McKenzie Trail

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Baby-T and Yetiwheel spot the line on Sahalie falls.

Baby-T and Yetiwheel spot the line on Sahalie falls.

McKenzie River Trail

Closest Towns:  Eugene(45 min), Bend( 1:15)

Ride Format: Shuttle or out and back

Trail Style: Trail/XC

Giggle Rating: ***

Riding :***

Scenery :****

Flow:***

Technicality:  Moderate

Difficulty:  Moderate

Epic Scale: Moderate to Uncomfortable

Ideal Bike: Any mtn bike; trail bikes

When Wet:  Trail has slippery roots, but rides well.

The upper section above the falls.  Note buffness, roots, and a river.

The upper section above the falls. Note buffness, roots, a river, and Heather who is rolling the dice by hauling ass as she checks the views.

Beta Spewage

Overview: The Oregon MTB gestapo is definitely going to be knocking on my door after their perusal of this particular review, because I’ve got some mixed feelings about this trail. The McKenzie is the trail you are supposed to do if you ride in Oregon and to be fair I can’t claim to have a concrete argument against that view. The Scenery is classic NW, the trail is long and varied, and there is a definite satisfaction that comes with completing this rig, whether you are shuttling from the top or going up and back from the bottom. There is even ice-cream and beer in close proximity to hot springs, good camping and several other excellent riding options, so why does TDM go all heretical on this regional treasure?

In part there is a grudge at play here, so the reader should keep that in mind. TDM has long tended to favor the nerdy skater in the corner over the team captain on the court, and has shown great skill in ducking his own awards ceremonies when the spotlight is thrust upon him, but there is more to it than a grade school grudge! I suspect the beef revolves around the suspicion that while this might be the best overall trail riding experience in Oregon, it lacks some of the giggle inducing qualities found in many other rides of the region. This is not to say that it isn’t a super fun day, but focusing on the arcane metric that is the giggle, I’d say I end up with a big smile, not the preferred incoherent babbling that rides like Marys Peak, North Fork to Flagline and Waldo Lake/Twins tend to provoke.  To summarize this summary, TDM cannot in good faith say that this is his favorite Oregon ride, (possibly because of some scars still lingering from his time in the 8th grade) but neither can the author deny that the talking heads are right; if you do one trail in Oregon, this might make a sensible choice.

There is strong evidence that TDM is an idiot, and this phot is not the only evidence that you should blow him off and do this trail, even if it is the only Oregon ride you manage to do.

This photo is yet another piece of evidence that TDM is an idiot, and  you should blow him off and do this trail, even if it is the only Oregon ride you manage to do.

Pros: The scenery really is awesome, particularly around the falls and blue hole, and the riding is consistently fun, with a good mix of technical lava, fun roots, and flowy dirt. It is easy to adjust length depending on where you start/end, whether you want to go five miles or 50. Tis a memorable XC trail.

P1030912

Oppressive blueness and a lot of aggressive ground squirrels will greet you at the blue hole…break out the poptarts and PButtery treats!

Cons: The three lava sections (East side of clear lake, along the falls, and just below the blue hole) are definitely a bit tricky and unforgiving for beginning and low-intermediate riders. They can be hard on tires and derailleurs as well…come prepared. The trail can be very crowded, particularly below the blue hole, where hikers and cyclists tend to congregate. The flow tends to get blown up by the many walking bridges…even if you ride most of them. It’s not a big deal, but its noticeable, particularly if you are trying to ride it in a fast train with a group of friends.  It is a XC trail: no major descents!

Yetiwheel (who seems to be popping up a lot lately) and Stefan railing a rare buff patch in the 2nd lava section.  The buffness is surprising at this spot, but even more shocking is the lack of hikers visible in this shot.  You will likely not be so lucky.

Yetiwheel (who seems to be popping up a lot lately) and Stefan railing a rare buff patch in the 2nd lava section. The buffness is surprising at this spot, but even more shocking is the lack of visible hikers. You will likely not be so lucky, as scientists believe that lava may be a hiker’s native habitat.

Need to Know: The trail splits just north of Lava lake.   The west trail is smooth, fast and flowy, while the east side of the lake is…well…not. Most people prefer the west. Generally speaking the trail gets easier the lower you go, so don’t be afraid to walk a bit if the lava is feeling sketchy. It may be a XC ride, but this thing has a way of taking some flesh, even from experienced riders! If you want to do up and back, make sure you include the section between the bottom of Clear Lake and the top of Trail Bridge Reservoir & Campground. When people talk about the McKenzie trail, it is primarily this section they are spewing about.

Other Rides in the area: O’Leary Loop (****), Castle Rock(***), Crescent Mtn(***), Gordon Meadows(***),Pyramids Epic Loop(****).

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Route Options

  1. Most Common: Shuttle from the top trailhead near Fish Lake to the lower trailhead located below the McKenzie Ranger Station (26 miles and about 1500 feet of climbing). Can also end at the Ranger station itself (about 25 miles), or at Paradise Campground (about 24 miles). You can also adjust the shuttle for length or difficulty. In general, the harder and more remote feeling section is between the HWY126 bridge over the Mckenzie River just below Lava Lake, and Trail Bridge Reservoir ( about 9 miles), with the 15 or so miles below Trail Bridge being easier and more accessible ( but still a good time). There are shuttles ( and ice-cream/beer) available through the McKenzie Bridge store,and various packages available through Cog Wild in Bend (541-385-7002), but TDM has had good luck with the thumb.
  2. Up and Back. For solid riders this trail is actually a blast to climb, with lots of fun little techy cruxes, good traction, and a pretty easy grade. The full up and back is about 50 miles and is a good day out, but if doing it on a weekend make sure to get an early start so you can beat the hikers and descending shuttle crowds through the lower lava section . Once uphill of the blue pool the traffic subsides, but it can still get annoying. Starting at Trail Bridge focuses on the best part of the trail, and makes a nice lollipop (if you go around Lava Lake) of about 20 miles. Beginners would enjoy climbing from the bottom to whatever destination fits their needs, with out and back to Trail Bridge being 30 miles, and the Deer Cr bridge being a bit closer to 20.
So fucking Oregon it hurts.

So fucking Oregon it hurts.

Links, Maps & Media

Adventure Maps – Central Oregon or Oakridge maps (http://www.adventuremaps.net/ )

USFS Map- McKenzie Ranger District ( also has the other trails in the area)

Cog Wild:   http://cogwild.com/

Mountain Bike Project: http://www.mtbproject.com/trail/212960/mckenzie-river-trail-mrt

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