In late May, I went on a hike on part of the Santiam Wagon Road near Sisters, Oregon (see trail map at end of post). Carol Wall, of the Deschutes Land Trust, led this hike. We traveled along an out and back two-mile section of the road. This 400-mile route was used to move livestock and freight between 1865-1939. In the first 15 years of its operation, around 5,000 wagons passed over this route.
As I mentioned in a previous post, most travelers on this road traveled from the west side of the mountains to the east. My Santiam Wagon Road post gives details about a 2-mile hike on a different section of this route.
We gathered around the kiosk in the parking area and Carol had us imagine what this road must have looked like in the 1860s. The ponderosa pine and western juniper trees you’ll see at the trailhead likely didn’t exist at that time. Junipers expanded their range due to fire suppression and overgrazing.
If you are looking for an interesting historical area to visit close to Bend, try following parts of the route of the Santiam Wagon Road. It parallels present day Highway 20 and parts of Highway 126 between the cities of Sisters and Lebanon, Oregon. This particular wagon road is interesting because its purpose was to provide safe passage from the Willamette Valley eastwards into central Oregon. A route was found in 1859 by connecting old Native American trails to a route discovered by Hudson’s Bay Company trapper, Thomas McKay. It became the main route across the Central Cascades from 1865 to 1939. In 1939 the Santiam Highway opened.
The road was maintained by the Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Wagon Road. Local ranchers formed the company with Andrew Wiley, John Gray, and John Brandenburg. These pioneers originally proposed the road and scouted a route. Tolls were collected along the route. Settlers used the road to move their livestock eastwards to pasture lands and markets. The new road also enabled trade, commerce, and communication between areas East and West of the Cascades.