House Rock

  • Easy (House Rock loop)
  • 0.8-mile loop
  • 100 feet elevation gain
  • Open all year

  • Moderate (to knoll viewpoint)
  • 7.2 miles round trip
  • 820 feet elevation gain
  • Use: hikers, horses, bicycles

When the first automobile to cross North America sputtered down the old Santiam Wagon Road toward Sweet Home in 1905, dragging a tree behind it on the steepest pitches as an emergency brake, the toll gate keeper studied the begoggled New York driver of the horseless Oldsmobile runabout and charged him three cents—the going rate for hogs.

Local entrepreneurs built the for-profit wagon road up the South Santiam River canyon in 1866-67, hoping to sell Willamette Valley cattle in the gold mining boomtowns of Eastern Oregon. Riders with good horses usually made the trip from Albany to Sisters in four days, stopping each night at roadhouses where hay, a bed, and a meal cost less than a dollar. The route remained the main link across the Cascades until the 1920s, when the McKenzie Pass highway opened. By 1925 the Santiam Wagon Road was sold to the government, and in 1939 the state replaced it with Highway 20.

Today a 19.3-mile stretch of the old wagon road has been reopened as a trail. For a quick sample of the route’s charms, try the 0.8-mile trail loop to House Rock. Complete with cave and waterfall, this short path is great for families with kids. For a more substantial sample of the historic route, head uphill to a canyon viewpoint on a forested knoll.

Start by driving Highway …

This chapter is an excerpt from 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Central Oregon Cascades.