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Hiking the Pioneer Santiam Wagon Road

There’s nothing quite like walking an old pioneer wagon road to bring immediacy to Central Oregon’s history. One can almost hear the creaking of the freight wagons and the “hee” and “haw” shouts of the mule drivers. Operated as a private toll road, the Santiam Wagon Road was a vital route across the Cascade Mountains from the late 1860s to the 1930s. Today, from late spring to early fall, one can walk a well-preserved section of this pioneer road on a shady 3.0-mile hike, which winds through stately groves of old-growth Douglas fir.
The Old Railway along the Deschutes River

Deschutes Canyon - Hiking Central Oregon's First Railway

The original railroad surveys of the Deschutes River Canyon, conducted in 1855 by Army engineers, concluded that “the Deschutes Valley is mostly a barren region…separated from the rest of the world by almost impassable barriers.” In fact, at the turn of the century, Central Oregon was the largest territory in the U.S. without a railroad. Only in the early 1900s, when its wealth of ponderosa pine was recognized by commercial interests, was serious rail construction begun south from the Columbia up the Deschutes River. Hikers today can follow a section of this now abandoned rail bed for many miles, with spectacular river and canyon views.
Aerial View of Klamath Marsh Narrows

Historical Crossing at Klamath Marsh Narrows

Sometimes the distinctive natural landforms of a place combine with centuries of human activity to create an exceptional mix of geography and history. The Klamath Marsh Narrows is such a place. This three-quarter mile crossing, in the midst of 65 square miles of sprawling marshland, has been used by Native Americans for millennia, by the John C. Fremont expedition in 1843, and by travelers down to the present day. It’s one of the best birding spots in Central Oregon, and hikers can follow in Fremont’s footsteps along the edge of the grasslands, enjoying solitude and sweeping Cascade mountain views.
45th Parallel Road Sign near Shaniko

The 45th Parallel - Linking Shaniko to the World

Is there a link between the towns of Shaniko, Oregon and Turin, Italy? Surprisingly yes, as both are located on the 45th parallel, a line of latitude circling the earth halfway between the North Pole and the Equator. When standing on the line near Shaniko, this latitude also connects you with the hot springs of Yellowstone Park, with the wine regions of Bordeaux, with the Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea, with the deserts of Mongolia, and with the snowy northern islands of Japan.
Panoramic Photo of McKenzie Pass Wagon Road

Pioneer Wagon Road at McKenzie Pass

In the late 1800s, Central Oregon was not an easy place to reach from the Willamette Valley. Though there was great demand for access by stockmen, who desired to drive their cattle east into the vast bunchgrass plains, the Cascade Range was impassable in winter and the few established trails were difficult and dangerous. That is, until John Templeton Craig pioneered a wagon road across the lava fields at McKenzie Pass — a route that can still be enjoyed today by adventurous hikers.
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