McKenzie Pass East Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

McKenzie Pass East

OR, USA

All the cycling data and info you'll need to climb McKenzie Pass East

Page Contributor(s): Steve Jones, Olympia, WA, USA; Bruce Hamilton, La Quinta, CA, USA; John Berude, Berkeley, CA, USA

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Climb Summary


Climbing Mckenzie Pass East by bike - summit sign, north sister peak and south sister peak, lava field

Cycling McKenzie Pass East

Located in the Cascade subrange of the Pacific Coast Range.

Ride 13.8 miles gaining 2,073’ at 3% average grade.

Located in the Cascade Range subrange of the Pacific Coast Mountain Range, McKenzie Pass (5,325 ft.) is one of the great Oregon road climbs.  Beginning in the picturesque town of Sisters, Oregon (3,186 ft.), the climb ascends through majestic Ponderosa pines to the barren lava fields surrounding the Dee Wright Observatory, a stone tower at the summit of the pass offering spectacular views of the Central Oregon Cascade volcanoes (Hood, Jefferson, Washington, Three-Fingered Jack, Sisters, Broken Top).

Climbing Mckenzie Pass East by bike - photo collage, lava fields, ponderosa pine trees,Cascade mountains, snow-lined roads, road bike, Dee Wright Observatory

Photo bottom left taken June 6, 2017.

The ride begins at the Village Green park in downtown Sisters (restrooms, water).  Proceed west on the Old McKenzie Highway.  After nine miles, you will pass the seasonal snow gate.

Climbing Mckenzie Pass East by bike - photo collage, alpine forest, tree lined roads, McKenzie Pass and Cascade Forest road signs

Ride through alpine forest during the lower portion of the ride.

Summary from extreme athlete and cycling adventurer John Berude:

McKenzie Pass is one of my all-time favorite rides... Three starkly different landscapes in such a compact area! It really felt like riding in some magical fusion of Hawaii and the PNW between the dry ponderosa forests on the east, the vast lava beds and glaciated volcanoes in the middle, and the lush PNW forest on the west. Only downside is that there is no water on the route unless you filter or ride a mile down the road on the west side to the ranger station. Found that out the hard way...

Climbing Mckenzie Pass East by bike - photo collage, road, ponderosa pines, lava fields, cascade mountains

Moonscape along the upper portion of the climb, brings to mind . . .

Cycling Mauna Loa Volcano - roadway, lava field and roadway sign

. . . Mauna Loa, Island of Hawaii

For a few weeks in May and early June, the snowplows will have cleared the pass of snow but not yet opened the gates, and bikes can ascend the pass car-free.  For current conditions, check the website maintained by the local Sisters, Oregon bike shop, Eurosports Bike Shop.

Climbing Mckenzie Pass East by bike - snow lined road, road bike, forest

Photos May 21, 2017.

The last few miles to the pass is more like riding up Mauna Loa or Mauna Kea in Hawaii due to the lunar landscape-like surroundings you encounter - no vegetation, but a lot of lava.  This climb is on Oregon Route 242 which is purported to be on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, although we have been unable to confirm that via the official Register of Historic Places website.

Climbing Mckenzie Pass East by bike- photo collage, lava field, summit sign, cascade mountains, ponderosa pines, road, Dee Wright Observatory

Thanks to John Berude, Berkeley, CA for his contributions to this page.

North and South Sister Peaks right top and bottom photos

The Dee Wright Observatory (1935) is an open structure built of lava overlooking McKenzie Pass.  There are panoramic views of the Cascade Mountain Range, including Mt. Washington five miles north, Mt. Hood 75 miles north, and North and South Sister Peaks six and ten miles south, respectively.

Climbing Mckenzie Pass East by bike - cyclist at summit of climb, sitting next to bike, Dee Wright Observatory, lava field

Thank you Steve Jones, Olympia, WA.

Climbing Mckenzie Pass East by bike - road bike cyclist cycling, pine forest

Thank you Bruce Hamilton, LaQuinta, CA.

Fashion enthusiasts: Bruce is sporting PJAMM’s Top 100 US Climbs jersey here.