Here’s a road that is such a fantastic ride that it’s been named an Oregon Scenic Bikeway.
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. I’ve been on this road in the spring when it was plowed just one lane wide, and I rode between 6-foot walls of snow, on bare pavement, like a bike-luge run. Unbelievable. More typically, though, you can get on the road in late spring/early summer before It’s officially open. Check with the Blazin’ Saddles or Eurosport bike shops in Sisters for current access info.
This road is still worth riding anytime, but parts of it can be a little nerve-wracking in the presence of cars/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/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: Officially, Summer, Fall
Download a turn-by-turn cue sheet for McKenzie Pass: McKenzie Pass Cue Sheet
Download a detailed map of the route: McKenzie Pass Route Map
Download an inset map of the start in Sisters: McKenzie Pass Sisters Inset
Order a free copy of the Oregon Scenic Bikeway map, which details the nine official Oregon Scenic Bikeways as of August 2012.