When you need to escape the last dregs of winter, head toward the mist rising from the forest and away from reliable cell phone service to the McKenzie Highway. Find scant snowfall, easy hiking trails, rustic hot springs, a cozy historic lodge and whispers of spring in this charming river community.
You could drive back and forth along the McKenzie Highway dozens of times and never spot Loloma Lodge. The rustic retreat is nestled in the dense temperate forest, hidden behind layers of green. Driving under the modest wooden archway onto the property and spotting the log-cabin lodge feels like stumbling upon a hidden treasure.
About a year ago, Wallis Levin had that same feeling when she discovered Loloma Lodge. Self-described as obsessed with miscategorized or misspelled items on sites like eBay or Craigslist, Levin found Loloma incorrectly categorized as a single-family home on a real estate website. She and her husband, who both moved to Bend four years ago, jumped on it, and less than a month later found themselves the owners of this historic McKenzie River lodge and resort.
Built in 1932, Loloma is one of the last historic buildings in the area. It’s been through a handful of owners who have added their own touches to the property, but much of its past has yet to be uncovered. “I wish I knew more about the building,” said Levin. “We’ve been told that it’s related somehow to Timberline, but I don’t know if that was the architects or the actual builders. Loloma is a mystery, from what I can tell so far.” The mystery is part of its charm though, as if each person who finds Loloma gets to uncover the story for themselves, and add to it.
Levin and her husband didn’t know much about running a lodge when they became the owners. She has a background in wedding set design and runs an artisan pop-up shop in Bend. Her husband Tyrone works in product development. But they’re committed to holding on to the property and starting a new chapter for Loloma. They’ve had the lodge open to travelers since they purchased it, and they also inherited a full season of weddings booked on the property. Making updates slowly and deliberately, Levin wants to preserve Loloma’s function and character.
“This is definitely a life project, and I’m trying to build [the business] so it actually works,” she said. “I just want to do it right.”
Levin did add her personal touch to the interior design. Her bohemian aesthetic mixed with mid-century modern furniture and color palette blends seamlessly into the property, making it feel modern and comfortable. With chickens running around the property’s eleven acres, a firepit tucked inside a grove of trees and the river as the backdrop, Loloma is an idyllic place to escape.
The handful of restaurants just off the highway are charming places for a quick meal. For breakfast, the place to be is Takoda’s. The classic diner’s breakfast options are generous and affordable. Close by, McKenzie Bridge Pub feels like a home kitchen. With a full bar as well, the restaurant is the place to swap fishing stories.
Farther down the road, Vida Cafe is a shoebox-size diner that happens to make some of the best homemade pies in Oregon. Expect classic comfort food dishes that satisfy after rainy outdoor adventures. Case in point: A woman at the table next to us noted that my eyes rolled into the back of my head when I took the first bite of my cheeseburger.
A trip along the highway isn’t complete without a stop in Christmas Treasures, where it’s Christmas all year long. The shop has hundreds of decorations and ornaments for sale. There’s holiday music playing year-round and usually a fire going. This year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the shop, and the owners will relight the big Christmas tree that helped make the shop famous more than two decades ago.
Take a short detour to the Belknap Covered Bridge, which is just a few minutes off the highway. The wooden, white covered bridge provides a classic photo opportunity and is a reminder that some of Oregon’s best-preserved treasures are just off the road.
Hiking Trails and Hot Springs
Nature doesn’t always comply with the itinerary. Higher up in elevation along the McKenzie River highway, the trails to Sahalie and Koosah falls can have snow on the ground when the highway doesn’t. A fresh layer was melting on our hike along the trail that follows the ice blue, roaring McKenzie River. The Waterfalls Loop Trail is accessible to Sahalie Falls, then turns into a gravel path to Koosah Falls. The short hike is great for families as a destination for a day-trip or as a way to stretch your legs on a long car ride home.
About thirty minutes from the highway is Terwilliger Hot Springs, one of Oregon’s famed naturally warm pools that still feels rustic. You’ll meet a ranger at the trailhead, who gives you the rundown about the four natural pools, which are just a quarter-mile walk up the trail. Clothing is optional in the pools, and that credo is taken seriously, as in there are as many people in a birthday suit as there are in a bathing suit. Spend a few hours soaking in the warmth, protected from the rain by a canopy of trees.
Pockets of blue sky finally peeked out behind the gray cloud cover on our last day as we hiked from the Blue Pool Trailhead on the McKenzie River Trail to Tamolitch Pool, the impossibly blue and clear natural wonder. Coming from the high desert, the McKenzie River Trail felt like walking into an enchanted forest. Green moss drips from the trees and cascades over the rocks along the trail. And seemingly out of nowhere, you reach Tamolitch Pool, looking down over it from the lava-rock trail. The dry weather and hints of sunshine were a welcome treat after two days of rain. Signs of the seasons to come.