McKenzie River Trail
Closest Towns: Eugene(45 min), Bend( 1:15)
Ride Format: Shuttle or out and back
Trail Style: Trail/XC
Giggle Rating: ***
Epic Scale: Moderate to Uncomfortable
Ideal Bike: Any mtn bike; trail bikes
When Wet: Trail has slippery roots, but rides well.
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.
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.
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!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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