Yeah, this one has been a long time coming. Mia and I have lived out here over 4 years now and I had yet to ride the famous McKenzie River Trail (MRT). It was time to remedy that situation. It’s only 2.5 hours from home too.
Heck, anyone who spends any sort of time riding a mountain bike eventually hears about the McKenzie River Trail. It’s pretty much world famous.
I was determined to do this ride prior to the end of the 2017 riding season. I scheduled some PTO from work during midweek in hopes of avoiding massive weekend crowds. I also chose late in September in the hopes that it would be more temperate compared to July or August. Lastly I reached out to a few people to see who might be interested in splitting a cheap hotel room. I found both a cheap room and some people to split costs fairly easily.
I paid what I thought was a really fair price for one night at the McKenzie River Resort for the three of us. Being Resort guests we also got a discount on the shuttle option to the trailhead. I must confess that this is the first time in my whole cycling life that I have paid for a shuttle ride. It totally eased the logistics of two vehicles, car spotting and all the other associated headaches with doing it ourselves. I felt it was a good $25 (each) well spent.
There was eight of us being shuttled. This was exactly what I was hoping by doing this on a Thursday late in the year. Not a lot of people!
The best way I can think of to describe the MRT is that it is a trail of two personalities. The first section all the way to Blue Pool trail head is a tad bit more technical and punctuated by lots of lava rock, some waterfalls and hikers. The second half was flowing bliss with nary a hiker to be seen. The only time we saw anyone not riding in this second half was near Deer Creek Hot Springs trailhead.
It warmed up quickly during the ride. I expected a day of low 60’s and clouds for this late in the year. Instead we had blue sky and temps in the mid 70’s for a majority of the ride, topping out in the low 80’s when we got back towards Eugene. You will mostly certainly get no complaints from me.
From the Blue Pool to the hiker’s trailhead, 2 miles further along the trail, we ran into quite a few hikers. More than I would have figured for a Thursday. Some of them were cool, a couple were a bit rude to us mountain bikers taking up “their” trail. Our shuttle driver did say that they may be thinking about a bypass to avoid the hiker/biker congestion and potential confrontation. I can’t imagine what kind of cluster this trail would be on any given summer weekend.
The trail loses over 2400′ from start to end. Just after Blue Pool is the only minor climbing of the whole day. You are rewarded with some nice fast downhill and the trail is a lot more buffed out for ripping along. We’d randomly stop along this section to regroup and eat some snacks, chit chat and take in the scenery. I’d describe the remainder of the trail as mostly relaxing with a couple sections to keep you on your toes.
I unfortunately did not know about the hot spring until after our trip. It would have been worth it to take the short hike down to check it out.
So with about 4 miles to go Carl and I were a bit ahead of Dean and I took a quick right when I should have gone straight. Carl and I ended up in the back part of Belknap Springs campground. For the very short time that we must have been out of sight of the trail proper Dean must have passed us. We thought we’d catch him pretty quick, but we didn’t see Dean again until we got back to Bonnie. Turns out he thought he may have missed a turn because we would generally regroup at the bridge crossings. When he came to one of the bridges and didn’t see us, Dean figured he had missed something.
Dean ended up doing a short turn on the pavement and it was probably in this time that we started second guessing not catching him. Carl and I pedaled backwards on the trail until we ran into a Canadian couple we had passed earlier. They said they had not seen Dean so now Carl and I were a bit confused.
Carl and I didn’t dilly dally the last 3 miles and eventually popped out at the van to see Dean kicking back and relaxing. It would have been bad if we lost him, he had the car keys!
So in summary……..do I think this is the #1 trail in America? No. But it is definitely worth checking out and riding more than once. I tend to like a bit more challenging terrain and more elevation gain. Needless to say I liked the upper section with it’s more technical nature, but it would have been hard to do a full 26 miles like that. It’s a good mix of both and I will definitely ride it again. Been tossing around the idea of making this an annual pilgrimage if people are game for it. I liked going down midweek and not fighting with the crowds.
Thanks to Dean and Carl for coming along. I was going no matter what, but it is most certainly more fun to do this with others.
Thanks for reading,