McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway
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.
McKenzie Pass is without a doubt the most spectacular ride in Central Oregon, showcasing forests on both the east and west sides of the Cascades (they’re different) as well as a lava-rock moonscape at the top that’s unlike anything you’ll probably ever see on a bike ride again.
The route begins at the Village Green Park in the center of Sisters. The vast majority of the route is on Oregon Route 242 (selected to be on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, March 2011). Most of Oregon Route 242 is closed during winter months, but bicycles are usually allowed in the spring before it’s reopened to cars – providing miles of traffic-free road riding as the snow melts.
Restrooms and potable water can be found at the Village Green Park in Sisters and at McKenzie Bridge store. There are restrooms at the summit and various campgrounds throughout the descent.
While it is a challenging ride, it is possible to do the route over and back in one day. There are also lovely campgrounds on either side of the route — perfect for a great night out under the stars. Currently, there is no shuttle available to bring riders back from one side or the other to their vehicles; however, there are bike tours from a Bend-area business, Cog Wild Tours, that ride the McKenzie River Trail. There is the possibility of working with Cog Wild to have riders pay for a shuttle service from the west side to Sisters.
The official route starts in Sisters and heads west past hay meadows, ascending 2,000 feet through ponderosa pine forests. The road follows an 1860s wagon route, emerging from the forest at Windy Point and revealing a view of Mt. Washington and a 2,000-year-old lava flow. The 25-mile, 4,000 ft descent to Highway 126 snakes down exhilarating switchbacks to the dense, verdant Cascadian forests and rushes out over the McKenzie River. It’s these dramatic transitions through such diverse natural environments that define the uniqueness of this bikeway.
McKenzie Pass is also a well-known secret among the riding community. Why? Because at certain times of the year you can ride this road when cars can’t drive it. The pass is only open during the summer/fall season, but It’s often navigable by bike long before It’s officially open. Check with the Blazin’ Saddles or Eurosport bike shops in Sisters for current access info, and check www.tripcheck.com for current road closures.
This road is worth riding anytime, but parts of it can be a little nerve-wracking in the presence of cars and RVs. The unique setting and overall beauty are worth it, though. You can ride it from either side (starting in Sisters or from Highway 126 east of Eugene, near Rainbow); the map here shows it from Sisters. It’s a longer climb from the Eugene side, with switchbacks through deep forest before you emerge into stark and barren lava fields left by three separate volcanic eruptions. It looks like the moon, but with snow-capped mountains and rocky buttes looming on the horizon. At the top of the pass is a small “observatory” built out of lava rock; it gives spectacular views of 360 degrees of peaks, with special windows built to frame the peaks. It’s worth the stop. On the Sisters side, it’s a shorter climb and descent, but still exhilarating.
A major repaving project in recent years has made sections of this ride absolutely sublime, with smooth asphalt that will make you feel faster than you are.
Motorized Vehicle Traffic: None (when closed) to moderate
Seasons: Summer, fall
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Important Traffic Information: Scenic Bikeway routes often include roads with car and truck traffic. Although the Bikeways are routed on low-traffic and low-speed roads whenever possible, most are designated for cyclists that are comfortable riding in some amount of traffic. For traffic-free riding, please check out the Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway section north of Banks and the first half of the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway.