the loop. They're simple, but very relaxing.

The Route

The loop starts and ends in Sisters, 22 miles northwest of Bend. You can also intersect the loop by driving east from Eugene (interstate 5) on State Route 126, east from the Corvallis/Albany area on U.S. Highway 20, or east from Salem on highway 22.

From Sisters, go west on State Route 242 up and over McKenzie Pass and then down Deadhorse Grade. At the intersection with State Route 126, turn north toward Belknap Springs resort. When you intersect U.S. Highway 20, head east (the two highways are together at this point) over Santiam Pass and then back to Sisters.

To get to the nearby by Robert Aufderheide Memorial Drive, go west on highway 126 (instead of turning east on highway 126) about 10 miles and then turn south on national forest road 19. To try the Cascade Lakes byway, head for Bend.


Gasoline: Fill up in Sisters or in McKenzie Bridge, just off the byway about halfway around. Limited gas at Suttle Lake.

Food: Always available in Sisters. Limited at Suttle Lake, Blue Lake and Clear Lake.

Lodging: Available year round in Sisters, seasonally at Belknap Springs resort, Clear Lake, Suttle Lake and Blue Lake.

Camping: There are national forest campgrounds all the way around the loop. None have hookups and some do not have drinking water.

Maps & More Info: Please contact: Sisters Ranger District - Deschutes National Forest -OR- McKenzie Ranger District - Willamette National Forest.

Points of Interest

Windy Point: A great viewpoint above a huge lava flow and right at the edge of the Mt. Washington Wilderness. You're almost to 5000 feet elevation here.

Mckenzie Pass: The first of the two summits where you can walk on the Pacific Crest Trail or take in great view of volcanic peaks and extensive, ancient lava flows.

Lava Beds: The byway here winds through a barren lava field. Try the Lava River interpretive trail at the Dee Wright Observatory.

Belknap Springs: A small hot springs resort on the McKenzie River. Stretch your legs on the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail.

Mckenzie RIVER: Known for its native rainbow trout (some call them "redsides"), this is a Wild and Scenic River popular for fishing and rafting.

Sahalie & Koosah Falls: Two roaring falls that spill off the edge of basalt cliffs. They are 70 and 100 feet high. Nearby is Beaver Marsh, a great place for birdwatching.

Clear Lake: It is clear . . . strikingly so. It was formed quickly by a lava flow that dammed spring-fed streams at the headwaters of the McKenzie River. Trees nearly 3000 years old still stand under the water at the north end of the lake.

Suttle Lake & Blue Lake: An easy side trip on forest road 2070 leads to these pleasant lakes with small resorts. Blue Lake is smaller and quieter.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 11 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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