Mountain Bike the McKenzie River Trail

Rate this Adventure Oregon McKenzie River Trail

  • Activities:

    Mountain Biking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:


  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    26 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    -2200 Feet


This one-way mountain biking trail has been cited as the best in the US, and for good reason.

Mountain biking the McKenzie River Trail should be on every serious mountain biker's to-do list, since this trail has repeatedly been cited as the best mountain biking in the United States. The whole trail is an all-day, 26 mile epic, losing 2200 feet of elevation as it parallels the McKenzie River through the heart of the western Oregon Cascades.

While the first half of the trail is technical and should be ridden by experienced riders only, the lower half of the trail can be accessed at the Trail Bridge Campground and is more amenable to less advanced riders or those who don't want to spend sunrise to sunset on the bike. In any case, the ride is designed as a one-way trip, so you'll want to either bring two cars or reserve a shuttle - many are available, but the McKenzie River Mountain Resort is often the most straightforward option ($30 per person;

To get to the top of the McKenzie River Trail, follow Highway 126 until you reach a roadside parking area about one mile north of Clear Lake. The first mile of the trail is relatively gentle singletrack, but upon reaching Clear Lake you'll have a choice to make. Go to the left (east) of the lake to bounce your way through a field of loose volcanic scree. Extra tubes and a willingness to walk are a must if you choose this option. To the right (west) of the lake is a much gentler route, similar to what you've encountered so far. The next several miles, until you reach Sahalie and Koosah Falls, are relatively gentle.

Immediately below Sahalie Falls, and then again two miles later below Tamolitch Pool, you'll encounter more sizeable volcanic rocks - this time with no option to re-route around them. A lunch stop at Tamolitch Pool is a good way to get a brief respite from the rocks, especially since the pool doubles as a mid-ride swimming hole. At this point, 9 miles into the ride, you'll have to pick your way through 2 miles of seemingly unending - and very sharp - volcanic boulders. Be especially careful, as this is the point in the ride when many riders begin to lose steam.

From Trail Bridge Campground on, the trail is primarily smooth sailing. If you envisioned riding at full speed through the forest, the lower half of the trail will fulfill your dreams. The only speed bumps are a few small uphills and a series of log bridges that cross small streams and the McKenzie River itself - just wide enough to dare you to ride across them, but for most riders it's a better idea to walk your bike across. At mile 16, you'll reach Bigelow Hot Springs, a small pool of warm water just off the trail. With just 10 miles of relatively flat and fast trail left to go, this can be a hard pit-stop to tear yourself away from!

The trail ends at the Lower McKenzie River Trailhead along Highway 126, about 1.5 miles east of the small town of McKenzie Bridge. From here, call your shuttle service to get back to your car or meet up with your second vehicle. If you have some daylight left, relax your sore muscles with a soak at Couger Hot Springs, just 7 miles west of McKenzie Bridge.

Pack List

  • Shuttle (or second vehicle) - McKenzie River Mountain Resort offers a shuttle from the town of McKenzie Bridge for $30 per person, with a pickup at the Lower McKenzie River Trailhead when you finish the ride. They also rent high quality full-suspension mountain bikes for the day.
  • Mountain bike (a good quality, full-suspension bike is essential if you plan to do the upper half of the trail)
  • Helmet
  • Northwest Forest Pass (if you bring your own vehicle to the trailhead)
  • Extra tubes, tire pump, and tube patch kit
  • Sunglasses + sunscreen
  • Food + plenty of water
  • First aid kit - seriously, the volcanic rocks are sharp!
  • Camera
  • Bathing suit (for soaking in any of the pools or hot springs)
  • Headlamp
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Michael GrawExplorer

I'm a landscape and adventure photographer based out of Corvallis, Oregon. Backpacker, triathlete, and skiier - always with a camera in hand. Look for me in the mountains or online @WanderingSolePhotography.

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