Soft Sides of an Iron Giant
You can escape the hustle and bustle of city life on a gas tank getaway to the quiet side of the Oregon cascades This week, we visit the soft sides of an iron giant along the Over the River and Through the Woods Scenic Byway near Sweet Home, Oregon.
It’s a Huck Finn sort of world along the Santiam River as you motor through Short Bridge– a wooden shingle covered bridge built in 1945. The bridge connects you with adventure at Cascadia State Park. The quiet times rule at Cascadia State Park where 24 sites for tent or small trailer provide base camp into an intriguing chapter of Oregon history.
The serene camp setting was once a center for those seeking healthy remedies for whatever ailed them from mineral water that bubbled out of the ground. A century ago it was a resort with a health spa and included a post office, hotel and camping area that became a vacation destination for thousands. The spa operated for a half century until Oregon State Parks purchased the 254-acre property in 1941.
These days, there is a huge picnic area to explore before you find the signs that take you up a trail along Soda Creek. It’s a 3/4 of a mile hike to reach Soda Falls on a moderate trail that is steep and muddy in spots. An old growth forest shades you on this route that follows the tiny creek, so allow yourself some time to stop along the way and savor the scenes. The payoff is worth the effort when you reach end of the line at Soda Waterfall; over 150 feet top to bottom in a cool, refreshing moment.
It is soggy times as the water pours thru a rocky cleft and after a long hike it feels fine to simply sit and watch.
But don’t linger too long for there’s another nearby trail that you’ll want to stroll just a few miles east of Cascadia SP along Oregon State Highway Route 20.
In fact, there are many hiking options along this route. So pick up a free brochure at the Sweet Home Ranger District Office and discover unique places like the Walton Ranch Interpretive Trail. A spacious, barrier free Walton Ranch Trail is wheelchair accessible and leads you up a gentle grade thru a lichen draped forest before you arrive at a huge wooden deck – more than a hundred feet long – that offers a wonderful, albeit peak-a-boo view to the South Fork of the Santiam River and just beyond, the Walton Ranch Wildlife Area.
The Walton Ranch meadow is protected territory for a herd of elk you may catch browsing across the grassland. Closer at hand, you are surrounded with colorful bursts of sapphire blue iris or crimson paintbrush wildflowers. When the river and the roadway call you back, be sure to duck in a whopper of a wildflower show that’s at its finest this week.
The Camas Prairie is a forest service managed site just off Moose Creek Road near Cascadia State Park. It is a site best enjoyed from a distance so bring a camera and please stay out of the meadows. The site is an important cultural and natural resource and it is protected. The prairie visit is a perfect cap to the day’s getaway adventure along a scenic byway that explores the soft sides of an iron giant.
About the Author: Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.
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