McKenzie River Trail
Trailhead Elevation: 3153 ft
DirectionsGet directions to the trailhead on Google Maps
In Oregon, a bicycle is legally considered a vehicle, and the same Oregon road laws apply. Please “be seen” and practice safe riding. Vehicle traffic, farm equipment and narrow shoulders exist on many Oregon roads, and you may find that construction projects, traffic or other events may cause road conditions or signage to differ from the map results, ride descriptions and directions. For travel options plus weather and road conditions, visit tripcheck.com, call 511 (in Oregon only), 800.977.6368 or 503.588.2941. Routes listed on this website are for informational purposes and intended as a reference guide only.
This is the signature trail ride in Oregon, rated the #1 trail in the nation by a national cycling magazine. It’s 26 miles of beauty and challenge, offering sections that are appropriate and challenging for everyone from the weekend cruiser to the thrill junkie.
The top-end trailhead starts just off Highway 126 about a mile above Clear Lake; there’s an off-road parking lot. Most people ride this one-way (usually downhill from the top) in groups, using shuttle vehicles; soloists can try a hitchhiking solution, ride it all the way down and back (a long day) or pick a shorter segment to ride out-and-back.
The trail starts in deep forest and soon presents a choice of routes around Clear Lake. Go east (left) to take the challenging route through loose lava rock, some paved trail (but not easy, actually) and along the rugged edge of the lake. You’ll go right by the spring pool that feeds the lake and the McKenzie River. The west fork is much gentler.
After Clear Lake you’ll cross the highway and start a section of technical trail through the forest — roots, rocks, small ledges and lava rocks make this a good challenge. Don’t be too foolish to get off the bike for a couple stretches. You’ll pass Sahalie and Koosah Falls, and eventually lose the river as it submerges below ground. After a bit, you’ll see Tamolitch Pool, a serene bloe pool where the river re-emerges. There are rocks above the pool perfect for stopping for a food break.
As you continue on, there are some more technical stretches, but eventually the trail becomes more intermediate. There are some awesome segments where you can glide through the trees, slaloming like a ski run without touching the brakes for hundreds of yards at a time. There are multiple stream crossings, all with bridges; many of them are made of huge logs and present a serious can-you-ride-this challenge for the adrenaline lovers.
The bottom section is much less technical than the top, but still presents some climbs and plenty of surreal scenery.
The trail crosses roads and jogs around a bit, but it’s signed well enough to keep you on track. There are multiple entry points from Highway 126; check with the ranger station in McKenzie Bridge for advice if you want a partial ride.
This is (overall) downhill, but it’s not necessarily a trail where you’ll make fast time. Allow four to five hours top to bottom unless you’re in a hurry. And on this trail, you shouldn’t be.
Seasons: Summer, Fall
For more information about this trail, visit this MTB Project page from the International Mountain Bicycling Association.