To celebrate Valentines Day, my wife and I took a day trip through Willamette National Forest. We drove down Interstate 5 to Westfir, Oregon, then we took Forest Road 19 all the way up to Cougar Dam.
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Forest Road 19 begins in the town of Westfir (population 276). This city also is home to the historic Office Bridge—the longest covered bridge in Oregon at 180 ft. in length.
It should be noted that Forest Road 19 is not maintained for snow and ice in the winter. We figured we'd turn around if it got snowy or icy. However, due to our unseasonable warm winter this year, we only saw a couple of patches of snow at the most upper elevation (near Box Canyon Horse Camp at 3,750 ft.), and the temperature never dropped below 41 F.
Forest Road 19 had a bit of moss and tree debris on it; sure signs of low traffic volume. There were, however, several spots in which someone had recently sawed up fallen trees and moved them to the side (the sawdust piles were still in the road).
Make no mistake about it, especially at this time of year, this road is infrequently traveled. A total of two cars went past us while we were taking pictures, however, they had turned around and headed back. Other than that we saw no cars, no people for about 50 of the 54 miles we drove on this road.
This amazing road twists, turns, dips, and dives through amazingly tall trees, along raging rapids, and past steep cliffs. And when the signs say "Watch for fallen rock," they mean it. We ran across several basketball-sized stones that had fallen onto the road. We also saw what we assume was a coyote crossing the road about 40 yards in front of us. Ah, wildlife.
Oregon is amazing in that you'll be driving along, then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, there will be something spectacular to see, and such was the case on this trip. After descending from Box Canyon Horse Camp, we came across Cougar Reservoir. This amazingly beautiful body of blue-hued water is filled with spring runoff from the surrounding area, but at this time of year, is low, making its appearance that much more dramatic. Also in the area is Cougar Hot Springs (aka Terwilliger Hot Springs), which is a 1/4 mile hike in from the road. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to soak in the warm water.
After the reservoir, it was up to HWY 126, where we drove along the picturesque McKenzie River. Our AWD Suzuki SX4 got about 25-26 MPG (with the ski rack attached) for the entire 300+ trip; not too bad since there was a lot of elevation change and the ski rack.
The Willamette National Forest is an amazingly beautiful place, and we are sure to return to it during the summer months.