The historic landmark parallels the South Santiam River for miles and winds through lush old growth forests, crossing several tributaries along the way; it is considered to be one of the most important historical routes in the state.
Unlike other wagon roads built to bring settlers to Western Oregon, this one was built to travel the reverse direction between the Willamette Valley and Central Oregon. Originally a freight route from 1861 to the 1930s, it soon became a livestock, freight and stage route moving livestock traveling from Albany to Sisters enroute to grasslands east of the Cascade Mountains.
Officially known as the Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Military Road, it was operated as a toll road until 1915 including bridges, road houses and toll gates. In 1925, the toll road was turned over to the State of Oregon and in 1939 the Santiam Highway was completed, replacing the route of the old Santiam Wagon Road.
The Santiam Wagon Road was preserved by the joint efforts of Linn County Tourism Coalition and the Sweet Home Ranger District, the driving tour follows the old county road system along the wagon road route from Albany to near Cascadia where portions of the wagon road continue to exist as a recreational trail. Near Upper Soda, the route of the Santiam Wagon Road lies south of the US 20 corridor and provides about 21 miles of recreational trail, unimproved pieces of the road are open only to hikers, horse riders and mountain bikers.
Several points of interest exist on the Western slope of the Cascade Mountain Range along this route and are easily visited on daytrips.
- Traveling to Cascadia you can take a ½ mile easy hike on a well-preserved section of the wagon road along the South Santiam River.
- The western-most trailhead to access the wagon road is located on US Highway 20 at mile post 52.5 just east of Soda Fork Creek. For those desiring a hike, this is a 3.5 mile easy trek to Latiwi Creek Road.
- Tombstone Pass was the beginning of the treacherous Seven Mile Hill for westbound travelers. Named after a family tragedy in 1871; 18 year old James McKnight, while stopping overnight to camp with his family, was accidentally shot as he retrieved his gun from between two bedrolls. The location was commemorated by his grieving mother who placed a tombstone in his honor. This is a 4.2 mile segment of moderate difficulty leading to Lost Prairie.
- Lost Prairie is a natural meadow near Hackleman Creek which received its name after Andrew Wiley’s scouting party became lost. After several days of frustration, Wiley climbed a tall tree and spotted Sand Mountain to the east, regaining his bearings.
To obtain additional information including several additional points of interest along the Santiam Wagon Road, contact The Sweet Home Ranger Station at 541-367-5168