Santiam Pass

Santiam Pass, at an elevation of 4,817 feet, is a major highway crossing of the middle Cascade Range. Located on U.S. 20 at milepost 80.8, the pass crosses the Cascades Crest south of Mount Jefferson and north of the Three Sisters. Beginning in 1861, when the first Santiam Wagon Road was being built to ease travel between central Oregon and the Willamette Valley, the opening of the pass facilitated settlement and cattle ranching in the grasslands beyond the Cascades.

The pass has been known by several names, including Lakes Pass, Minto Pass, and Hogg Pass. In 1891, Judge John Breckenridge Waldo referred to the location as Minto Pass, in reference to pioneer John Minto. Minto Pass now refers to a more northerly location along the crest of the Cascade Range. The name Lake Pass was applied early and is a reference to the pass’s proximity to Fish, Clear, and Suttle Lakes. Hogg Pass, located nearby, was selected by Colonel T. Egenton Hogg for his ill-fated Corvallis and Eastern Railroad, which would have connected Newport and Boise, Idaho. The U.S. Geographic Names Board adopted the name Santiam Pass in 1929, the name having already been used on the Santiam River in reference to the Santiam Indians, a Kalapuyan tribe that inhabited the area before they were forcibly relocated to the Grand Ronde Agency.

The Santiam Wagon Road was officially known as the Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Wagon Road. It was a government-granted, privately owned toll road that began near Albany and ran eastward over the Cascade Range to Ontario in eastern Oregon. By 1867, construction was advanced to Fish Lake, and in 1868 the road was pronounced open. The last toll was charged in 1921. Four years later, the road was sold to Linn County to become part of the South Santiam Highway, which opened in 1939. The old Santiam Wagon Road is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (2010).

Hoodoo Ski Area, which opened in about 1940 and operates under a U.S. Forest Service special-use permit, is located just south of the summit.

Today, the Department of Transportation designates two Santiam Highway routes: the South Santiam (U.S. 20) and the North Santiam (Route 22), which separate west of the Santiam Pass summit at milepost 74.7. In addition, the Clear Lake Cutoff directs traffic on the McKenzie Highway (Route 126) from McKenzie Bridge past Clear and Fish Lakes to the South Santiam Highway.


Map It

Further Reading

McArthur, Lewis A., and Lewis L. McArthur. Oregon Geographic Names. 7th edition. Portland, Ore.: Oregon Historical Society Press, 2003.

Related Articles

Judge John Breckenridge Waldo
John B. Waldo (1844-1907)

John Breckenridge Waldo was the first Oregon Supreme Court chief justice born in the state. He may be best known as an outdoorsman and proponent of forest conservation for the Cascade Range.

Waldo was the third son of Virginians Daniel and Malinda Waldo. The Waldos had joined the "Great Emigration" …

John Minto.
John Minto (1822-1915)

John Minto described his sudden decision in 1844 to strike out for Oregon as a “species of madness,” an impetuous act that included little reflection and no timidity. He joined the R.W. Morrison family wagon group as a contract laborer, with an unbounded commitment to the cross-country trek and what …

Map of Santiam Wagon Road.
Santiam Wagon Road

The Santiam Wagon Road was a vital commercial link connecting the Willamette Valley with central Oregon. Built between 1861 and 1868, the road, which closely followed traditional Indian trails, was in use into the late 1930s and made possible the settlement of central Oregon.

In 1846, the opening of the …

This entry was last updated on March 17, 2018