Thursday, September 19, 2013

Exploring Scenic Oregon Highway 242

Oregon Route 242 is a section of the McKenzie Highway running between Sisters and Belknap Springs, over the McKenzie Pass. The road passes through eons of volcanic activity from nearby Three Sisters mountains and Mount Washington.

At the top of McKenzie Pass the road winds through a massive lava field only about 1500 years old and features the Dee Wright Observatory, a lookout tower built out of lava by the CCC in 1935. There's an interesting, short paved interpretive path through the lava and the views are stunning.

Approaching the summit of McKenzie Pass through lava flows, the Dee Wright Observatory is a beacon.
I liked how the clouds over the cinder cone on the right looked like smoke coming from the cone!

To the West the North and Middle Sisters loom over the lava fields.
Glaciers can be seen between them.

We toured the lava observatory to enjoy 360 degree views.

Mt Washington is the pointed peak on the right;
its pointy profile is evidence of glacier carving over the centuries.

Mt Washington zoomed!

A hobbit-like tree that could be decades old
struggles to survive in the harsh environment.

We continued on down Hwy 242 towards Proxy Falls, dropping several thousand feet and heading into damp and cloudy conditions along the way. Though the mountainsides were heavily covered in forest we could see we were still in land layered with ancient lava flows.

The Proxy Falls trail is a two mile loop through beautiful mossy lava beds laced with conifers and maples. Make sure you take the two short spur trails to see both upper and lower Proxy falls. The day we hiked the maples were just barely starting to a couple of weeks the fall colors should be spectacular!

The forest service wants people to hike this trail in a counter clockwise direction so they only mark one end of the trail. If you have started as marked, make sure you go right at the Y to reach the lower falls viewpoint.

From a viewpoint through the trees these falls are quite impressive at over 200 feet tall.

It's a bit of a challenge to get to the bottom of the falls but it sure is pretty!

Once you're done viewing lower falls, head back to the Y and continue on down the trail. At the next Y turn right. This takes you to the upper falls.

The upper falls look even taller than the lower.

Here's a close up of the center.
The mosses and greenery and shimmering cascades make this seem like a fairyland.

The interesting thing about the upper falls...the water just seeps into the ground, there is no exit stream!

Now it was time for us to head back towards Sisters and ultimately Bend. We chose to make our drive into a loop by continuing on Hwy 242 to Hwy 126 towards Sisters. This was a long loop with a few interesting stops along the way (such as Sahalie Falls) but we had "been there, done that" before and bypassed additional stops on this trip. Suffice it to say, if you are staying in Sisters, OR, the Hwy 242 to HWY 126 loop makes for a beautiful day trip with lots to see and do.


  1. Another great day in Paradise! I love how the falls flow over that beautiful moss...very different. A little struggling makes the hike a lot more fun.

    Good to see some fall colors. Sure does brighten up those forest hikes. No colors here yet but Oct. should make for some gorgeous hikes.

  2. Amazing that you went from a lava wasteland to a rain forest in such a short time.

  3. Love how green it is around those falls. Such a contrast to the lava beds.

  4. Beautiful falls! The moss is just amazing. We have never been down the other side of McKenzie pass. It's a great bike ride, not too far, not too steep; but enough to make you feel virtuous at the top.