Santiam Highway: Detroit Lake & Dam


The North Santiam Corridor, Oregon Highway 22 (and further on, the McKenzie Pass/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway), is one of your options for traveling over the cascades from I-5 to Bend, Oregon.  On a sunny, clear day, there will be plenty to see.

My Visit

As I left Salem and the state capitol building, a gloomy day with an annoying drizzle turned downright nasty, and I spent most of my drive along Oregon Highway 22 in a downpour of rain.   That means I didn’t stop a lot, and I couldn’t enjoy much of the scenery.  But, I still managed to see a few of the highlights along this route from Salem to Bend.

About 40 miles east of Salem, you’ll pass Niagara County Park on the right, and you’ll spot this old-fashioned water wheel on the left, at the intersection of Route 22 and Niagara Heights Road.  I don’t know much about the water wheel, when it was installed or whether it’s still used for some purpose.  But, the bright red wheel is quite a sight, at the edge of the highway.

I turned into Niagara County Park and drove through.  Because of the rain and lack of sun, it was dreary, damp, and dark underneath the park’s thick canopy of trees.  If you check out the park on Google Maps, however, you’ll see that it’s home to some ruins of an old hydro-power plant, and it provides access to a narrow chute in the North Santiam River.  On a more pleasant day, it would be worth the time to poke around here for a few minutes.

A bit further down the road (and upstream along the North Santiam River), you’ll pass a small dam that creates the Big Cliff Reservoir, and then a much bigger dam that creates the Detroit Reservoir.  Despite the rain, I stopped at the Detroit Dam and walked across.

The Detroit Dam was completed in 1953. It creates a lake that’s 400 feet deep and 9 miles long.

It looks like there’s a small office/visitor center at the middle of the dam, but no one was home during my visit.

Look over one side, and you can appreciate a very steep drop, down to the hydroelectric plant at the bottom of the canyon.

Look over the other side of the dam, and you have a stunning view of Detroit Lake and the surrounding mountains.  Okay, it’s not exactly stunning in this picture, but I’m pretty sure you’d enjoy the view during a sunnier day.  In fact, you should be able to see snow-capped Mount Jefferson in the distance.

Along the Detroit Reservoir coastline, you’ll find Detroit Lake State Recreation Area.  It offers hundreds of campsites, and abundant recreation/boating opportunities.  If you have an entire day to hike, you could tackle the Tumble Ridge Trail to Dome Rock, with numerous views of Detroit Lake along the way.  Needless to say, on a day like this, I did not do any hiking.

I did, however, continue the drive on down Route 22, then took Oregon 126 further south — consider it the long way to Bend, but with a few extra features along the way, including Koosah Falls, Proxy Falls, and the Dee Wright Observatory at McKenzie Pass.

The Bottom Line

I’d love to drive this road a second time, in better weather, to see all the scenery I missed.  This part of the highway, and the waterfalls and mountain pass that I’ll cover on other pages, make it well worth the curvy, long, mountainous drive.


The North Santiam Corridor, Highway 22, takes you from Salem, Oregon, along the North Santiam River, past the Detroit Dam and Detroit Lake.  Highway 22 ends at US 20/Oregon 126.  If you take 20/126 east, you’ll head over Santiam Pass.  Take 126 south, then Oregon 242 east, and you’ll be on the McKenzie Highway, which eventually leads over McKenzie Pass and on towards Bend.

The entire loop formed by 20, 126, and 242 is known as the McKenzie Pass/Santiam Pass Scenic Byway.  We’ll cover most of this route on a separate page.

Drivelapse Video

Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Salem to Detroit Dam…

… Detroit Dam to Dee Wright Observatory…

… and McKenzie Pass on to Bend:

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