If you’re planning a vacation to Central Oregon anytime soon, be sure to add Willamette National Forest to your list of places to explore.
Willamette National Forest, located approximately two hours southeast of Portland, offers ample activities for avid hikers, families, and adventurers alike.
The Best Things To Do in Willamette National Forest
This dense forest is full of magical sights around every corner. From waterfalls to lakes to some of the highest mountains in Oregon, you won’t be disappointed with your trip to Willamette National Forest.
Below, you’ll find the 8 best things to do in Willamette National Forest so that you can fill your itinerary with epic adventures:
1. Tamolitch Blue Pool
One of the most popular hikes in all of Oregon is to the Tamolitch Blue Pool. Due to its popularity, starting this hike in the early morning is recommended.
We decided to explore the Blue Pool in late November and luckily we were the only ones there.
The sapphire-blue hue of this pool is nothing short of amazing.
I recommend climbing down toward the water, but be sure not to leave the trail. Since this area is well-trodden, it’s important to leave no trace and reduce your impact on the surrounding environment.
The hike is approximately four miles roundtrip with very little elevation change. It can be done by people of all fitness levels.
2. Cougar Hot Springs
Terwilliger or “Cougar” Hot Springs is located in Willamette National Forest and boasts some of the most gorgeous soaking pools in all of Oregon. Be sure to visit these hot springs during the week due to the high volume of visitors on weekends.
To get to the pools, park in the designated parking lot facing the reservoir. Pay the $6 entrance fee and start your trek down the trail. This will take you 400 meters through the forest where you’ll emerge to find a gorgeous setting of hot springs, moss-covered trees, and a changing hut.
Be sure to pack a towel, a change of clothes, and water. Most people forget some water when visiting but with the high water temperatures, staying hydrated is necessary.
3. Bigelow “Deer Creek” Hot Springs
Bigelow Hot Springs can be found on the banks of the Mckenzie River. Tucked away is a natural grotto and a pool large enough for 3-4 people. The views from this pool are incredible, especially in the fall.
Unfortunately, this hot spring doesn’t hold heat throughout the fall and winter months. When we visited in November, the water was luke-warm at best. I could only tolerate the temperature for 10 minutes before seeking a warm towel. I highly recommend visiting this pool on a warmer day.
Find Deer Creek Hot Springs by parking in the designated parking lot located across the bridge from Mckenzie highway. After parking, follow the bank of the river downstream until you see a small pool surrounded by rocks.
For even more details about Deer Creek Hot Springs, check out our post – Deer Creek Hot Springs: Central Oregon’s Hidden Gem.
4. Sahalie Falls
Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls are located within walking distance of each other. If you’re looking for a gushing and powerful waterfall, this is the place to go. Central Oregon is full of waterfalls, but none quite as powerful as Sahalie.
I recommend parking in the Sahalie Falls designated parking lot and hiking down to both Sahalie and Koosah Falls. This trail is an easy 2.5-mile loop that can be done by people of all fitness levels. Taking lunch and water is advised since there are many places along the trail to stop and admire the river.
5. Koosah Falls
If Sahalie is the powerful waterfall, Koosah is the laidback sidekick. Don’t be fooled though, this waterfall is still very much worth your time.
The magnificent blue water at the base of the falls is a spectacular sight. The moss-covered banks of the river and fog layering the trees will make you feel like you’ve just stepped into Narnia.
For more waterfalls in Central Oregon, check out our post – 7 Amazing Central Oregon Waterfalls To Explore.
6. Clear Lake
As if you haven’t had enough by this point in your Willamette National Forest trip, let’s add more water into the mix. Clear Lake is a hidden gem in Central Oregon that offers great fishing, hiking, and camping.
With loads of activities for families and adventure lovers, Clear Lake is an awesome place to set up camp after exploring the surrounding area. There are campgrounds available to pitch a tent or cabins for rent.
Believe it or not, the most magical thing to do in Clear Lake is scuba diving. Due to low water temperatures, petrified trees have been preserved at the bottom of the lake for 3,000 years, making this an unbelievable experience for divers.
Not a diver? No problem! Rent a paddleboard or paddle boat and explore the emerald green waters from above.
7. Mckenzie Station Restaurant, Bar & Espresso
It’s been a long day full of hiking, waterfalls, and hot springs. Recharge with a cold brew and hot soup at the local restaurant in Mckenzie Bridge. We decided to stop at Mckenzie Station Restaurant on a whim and we were very pleased with what we found.
The restaurant itself is quaint and welcoming. We each delighted in a beer; Mike’s was a hoppy IPA, while I chose the bourbon barrel stout.
To our surprise, they also offered the most delicious cup of soup we could’ve asked for on a cold autumn day. If it’s still on the menu, be sure to order the cheesy broccoli tortellini soup.
The other menu items looked just as fresh and appetizing. Their sandwiches, in particular, were to die for (as told by a local we met there).
If you’re passing through the area, be sure to stop in for a quick bite to eat and enjoy this cute, small-town restaurant.
8. Proxy Falls
What’s a trip to Willamette National Forest without a stop at Proxy Falls? Although Sahalie Falls takes the prize for being the most popular waterfall in the area, I’m going to give my own special award to Proxy Falls for being the most magical.
The water cascading down from the falls is picture-perfect; unfortunately, the hike down to the waterfall is not as “perfect”. Be prepared for a steep descent with loose lava rock spewed along the trail. Although there are a few sketchy parts of the trail, this 1.5-mile hike is manageable by people of all fitness levels.
Pro-tip: Bring cash to pay for a forest pass and absolutely take water shoes with you!
The Wrap-Up: Things to Do in Willamette National Forest
If Willamette National Forest isn’t on your to-do list when visiting Central Oregon, re-write your list. Of all the incredible places we visited in Central Oregon, we were blown away by the high-density of things to do and see in Willamette National Forest. Make a day out of exploring this beautiful area, you won’t regret it.
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