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Detroit Lake and Santiam Canyon Offer New Experiences in 2021

By Matt Wastradowski

In September 2020, the Beachie Creek wildfire burned nearly 200,000 acres and ripped through communities throughout the West Cascades-including Detroit and the communities surrounding Detroit Lake. The city of Detroit, in particular, was inundated; many of the town's residents lost their homes in the wildfire, and several locally owned businesses burned in the fire.

But even as Detroit remains scarred by the wildfire, the community has come together to welcome visitors in 2021 and offer new experiences to keep guests connected with the region. So if you're interested in visiting Detroit and boating at Detroit Lake this season, here's how to make the most of your trip.

What to Expect Around the Detroit Lake Area in Summer 2021

A woman and man in a canoe out on Detroit lake
Detroit Lake / Photo by Caleb Wallace

The Detroit Lake area and Santiam Canyon will offer a different experience in the summer of 2021. Here's what to watch for-and how to have a great time.

Highway slow-downs: Speed limits generally range from 40 mph to 60 mph along stretches of Highway 22 throughout the Santiam Canyon corridor. Expect lower speeds in busier and more populated areas (such as Gates, Mill City, Marion Forks, and Detroit), since hazard crews are continuing to remove trees and improve safety throughout the region. Give yourself an extra 30 to 45 minutes of travel time to reach your destination. Visit for the most up-to-date road conditions.

Outdoor recreation: Several of the Santiam Canyon's best-loved outdoor destinations remain closed this summer-including Opal Creek, the Three Pools Day-Use Area, and Jawbone Flats in the Opal Creek Wilderness-but there's plenty available to fill several weekends' worth of fun. Marinas at Detroit Lake, for instance, are offering motorized and non-motorized watercraft for rent. (Detroit Lake also offers plenty of shoreline for good ol' fashioned swimming.) Adrenaline junkies, meanwhile, can sign up for a guided whitewater tour of the Santiam River (just outside of Mill City) with eNRG Kayaking.

Paddling the Santiam River with eNRG Kayaking (Photo courtesy eNRG Kayaking)

Food and drink: Detroit hosts a few returning favorites (including Connor's BBQ & Pizza) alongside a variety of food carts serving sandwiches, traditional grilled fare (think burgers, hot dogs, and french fries), ice cream, tacos, and more. Visitors can also pick up snacks, beverages, and items to cook back at the campsite at Mountain High Grocery in Detroit. Restaurants can also be found in Mill City; Poppa Al's Famous Hamburgers, Rosie's Mountain Coffee House, and Mill City Grill are all local favorites. And while you're out and about, keep in mind that wait times may be longer than usual; give yourself plenty of time, exercise patience, and try to be understanding of the difficult circumstances when shopping or eating out.

Bustling campgrounds: Campgrounds are the best way to stay the night in the Santiam Canyon this summer. RV parks and campgrounds in Idanha and Detroit are generally open, as is the Lodge at Detroit Lake if you'd rather not rough it. Your best bet this summer might be Detroit Lake State Recreation Area, which hosts nearly 300 sites along the shore of Detroit Lake; the park routinely fills up on weekends, but keep an eye out (or create an email alert) for last-minute cancellations-almost an inevitability with so many sites.

A woman takes her shaggy dog out on a wooden canoe for a paddle on Detroit Lake.

How to Plan Your Next Outing Detroit Lake Area in Summer 2021

A little planning can go a long way when visiting Detroit Lake and the Santiam Canyon this summer. Here are a few tips for having a fun, safe outing in 2021 and beyond. 

Plan ahead: Numerous trails, parks, campgrounds, and other destinations remain closed while crews assess damage, remove trees, and work to ensure safety for future visitors. Check with the Willamette National Forest (online or by phone at 541-225-6300), Oregon State Parks, or Marion County Parks to see about the status of your preferred destination(s)-and to get recommendations for alternatives in case of closures. 

Enlist The Willamette Explorer for assistance: The official visitor guide of the Willamette National Forest, created in partnership with Cascade Volunteers, offers a treasure trove of information on year-round recreation, popular trails and day-use areas, details on recreation passes and permits, and more.

Canoeing on Detroit Lake
Detroit Lake / Photo by Caleb Wallace

Avoid peak times: You likely already know all the busiest times and days of the week: Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays see the biggest crowds (and most congested parking lots), usually around midday. So, if possible, plan your visit for another day of the week-or enjoy a quieter experience if you can arrive at the trailhead by 9 or 10 a.m. (or after 3 p.m.) on weekends. The relative solitude will give you better opportunities to spy wildlife and catch an epic sunrise or sunset.

Consider a post-Labor Day visit: Pleasant temperatures, clear skies, and smaller crowds make the Santiam Canyon and Detroit Lake area an ideal destination after Labor Day. The Willamette Valley's famous fall rains don't usually arrive until later in September or mid-October, giving visitors plenty of time to enjoy the region in relative solitude.

Be respectful: Damage to the Detroit Lake area was extensive; numerous businesses and homes burned down, and the rebuilding process will take years. So while we understand the impulse to see that damage up close, please refrain from entering neighborhoods and taking photographs while families and business-owners work to rebuild their homes and communities.

Stay updated: Several resources offer updates and information to help make the most of your time. The Detroit Lake Recreation Area Business Association offers information on where to stay and eat-along with what's open-and the Detroit Lake Foundation offers resources for getting involved (whether by donating or volunteering).

Your adventure begins with the official Willamette Valley Travel Guide. Request your complimentary printed guide or download a digital guide today.

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