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Ornament Hunting in Willamette National Forest's McKenzie River Ranger District

By Matt Wastradowski

The Willamette Valley Ornament Hunt is back for another year! Between Nov. 17 and Dec. 31, 2023, you have a chance to find ornaments along beloved trails in the Willamette National Forest's McKenzie Ranger District.

Trail List
Trail Information
Area Attractions

The McKenzie River Ranger District is in the heart of the Willamette National Forest—and is beloved for the sheer volume of popular campgrounds, trails, natural features, and viewpoints along the gorgeous McKenzie River. And if you're wondering what a ranger district is, it's basically a way of noting a specific region within a larger national forest.

So if you're circling the McKenzie River area for the annual ornament hunt, here's a guide that includes trails where you may find ornaments—along with suggestions for where to eat, stay, and play in case you'd like to make it an overnight outing or weekend experience.

Thank you for your interest in the 2023 Ornament Hunt! The event has ended, and we hope you had fun and made lasting memories! Check back in November 2024, when we'll unveil the trails for next year's search!

Trail Difficulty

We've hidden ornaments on wheelchair-accessible trails, family-friendly footpaths, and strenuous hikes all over the Willamette Valley. Check to make sure your chosen trail is suitable for your experience level and abilities; if it sounds easier or tougher than you'd like, we have another 20 or so trails you can choose from throughout the Willamette and Umpqua national forests.

Weather Forecasts

Snow is a possibility in late November and throughout December. Before setting out, check the latest forecast via the National Weather Service, and keep updated on road conditions through the Oregon Department of Transportation's TripCheck website (which features traffic webcams, road closures, and alerts on an easy-to-use map). You might also consider calling the Cottage Grove Ranger District a day or two before leaving—just to make sure your chosen trail is passable and in good condition.

One Ornament

We understand the joyous moment that comes with finding ornaments along your chosen trail—but please only take one ornament per household so other families can enjoy the same thrill. Every ornament on a given trail features the same design, so you're not missing much by grabbing just one.

If you're coming out to the McKenzie River area for the ornament hunt, why not make the most of it? Enjoy a few eats after your hike, and if you're making a night of it you'll find plenty of fun places to rest up and recharge after a day of outdoor adventure. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

If you need a quick bite, McKenzie General Store and Obsidian Grill dishes fresh, organic pub grub for lunch and dinner, as well as breakfast fare on weekends—including a full espresso bar. Several vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes are available. 

McKenzie General Store and Obsidian Grill

The always popular Takoda's Restaurant serves something for everyone—burgers, sandwiches, a decadent baked macaroni-and-cheese dish, and more—but is also known for a variety of creative, filling pizzas. 

Takoda's Restaurant

Traditional pub dishes get some love at McKenzie Station Restaurant, Bar & Espresso, where every dish is thoughtfully prepared; burgers are crafted with fresh-ground brisket, for instance, while tri-tip steak is smoked in-house for the restaurant's French dip sandwich.

McKenzie Station Restaurant, Bar & Espresso

Once you've found your ornament, you'll find enough fun along the McKenzie River to fill multiple weekends. Consider an overnight stay at the cozy Horse Creek Lodge, the relaxing Belknap Hot Springs, or Loloma Lodge in the forested region—and plan a memorable trip with these highlights:

Loloma Lodge and Cabins hosts overnight stays that date back decades—with refurbished lodge rooms and cabins from the late 1920s and early 1930s, and mid-century cabins along the McKenzie River from the 1960s. All feature electricity and thoughtful amenities for an upscale stay.

Relax in two mineral hot spring pools alongside the McKenzie River and in the midst of a towering forest at Belknap Hot Springs. Lodge rooms, cabins, and RV sites are available for comfortable overnight stays.

Stay in one of four cabins at Horse Creek Lodge, whose quiet overnight stays sit in the midst of a thick forest across Highway 126 from the McKenzie River. Three cabins sleep four to six, while the fourth sleeps groups of up to 16—making Horse Creek Lodge a popular family getaway.

Make time to admire the awe-inspiring Clear Lake at the headwaters of the McKenzie River. A 5.3-mile hiking trail circles Clear Lake (just watch for snow) while heading through a forest of Douglas fir and striking lava flows. Even if you're not hiking, the views (especially when the sun comes out) are striking from the lake's day-use area. Cabin rentals at the on-site Clear Lake Resort are available all winter long, as well.

The West Cascades are rich with volcanic activity, which has fed multiple hot spring pools. For a family-friendly experience (where bathing suits are required), enjoy a soak in the mineral pools at Belknap Hot Springs—open to the general public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For a more natural experience, Terwilliger (Cougar) Hot Springs hosts four soaking pools in the midst of a lush forest. (Note that bathing suits are optional at Terwilliger Hot Springs.) 

You need somewhere to put that snazzy new ornament, so why not harvest your own Christmas tree in a national forest? We've put together a guide to planning your trip, snagging the appropriate permit, and having fun while searching out this year's perfect tree.

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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