Residents of Eugene and Springfield, Oregon are fortunate to have a wide variety of outdoor opportunities within an easy drive in any direction. The Pacific Ocean is an hour's scenic drive away to the west over the Coast Range and beside the Siuslaw River. A drive north or south will take them through the verdant Willamette Valley and its many farms, wineries, and ranches. Drive east and they're quickly into the heavily forested foothills and passes in the Cascade Mountain Range.
One of our favorite day trips is driving east on Highway 126 up the beautiful McKenzie River Valley and hiking beside its crystal clear waters between Koosah and Sahalie Falls. Once we pass the borders of Springfield, the 90-minute drive begins to wind past lavender, Christmas tree, blueberry, hazelnut and other farms and orchards.
We'll frequently stop at Herrick Farms for some fresh produce and to pet the farm animals. Today, we bought some fresh apple cider and picked out a pumpkin to carve for Halloween. Locally grown produce and meats is just one of the benefits of living in the Willamette Valley.
We continued on Highway 126 and stopped at the Leaburg Dam and Fish Hatchery. The dam provides hydroelectric energy for the Eugene Water and Electric Board to offer its electric customers. The hatchery sends trout fingerlings into the McKenzie River to grow and hopefully evade the lures of local fly fishermen. It was tempting to take some of the full grown rainbow trout home for dinner, but instead we paid a quarter for fish food and watched them eat what we tossed their way.
Our trip continued alongside the McKenzie River and its tributaries, through tall pine forests, and small towns like Vida, Blue River, and McKenzie Bridge. We pass the aptly named Paradise Campground, where we have enjoyed many a wonderful camping trip and our neighbors nearly gave birth to their only daughter many years ago.
Before we know it, we're turning off into Ice Cap Campground and the start of our hike. The moss covered ground and trees tell the silent story of frequent rains and heavy snows. The roar of Koosah Falls nearby tells us that we're in for a visual treat today.
We walk through Ice Cap Campground, join the McKenzie River Trail, and down to Carmen Reservoir, where a lone fisherman tries his luck. I look through the clear water to the lakebed below and am glad that this is the source of our drinking water, one of the purest sources in the United States.
Now we're ready for the short hike from Koosah Falls to Sahalie Falls. The water is blue-green and the fallen timber criss crosses the river and the surrounding area. I feel a little like Frodo in "Lord of the Rings" as I walk through a moss covered forest.
You hear Koosah Falls well before you see it. Even in early fall after a dry summer, the water cascades with strength over the volcanic shelf. Campers at Ice Cap Campground are serenaded to sleep with the peaceful sound of running water.
As we walk along the trail, I'm still amazed that this place is in our "backyard" and not somewhere I've spent lots of money to go to on vacation. International students that are with me marvel at the cleanliness of the water. I can't believe that this picture is in western Oregon and not the Himalayas.
A short walk later we finish at Sahalie Falls. It's just off Highway 126, so you could drive here instead of take the short hike. But, you miss so much in the process. We're fortunate that Mother Nature has smiled on western Oregon.
Rick Obst is an Arizona native who moved to Eugene, Oregon in 2005 and fell in love with the verdant Pacific Northwest. He enjoys photography and discovering the many people, places, and events that make this part of the world so special.
To learn more about Eugene, Lane County, and western Oregon, visit 365 and More Things to do in Lane County, Oregon on Facebook. You'll see hundreds of pictures and links to discover the beauty and attractions of this special area.