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September 16, 2008

Oregon: McKenzie River Trail

Filed under: MTB Travel, OR WA 2007, OR/WA 2007 — anotherheader @ 1:25 am

Clear Lake panorama

Clear Lake panorama

The Crew: Brian, Becky, Dave, Shelly, and Mike


Roughly 29 miles

4.2 hours of saddle time, 6.5 hours overall

1500 feet of elevation gain on the trail plus about the same amount of elevation gained on the shuttle.

The McKenzie River Trail begins...

The McKenzie River Trail begins...

McKenzie River Trail (MRT) is the trail that everyone must ride at least thrice. This year was Becky’s first trip down and Brian and Dave’s second. It only gets better when you revisit it.

We left our camp outside of Sisters with Becky’s rental car and the truck and worked our way over to the trailhead for the MRT. This took about an hour and we met a newly retired couple from San Diego, Mike and Shelly, at the trailhead as we were dropping our bikes off. They were planning on having Shelly run a shuttle for Mike, but when we offered a seat in the rental car back up the hill, they able to set a shuttle for themselves and both could ride along. So together we drove down the hill and left the truck and Mike and Shelly’s car at the ranger station.

Brian winding through the lava

Brian winding through the lava

For those who have not had the pleasure of riding MRT, the trail starts along a reservoir on the McKenzie River and then follows the river downstream for more than 24 miles. The scenery along the way is spectacular with two waterfalls (we managed to miss the second one this year but saw the first one twice!) and the reemergence of the river in the spectacular turquoise colored Blue Pool. All of this is linked together through a trail that winds amongst a dark, ferny, and mossy forest straight from Middle Earth.

Sahalie Falls

The singletrack tread at the top is quite technical, largely due to the grabby tricky nature of the lava flow crossings, which had a significant “You don’t want to fall” quality. As the trail winds its way down the hill, the lava challenges become “droppier” and gradually easier, but you need to be on your game until past the Blue Pool where the trail turns into a twisty, “flow-fest” through the dense Pacific Northwest forest. The trail conditions were perfect this year—neither dusty nor wet. This was particularly notable compared to last year when it was drier and dustier near the bottom.

If it sounds like it was all good, then that is pretty much correct. We did, however, have some trail finding issues at a couple of points that lead to a longer ride than it needed to be. Though Brian and my memories from last year gave us a good feel for the “I don’t think we did this last year”, the memories did not help us much in preventing us from being in the situations where our awareness of not doing it last time was activated! I’ve attached some important GPS trail finding points.

The river reemerges in The Blue Pool

The river reemerges in The Blue Pool

When it was all said and done, we ended up at the ranger station with dry camelbacks after about 6.5 hours totally sated with fine singletrack. Becky and I were tired and exhausted and left contemplating the true nutritional value of a Warkentine unit. But still, the McKenzie River Trail remains as a premier destination ride worthy of travel from great distance to experience (3 Stars).

Becky flew back for work on Monday morning. She will be back on Friday. Brian, Nick, and myself will be suffering on in her absence…



Trail Start: N44 23.615 W122 00.086

Follow McKenzie River Trail not Clear Lake Trail: N44 21.637 W121 59.557

Ignore the sign, cross the bridge here. Not crossing the bridge leads to a nice view of the waterfall from the wrong side of the river: N44 21.227 W121 59.869

Though it is very deceiving on the map, the trail continues more or less directly across the road, to the right of the picnic table and behind the “guard rail” type thingy: N44 16.898 W122 03.060

The trail that leads to the ranger station is here: N44 10.828 W122 06.966

Time travel forward to our trip to MRT in 2008:



  1. […] by Oregon: McKenzie River Trail « Another Header — September 16, 2008 @ 7:31 […]

    Pingback by Oregon, McKenzie River Trail « Another Header — September 16, 2008 @ 7:36 pm

  2. […] the character of the ride is reminiscent of Oregon’s McKenzie River Trail.  Both trails follow a clean clear river as it flows over lava dam falls and through lush […]

    Pingback by Mount St Helens, Lewis River Trail « Another Header — November 25, 2011 @ 9:13 pm

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