McKenzie Pass, Oregon is amazing. There’s something for everyone from views at the Dee Wright Observatory, to hiking through lava fields or camping near an alpine lake. It’s beautiful! There’s plenty of free parking at the observatory, so it’s a great place to kick off your day hike! Noelle here, by the way.
I was 12 when my family moved from Louisiana to Oregon. For the first few summers, we went everywhere and saw all there was to see. Friends joked that our family had seen more of the state than lifers. Well that was a few years back, a large few, and now Steve and I are seeing more of Oregon than our own family has ever seen!
I want to tell you about McKenzie Pass and the Dee Wright Observatory. It’s just out of Sisters, Oregon on Hwy 242. But first let me show you this picture our youngest son sent me:
It’s me and Hunter from 2015! I just love it. We were celebrating our granddaughter, Ainsleigh’s, birthday at the park. What a fun memory!
Okay, back to the Pacific Crest Trail! On the way through Sisters, you’ll pass many agricultural fields 🤣
And have great views of Mt Jefferson and the Three Sisters.
As I drove out of Sisters, I came to a large section of a 2017 fire. In some parts, the road itself was clearly the barrier as one side hosts charred remainders of trees, while the other was a healthy forest. At some point though, the fire jumped the road and then it was all burnt. I may have mentioned before that crossing through these burned sections is almost like being in a chapel. It brings about the same reverence. I was a bit surprised to find the same almost spiritual feelings accompany me even whilst driving the van.
I parked up at the Dee Wright Observatory, where I met a Southbound hiker named Colleen the Machine. We walked in about four miles to South Matthieu Lake at Scott Pass.
The hike took us through a mile of lava field, another mile of burn and then some forest before dropping us to the lake. I think it’d make a great day hike since you get to experience all these environments in a very short time.
If you choose to camp here, there are three dedicated campsites and you have to tent within fifteen feet of the designation posts.
It’s quite beautiful. The lake has a silty bottom but looks great for a hot afternoon swim.
You could continue hiking on intersecting trails and go to Whispering Pines Campground, several miles east. Or you could take the one Northwest to North Matthieu Lake. That trails goes around the North Lake and then reconnects to the PCT.
Anyway, Colleen carried on and a couple minutes later Steve arrived at the lake. We made our way back to the van. It was getting later in the day, which made for a cool, breezy walk! So nice!
I liked how the sun was lighting up Steve’s legs! They are definitely sculpted muscle at this point!
Back at the van, Steve washed up while I tried to capture the sunset (I may be obsessed).
I highly recommend staying at the Observatory, if you have a van or at the nearby Lava Lakes Campground, if you have a tent. There are multiple hiking and camping options at McKenzie Pass. Just promise to wake up at 5:00am to watch the sunrise. After Steve left to hike, I had the whole place to myself. So beautiful!
The Observatory was built from and atop the lava fields starting in 1933 and named after its originator, Dee Wright. There’s a medallion at the top pointing to the different mountains. I wasn’t quite tall enough (or coordinated enough) to get its picture. 🤣
Inside the structure are little, labeled windows, through which you can see those surrounding mountains.
Outside, there’s a half mile trail with stops teaching about the lava flow. I spent about an hour wandering around reading the signs and enjoying the peacefulness.
There’s even a bench for resting! And actually the whole thing is paved, easily walkable and accessible.
It really was spectacular having the whole place to myself. I was at the top of McKenzie Pass without another soul in sight! When I’d arrived the day before, it was quite crowded, so being alone amidst such rugged beauty was very special for me. I looked out in the direction Steve had gone to see if I could decipher the PCT but it was pretty much impossible. I knew he was out there crossing the lava and I hoped he was able to enjoy the morning while paying close attention to each footstep among the rocks.