Snow isn’t essential to enjoy Willamette Pass in Oregon

OAKRIDGE, Ore. — No snow? No problem, if you’re looking for fun on the Willamette Pass Highway (State Route 58).

With a serious shortage of snow facing us on a quick getaway to the central Cascades southeast of Eugene, we slowed down and visited some things we’d missed before while driving the scenic highway.

If there had been snow in the mountains, we likely would have hurried on by and missed these things again:

Salt Creek Falls, at 286 feet, is the second-highest waterfall in Oregon (next to Multnomah Falls). It’s just off the south side of the Oregon 58, east of the tunnel near milepost 57. During winter, drive past the turn to the summer viewpoint (locked by a gate) and park in the winter sno-park. Walk back toward the highway, then head west downstream past the gate, following the ski sign pointer to Diamond Creek Falls. It’s about a half-mile over snow to the Salt Creek Falls viewpoint. We walked, though with decent show, you could snowshoe or cross-country ski.

McCredie Hot Springs is a riverside pool east of Oakridge, near mile marker 45 and Blue Pool Campground (closed in winter). Like Salt Creek Falls, it has a big Willamette National Forest roadside sign and is impossible to miss. Park near the restroom and walk 100 yards to the hot pools along Salt Creek.

The Office Covered Bridge at Westfir is not only the longest in Oregon (180 feet) but also the best (in my opinion). It has a car lane and pedestrian lane and, when we saw it, was all decked out for the holidays. The 25-mile North Fork Trail begins across the bridge. Find the turnoff to the bridge on the north side of the highway, directly across from the Middle Fork Ranger District office. Follow signs two miles to the bridge.

The Willamette Fish Hatchery at the east end of Oakridge has sturgeon and trout viewing ponds, beautiful landscaped grounds and a mini-museum filled with mounts of animals and birds that live around it. Watch for signs to the hatchery on the north side of the highway, as you leave the east end of Oakridge. Follow signs one mile north.

By the way, Willamette Pass is misnamed. It should be Salt Creek Summit. The true Willamette Pass, where the Main Middle Fork has its headwaters, is 15 miles south along the Cascades crest. This area, just north of Mount Thielsen, gives rise to the waters of the Willamette, Umpqua, Klamath and Deschutes rivers (though the water to the Klamath disappears underground).

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