This is one of the great places in my “backyard”; the Santiam State Forest. It combines a nice drive in the woods with hiking and great views. The top also makes a great place for viewing the annual Perseid meteor shower.
The road begins off Hwy 22 between Salem and Detroit. Just pass the sign for Niagara you take a Left on Niagara Heights Road SE. On the Willamette National Forest map it’s shown as 2111. The trailhead for Natural Rock Arch is about 6 miles, with the Rock Top trailhead an extra 2.2 miles. It’s worth noting, the state forest folks have done a great job of installing signs at the various road junctions to keep you heading in the right direction.
The road becomes progressively rough the higher you climb with a number of somewhat steep climbs. In the summer it’s a 2WD run, although lower ground clearance vehicles will need to watch the rocks. In the winter, snow will impede reaching the top even with 4WD.
You’ll come to a wide spot in the road with a great view of the valley and ridge across the way. Look for the trail marker sign, to the right and back just a bit. The hike to Natural Rock Arch is only 1/2 a mile, it’s a tough hike but well worth it.
Continue up the road, you’ll start to see Rocky Top on your left. Stay to the left and you’ll come to the parking area and trail marker for Rocky Top. The hike up is a workout but definitely easier than Natural Rock Arch. Depending how high up you hike there are great views of Jefferson, Hood and the Three Sisters.
There are some side trails you can explorer, although most of them don’t go very far.