McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway, a journey through a land of contrasts

McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway is a drive you'll never forget in Oregon. This iconic road is an unforgettable journey climbing up to McKenzie Pass and Santiam Pass.

McKenzie-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway

The National Scenic Byway is totally paved. It’s 82 miles (132km) long and takes you on a journey through a land of contrasts, through some of Oregon's most stunning and diverse scenery. The route is a loop designed to provide a tour of the high Cascade Range northwest of Bend, passing over both McKenzie Pass and Santiam Pass, two of central Oregon's Cascade Mountain passes. The drive gives you dramatic views of the snowcapped High Cascade Peaks. The byway also passes beautiful waterfalls, including Sahalie and Koosah Falls.

The highway, filled with natural wonders as lava fields, snowcapped peaks and rushing rivers, was originally built in the 1870s as a wagon toll road. The Byway follows the path of a wagon route, emerging from the forest at Windy Point to a jaw-dropping vista of Mount Washington and a 65-square-mile lava flow. Due to extremely sharp curves and narrow road width, Highway 242 over McKenzie Pass is closed to vehicles longer than 35 feet. Trailers are discouraged.

Plan two hours to complete the drive without any stop, but usually it takes from 3 to 5 hours. It’s considered a summer tour route, since the road over McKenzie Pass is closed in winter due to snowfall. The drive allows you to enjoy the breathtaking sight of Broken Top Mountain and the Three Sisters, along with their waterfalls, towering gloriously above the route. Ancient lava fields lying next to calm, clear lakes, will provide you with a gentle reminder of the area's violent beginning.