Central Oregon: Desert to Mountains in Three Days

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If you are spending any time in central Oregon and want to get the most out of your trip look no further. We spent only three days in central Oregon and were able to see the desert, snow covered mountains, lava rocks, and lush green forest with waterfalls and turquoise blue waters. It will blow your mind how quickly the terrain changes here! We started in the high desert went through the McKenzie pass to arrive at our final destination of the Willamette National forest.

Day 1: We would recommend starting in the desert just because this area can be explored a little more quickly than the forest. We camped at The Cove Palisades State Park at the Crooked River Campground. Pick campsite 45 or 53 and you wont be disappointed! We woke up in the high desert with unbelievable views of beautiful snow covered mountains in the distance. The best way to see the park is to hike the Tam-a-lau trail. This hike is only about 6 miles roundtrip and takes you on top of a plateau that gives views of the whole area. Another must see in this area is Smith Rock state park especially if you are into rock climbing! As soon as you enter the park you forget you are in Oregon and feel like you are in the southwest.

Day 2: In order to get to the forest we took the the McKenzie pass. The pass is only about 38 miles long and takes you from Sisters, Oregon to the beginning of the Willamette National forest. The highlight of this drive is the Dee Wright Observatory. The observatory offers 360 degree views of every mountain range around you and it is made from old lava rock which covers the ground in this area. The views throughout the drive are incredible and will leave you wanting more. After arriving in the Willamette National Forest we set up camp at the Ice Cap Campground and started our hike towards the Tamolitch Blue Pool. The pool is by far one of the most incredible things either of us have ever seen AND it features a waterfall! The water is turquoise blue and is so clear you can see the bottom. Since this is a more popular hike our pro tip would be to start in the afternoon when most people have started to clear out. We began this hike around 5 pm and had it nearly to ourselves when we arrived.

Day 3: On the last day in the forest we would suggest checking out the waterfalls in the area. You can hop on the Waterfalls Loop Trail that takes you to Sahalie and Koosah falls. The hike is only 2.6 miles for the loop and is rated as easy. The entire trek is right along the river and allows you to see two waterfalls in one beautiful journey.

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