The trails less traveled are the ones I cherish most, and Oregon has a bounty of places to choose. We’re heading up the McKenzie River Valley into the rugged mountains where a gentle trail lead us to one of the state’s most remarkable sites, called Tamolitch — or the “Blue Pool.”
The McKenzie River Scenic Byway may leave you spellbound as you explore this timeless transition into Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.
“It is scenic and it is beautiful,” noted Meg Trendler of Eugene, Cascades & Coast. “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.”
Nostalgia is alive along this byway; you feel it when you pass through two of Lane County’s 20 covered bridges: Goodpasture – at 165 feet, Oregon’s second longest – and Belknap Bridge, a river cross-over since 1890.
“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 each are always open and easy to reach from the highway, and the falls are beautiful when surrounded by snowfall during the winter months — just keep in mind the parking lot is not plowed.
“They’re easy to access, so anyone can see them,” said Trendler. “The water just comes shooting out like a giant fire hydrant; a huge wall of water any time of year. And it’s so convenient — not even five minutes from your car to the falls.”
It will take a bit longer to reach Oregon’s one and only “Blue Pool.”
Two hikers — photo pro Steve Terrill and Oregon newcomer Roy Nuesca — brought cameras and tripods to capture the sites along the 4-mile out-and-back trail to reach the Blue Pool. Each agreed that the McKenzie River provides an unmatched canvas to create lasting memories with camera and lens.
“I am looking around all of the time,” said Terrill. “There are literally thousands of photographs — reflections off the water, the alder trees and white bark, the lichens and moss, the downed wood somewhat discolored from the water…! It’s an array of gorgeous subjects here beside the Blue Pool.”
Blue Pool, also known as Tamolitch Pool, is where the McKenzie River seeps to the surface through underground lava fields that flowed across the landscape eons ago.
Nuesca was impressed by the deep turquoise and stunning clarity of the water, which combine to create something special. “So very clear and clean, and it looks so refreshing! I’ve never seen anything like it, even in my home state of Hawaii. I hope that I can return one day and stay longer — maybe even go camping.”
You’ll be astounded by the color of the Blue Pool, so slow down and savor the Oregon outdoors. After a full day exploring, stop by Takoda’s Restaurant in nearby Rainbow to savor freshly baked pizzas or the restaurant’s famous mac ‘n’ cheese.
Directions: From McKenzie Bridge, take Highway 126 east 13 miles to Trailbridge Reservoir. Turn left (west) on Forest Road 732, crossing the McKenzie River. Go straight at the junction, northeast up Forest Road 655 to McKenzie River Trailhead – Tamolitch (Blue Pool). (Note: This trailhead experiences heavy use, particularly during the spring and summer months.)
The McKenzie River Valley is a year-round recreation destination, and a 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 have good opportunities for hiking and biking anytime.
If you’re looking for a campsite to call your own, that’s no problem — there are 14 US Forest Service Campgrounds along the McKenzie River. One of my favorites is Delta Campground (open April 18 to October 19) because it boasts a marvelous hiking trail through an ancient forest stand, with scores of gigantic Douglas fir trees that date back more than 500 years.