Joe Schwartz: Trip Report – McKenzie River Trail

The McKenzie River Trail (the MRT) is situated in Central Oregon, on the west side of the Cascades. This mountain range, predominantly made up of dormant and not-so-dormant volcanoes, does an efficient job of stopping the moisture from the Pacific Coast. On the west side you have temperate rainforests and old growth timber, and a stones throw to the east you are exploring an arid desert-like landscape. The MRT, being on the west side of the volcanoes, features towering Douglas fir, mossy forest floors, a raging river (complete with big waterfalls) and a cool climate. Apparently it rains frequently, but it was nice and dry for our visit down this renowned trail.

I met up with a crew that was sampling some Hood River singletrack the day before. None of us had ever been to the MRT, so it was a pleasant start to the day when we all arrived at the predetermined meeting place with in 30 minutes of each other, despite driving from different ends of Oregon. Keeping the smooth operation plugging forward, we loaded gear and people into one truck and drove to the top of the 25 mile trail.

While it is a shuttle, and there is an overall elevation loss from top to bottom, this trail is XC. Not XC in a grunty, North Shore kind of way, but in the way that you start spinning the pedals, whipping through the woods, hammering down the trail; totally engrossed in the 30 feet ahead of you that is constantly offering up fun little surprises, and all of a sudden a few miles have gone by and you are laughing and gasping for air all at the same time. That kind of XC.

The flow does not let up for the entire 25 miles, causing our whole group to break out in uncontrollable laughter multiple times. The scenery is all time, passing a couple 80+ foot waterfalls, clear blue swimming holes, lava flows and whipping in and out of lush green forests. All the time serenaded by the resonant sound of the McKenzie River.

Using an old Boy Scout trick I learnt, I had stashed beers in the river at the trails end. A cold brew was a great way to end a perfect day down this Oregon singletrack classic.
Directions (loose and vague ones from Vancouver)
1) Head on down the I5, maybe stopping at Taco Time on the way.
2) In Eugene, take exit 194A to merge onto OR-126 E.
3) Follow OR-126 E for about 70 miles until you get to the hamlet of McKenzie Bridge. There are a couple good greasy spoons here, or ice cream.
4) About a mile East of town, staying on OR-126 E, you will enter into the National Forest, and there will be a Ranger Station on the right. This is a good place to shuttle from, as there is quite a bit of parking. The trail comes out right here on the river side of the hwy.
5) Shuttle up the road about 20 miles. The top of the trail is indicated by a big sign “McKenzie River Trail”
6) Park and ride!
7) The trail is pretty straightforward. We had a mixed group and took the right option around Clear Lake (really smooth singletrack). The left option sounds a little more technical, but with great views of the lake. We wished we went left.
8] Lower down, before the Sahalie Falls, we went left to the falls and the tourist viewpoint. That is the wrong way, and we had to ride up the road a half mile, re-enter the trail and take a bridge over the river at the junction where we went left. The signage is not very good at this spot.
9) Otherwise it is all pretty straightforward. Enjoy!