The rugged timber and outdoor recreation hub of Sweet Home beckons hikers, boaters, anglers, cyclists, snowshoers and cross-country skiers with its abundance of evergreen-shrouded trails, rippling lakes, tumbling waterfalls and scenic highways. With the city’s proximity to the sprawling Willamette National Forest and South Santiam River, it’s earned the nickname “Gateway to the Santiam Playground.” These towering trees are nationally recognized too: the Sweet Home Ranger District is providing the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree, which will be displayed in Washington D.C.
Sweet Home is full of magical places worthy of recognition. Ready to explore?
Through the Woods
The most memorable way to reach Sweet Home is via the Over the Rivers & Through the Woods Scenic Byway, which traverses 66 miles of undulating rural roads that pass through tiny villages, by historic covered bridges, through coniferous old-growth stands in Willamette National Forest and out past the small town of Cascadia. From Interstate 5, pick up the byway on Highway 228 and follow it 20 miles east to Sweet Home. Be sure to soak up the Old West vibe of the well-preserved Victorian buildings in Brownsville, and stop for a stroll at the 1932 Crawfordsville Covered Bridge.
In downtown Sweet Home, next to the midcentury modern Rio Theater cinema, stop by the cozy Home Sweet Home Café for biscuits and gravy, or head just around the corner to casual Los Faroles, a casual taqueria serving authentic Mexican fare. A short drive east, Spoleto’s Pizzeria & Wine Shop earns kudos for its creatively topped pies (consider the “Farmers Butte” with roasted sweet corn and a creamy garlic sauce), including a special menu that donates money to local charities, and extensive list of Oregon wines. At the junction of U.S. 20 and Highway 228, the East Linn Museum occupies a historic former church building and contains more than 3,000 artifacts, photographs and documents that trace the region’s rich logging, mining and farming heritage (call ahead or check website to confirm hours).
Lakes and Leisure
Continue east along U.S. 20 for 5 miles and you’ll soon skirt the southern shore of 1,220-acre Foster Lake, a paradise for boating, water skiing, jet skiing, swimming and fishing (especially for bass and rainbow trout). There’s a deck and grassy lawn with picnic tables just off U.S. 20 at Shea Viewpoint, which also contains a shelter with signage detailing some of the area’s sightseeing highlights. Just across the street, you’ll find the beloved Point Restaurant, a down-home roadhouse known for delicious bacon-wrapped filet mignon, grilled razor clams and slow-cooked pork shanks. On a warm afternoon, grab a seat on the covered deck and soak up the views of Foster Lake.
Continue east on U.S. 20 for 9 miles to the tiny Santiam River hamlet of Cascadia and Douglas fir–shaded Cascadia County Park, where you can amble along a short trail to soaring Soda Creek Falls and examine ancient ruts from the 19th-century Santiam Wagon Road. About 30 miles farther east, at the junction of Highway 126, you have the option of detouring south and returning to the Willamette Valley via Springfield and Eugene — this highway accesses the McKenzie Pass–Santiam Pass Scenic Byway, another dramatic route through Willamette National Forest. Or stay on U.S. 20, which eventually leads up through the Cascade Mountains into Sisters and Bend. (The McKenzie Pass segment of the McKenzie Highway generally closes November to June, so check the status here before setting out.)
Alternatively, for more fun on the water near Sweet Home, just 2 miles past the Point Restaurant, make a left turn onto Quartzville Road, and follow this winding country highway (aka the Quartzville Back Country Byway) to the 3,700-acre Green Peter Lake. Here you’ll find boat launches in densely wooded Whitcomb Creek Park, which also has popular campgrounds and trails leading down to the kokanee salmon–stocked reservoir.
Waterfalls and Wine Tasting
Following narrow forest lanes up to the 110-acre McDowell Creek Falls County Park, a serene woodland oasis popular for its three photogenic waterfalls. For a hilly but relatively easy trek through dense stands of big-leaf maple, western hemlock, red cedar and sword ferns, start at the lower parking lot and follow the 1.8-mile trail past dramatic Royal Terrace Falls and onward to aptly named Majestic Falls. Wooden bridges cross the creek in several places along this well-marked trail that’s popular for hikers of all ages — even young kids — as well as four-legged friends.
Take a short drive from the park past farms and ranches — and one very large Christmas tree farm — to Marks Ridge Winery. This pastoral 58-acre estate sits on a 1,200-foot bluff with expansive views of the surrounding countryside. Have a seat in the tasting room or on the sunny patio to sample well-balanced pinot noir, merlot, tempranillo, viognier and a bright but not overly sweet rose. There’s often live music on weekends during the warmer months. It’s a perfectly relaxing finish to a day of hiking or boating.
Where to Stay
Camping is one of the favorite ways to spend the night in these parts. You’ll find sheltered, scenic tent sites at Whitcomb Creek Park on the shore of Green Peter Lake, and in Sunnyside Park on the South Fork of the Santiam River (near Foster Lake). The Sweet Home Inn has simple, affordable motel-style rooms, and RVers will find sites overlooking Foster Lake at Edgewater RV Resort and Marina and Foster Lake RV Resort. For a larger selection of lodging options, head to Lebanon, which is home to the stylish Best Western Premier Boulder Falls Inn, or a bit farther east to Albany and Corvallis, which have dozens of options within a short drive of Sweet Home.