The intoxicating combination of the McKenzie River and the Willamette National Forest is extraordinarily otherworldly. This sensory playground where rustic solitude meets outdoor adventure is conveniently located halfway between Eugene and Sisters on Highway 126, approximately fifty miles from each direction.
With twigs snapping underfoot as my husband and I unloaded the car at our Horse Creek Lodge cabin, I was entranced by the pure scent of dew-infused Douglas fir trees. I did what anyone should do; paused for a moment and took it all in. Horse Creek Lodge is surrounded by forest and has three cabins, a lodge and a budget-friendly campground. I watched the fluttering Northern Flicker birds land on one tree, then another, forever undecided which branch was best. It was time to shake off the week and enjoy what awaits at the McKenzie Bridge scenic area.
After a quick rest, we drove a short three miles down the highway for our afternoon tee time. Nestled in the shadow of the Cascades and along the McKenzie River is the historic Tokatee Golf Club. Still thriving after fifty-five years, Tokatee Golf Club public course has a rich history and a loyal following of golf enthusiasts. The entire course is hidden among the trees and is barely visible from the road. While Tokatee does not offer lodging, it does have a restaurant serving snacks and burgers and a sizable pro shop where I immediately bought a new golf glove with the assumption it would absolutely improve my game. Soon enough, we were ready to tee off at hole one—using GolfBoards instead of using golf carts to zip around the course. The GolfBoards are similar to large skateboards with a handle, and we rode them over the grass with our clubs attached to the front. It took a hole or two for me to get used to moving the GolfBoard by leaning my body forward; I had no idea how much those little hills on a golf course could be so fun! Four hours later, we concluded that our favorite unexpected sight on the course was the goat pen located on hole 17.
Craving post-match nourishment, we drove halfway back to our cabin—a whopping 2.8 miles—and stopped at the McKenzie General Store and Obsidian Grill. This small rural store, open since 1932, offers organic groceries, snacks, beverages, craft beer and live music on Friday and Saturday evenings in their well-appointed courtyard behind the store; a large (weather permitting) fire pit, several tables and Adirondack chairs are scattered around, creating opportunities to visit and make new friends. In no time, we were enjoying nachos, salmon tacos and a juicy burger as the sun was going down and the Edison string lights softly glowed over our heads and under the stars.
Day two was full of promise! I sipped coffee in the crisp morning air on the cabin porch, still wrapped in a blanket. Horse Creek Lodge and Outfitters is a full-service adventure hub as well as our lodging site. Owners Gary and Alyssa Brownlee are rafting guides, hiking and biking enthusiasts, and McKenzie area experts. We opted for a rafting trip and headed to the launch site on the McKenzie River. With life jackets on, waivers signed and instructions understood, we were soon splashing our way through class II and class III rapids. There are serene spots throughout the float that softly glide the raft downstream, and the highlight is to float under the Belknap Covered Bridge. Named for an early pioneer settler, Rollin Belknap, the bridge dates back to 1890 and is on its third reproduction—brightly painted white, fully encased, and situated in lush greenery; it’s a pretty sight.
After the cool water of the river and the physical exhaustion of rafting, we took a nice soak in the Belknap Hot Springs. This outdoor pool is located at the Belknap Hot Springs Hotel and is a short six miles east of Horse Creek Lodge. The relaxing, warm water was just what we needed to wrap up the weekend.
The 2020 Holiday Hill Fire
The Holiday Hill fire burned more than 170,000 acres and destroyed more than 700 structures in the McKenzie Valley in 2020. The fire threatened, but did not take, Tokatee Golf Club and Horse Creek Lodge. Hiking trails, boat launches and many vacation lodgings have all been affected, as have the roadways. Use travel precautions and check the road forecasts for delays or closures. Do your part to give back to the local communities by supporting local businesses and recovery efforts. See mckenzierecovery.org for more information.