Cycling McKenzie Pass West
Ride 21.8 miles gaining 3,738’’ at 3.1% 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. The west side of McKenzie Pass starts at the intersection of State Routes 126 and 242 (elev. 1,669 ft.), near Belknap Hot Springs, in the heart of the Oregon Cascade Mountains, east of Eugene, Oregon. Services are available at the nearby town of McKenzie Bridge or the hot springs resort. The climb proceeds through heavy forest, passing several campgrounds. The views are limited due to the heavy forest, until the road emerges into the barren landscape of the lava fields near the summit of the pass (5,325 ft.) at the Dee Wright Observatory, a stone tower with spectacular views of the Oregon Cascade volcanos (restrooms, no water).
Black Crater as seen about two miles west of the summit.
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...
The last few miles to the pass are 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.
PJAMM contributor Steve Jones, Olympia, WA.
As the climb begins, you will pass a seasonal snow gate. 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.