McKenzie Pass West  Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

4
FIETS
21.8 mi
DISTANCE
3,738 ft
GAINED
3.1 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

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

INTRO

Located in the Cascade Range subrange of the Pacific Coast Mountain Range, McKenzie Pass (5,325') 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'), near Belknap Hot Springs, in the heart of the Oregon Cascade Mountains, east of Eugene, Oregon.

"The west side of McKenzie Pass in central Oregon is...one of the most scenic climbs in the United States. It is a long and varied ascent that begins in thick woods and ends among open lava fields near the top. The lower section is steeper and through tight switchbacks in places and very dark woods. The upper section is more straight and shallow but open with views..." (This quote is presented with the approval of John Summerson, from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), 2nd Edition, p. 207.)
This climb's average grade is 3.1% (3.7% climb only).  11% of the climb is descent, 57% is at 0-5% grade, and 32% is at 5-10%.  The steepest quarter-mile is 7.1% and steepest mile 6%. 
Roadway:  Two lane highway in good condition with no shoulder. 

Traffic:  Light.

Parking:  On the side of State Route 126 just east of the climb start (MapStreet View). 
Provisions:  None on the climb, but some can be found 4.6 miles west at the McKenzie General Store and Grill (Map).
Before heading out on any cycling adventure check out our Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip and use our interactive check list to ensure you don't forget anything.
The climb ends at the Dee Wright Observatory, an old stone structure with images designating the distant mountains in the area (Google Maps + Reviews). See a list of the Top 10 trails in Willamette National Forest: All Trails Willamette Top 10.  Also consider adding McKenzie Pass East for a nice 70 mile 6,000' out and back. 

ROUTE MAP

MEMBER RATING

Difficulty: Strenuous
4
Road
3.5
Traffic
4.5
Scenery

CURRENT WEATHER

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MEMBER REVIEWS & COMMENTS

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May 14, 2021
Riding great right now. Road is supposed to be closed to traffic until mid-June. The West side is still blocked by snow just below the summit, but hopefully they will have that cleared in a couple of weeks.
May 3, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 4
May 3, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 4
This is a beautiful ride. And you can ride it without cars. You must climb it when the winter gates are closed. They open around or after Memorial Day. The climb is fun, switchbacks and changing scenery . You start in small trees and ride into the forest , then you’ll be in the lava fields at the top. It’s one of my favorite rides of all time.
Apr 5, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 4
traffic: 3
road: 4
Apr 5, 2021
scenery: 4
traffic: 3
road: 4
I live here; it is my weekly climb. I love it. You can start in Sisters or closer at Cold Springs Campground, which I prefer. Official start of climb is at gate and goes up and over Pass. I like to start at campground and go about 22.5 miles and return for ~4000 feet of elevation. Otherwise, extend it and go to where 242 meets 126. Better yet, extend it and capture Aufderheide, which is I've also reviewed on this site.
ROUTE MAP
PROFILE TOOL

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CLIMB SUMMARY

Cycling McKenzie Pass West

Ride 21.8  miles gaining 3,738’’ at 3.1% average grade.

The first part of the climb is through thick forest.

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 from varying points along the ride.

 

The pass is closed during the winter.

Some of the area has been victim to forest fire.

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...

Cycling McKenzie Pass West - summit sign, road, lava field

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.

We ride through a giant lava field the final 2 miles of the climb -

This is the most similar terrain to Mauna Loa that we have experienced in the US.

Climb finish.

Cycling McKenzie Pass West - cyclist sitting at summit with bike, lava field

Summit.

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.