Splendid Cycles

ODOT’s McKenzie Pass is now carfree, but you ride at your own risk

Posted by on May 3rd, 2018 at 3:42 pm

Looks epic to me.
(Photo: ODOT)

This week is usually about the time we get to share the news that the McKenzie Highway (OR 242) is open only for biking, walking, and rolling. It’s a carfree wonderland on one of Oregon’s most scenic byways that usually happens in the period after crews have done their first pass of plowing, and before the road can open to cars and trucks.

But this year is different. And if you’re planning to head out there to knock this classic ride of your bucket list (it is an official Oregon Scenic Bikeway after all), be advised: The Oregon Department of Transportation announced today that the management of McKenzie Pass will have some key changes this year.

Because of last summer’s Milli wildfire, there’s still a lot of work to be done to clear trees and debris along the highway. ODOT says they have to repair “serious damage on and adjacent to the highway.” During the week (Monday through Thursday) they have heavy equipment on the highway and no one is allowed to travel on it. From Friday through Sunday, however, the road is open. But conditions are much worse than past years.


In fact, if ODOT’s “Extreme Danger” signs don’t scare you away, there’s this line from today’s statement:

“Visitors, including cyclists and pedestrians, must be aware that ODOT is not maintaining the highway for wheeled travel at this time, and visitors are on the highway at their own risk.”

ODOT also announced that the highway will open to all vehicles (including those pesky four-wheeled ones with big motors) on June 18th.

So if you head out there, be advised that conditions could be a bit more interesting than usual. Maybe throw on some bigger tires to roll over the debris and roots and such.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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  • Bjorn May 3, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    One additional thing that everyone who rides this should keep in mind is that it is a bit of a blind corner coming down the hill towards sisters when you get to the gate. The ride is amazing and I have done it a few times but I have also heard in the last couple years that several cyclists who were descending very fast failed to stop before hitting the gate and at least one hurt themselves pretty badly.

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    • Chris I May 4, 2018 at 7:43 am

      I have noticed this as well, but it was not at all difficult to stop in time. Unfortunately, this route has gotten more popular with racers in the past few years. I have noticed people going a lot faster than I used to see in the past. I’m not surprised that someone has crashed into an inanimate object on this route because they were traveling too fast for conditions. Sounds like a good life lesson.

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      • Middle of the Road Guy May 4, 2018 at 9:10 am

        If it was a car that did that, we’d have no sympathy for them. Traveling too fast for one’s reaction times.

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        • Cpt. Obvus May 4, 2018 at 11:20 am

          If it was a car that did that, we would be either amazed… or alarmed that the autonomous software dropped the ball. But, one wonders, what if it was a _driver_?

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          • bjorn May 4, 2018 at 1:57 pm

            At least in the past their have been a number of warning signs before you get to the gate heading towards the pass for cars but because no cars use the road when it is closed there have not been warning signs for people coming down the hill. While I agree that people should be able to stop I also think it is a good idea for anyone riding it to be aware that there is a gate and no warning before you come around the corner before it.

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            • Joel May 4, 2018 at 3:49 pm

              There is a sign that says “Gate Ahead” for bicyclists. It is covered when the gate is open.

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    • Rob May 4, 2018 at 5:35 pm

      Confused by this. There is a blind corner when descending towards the west gate but when descending east towards Sisters you can see the gate from 250+ meters out.

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    • Kyle Banerjee May 5, 2018 at 12:26 pm

      One additional thing that everyone who rides this should keep in mind is that it is a bit of a blind corner coming down the hill towards sisters when you get to the gate. The ride is amazing and I have done it a few times but I have also heard in the last couple years that several cyclists who were descending very fast failed to stop before hitting the gate and at least one hurt themselves pretty badly.

      Note to self: Be especially cautious on climbs where visibility issues would prevent evasive action from high speed riders who might not sweat lanes because they’re believe gates cleared roads of hazards such as debris, holes, animals, other cyclists, peds, washouts, etc. As climbing cyclists might also figure gate cleared road of descending cyclists making it fine to be anywhere on the road, be mindful of this threat in addition to all the standard ones. Come to think of it, maybe ride somewhere else…

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  • B. Carfree May 3, 2018 at 4:10 pm

    Thanks for the heads-up. It would have been mildly annoying to have ridden up on a weekday only to find no way through because of a closure for work. I find it to be a nice but not spectacular ride and I generally avoid it on weekends since traffic on the way up is kind of unpleasant on weekends compared with weekdays. With it only open on weekends, I’ll be passing on McKenzie Pass this Spring.

    Thankfully, there’s lots of other great places to ride. We live with an embarrassment of riches for cycling.

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    • joeb
      joeb May 4, 2018 at 10:06 am

      I want to do this and don’t know the best way to get to the start by bike. Do you ride 126 out of Eugene?

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      • Kyle Banerjee May 5, 2018 at 11:28 am

        I rode 126 out about 10 years ago. It will get you there, but it’s nothing special and the payoff you get is only so so. Plus, you’ll have to lug a bunch of gear unless you want a long day.

        There are many closed roads for people who really want to ride with no vehicles, but there are plenty more that are so lightly trafficked that it hardly matters — and you’ll encounter fewer people in general since everyone seems to like to congregate in a small number of places.

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      • Alex May 7, 2018 at 3:00 pm

        You can take a bus from Eugene to the McKenzie River guard station. I think it’s like $2.50 each way – or you could camp along the McKenzie and bike from your campground. Lots of options. You could stay in sisters and ride it the opposite way tomorrow.

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  • Jim Lee May 3, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    OK, yeah, guys.

    How many of you have done McKenzie on skis?

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  • Middle of the Road Guy May 3, 2018 at 6:18 pm

    That’s open pretty early this year. Last year I got snowed out 1/4 mile from the top…in June.

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    • Chris I May 4, 2018 at 7:44 am

      It’s been a pretty bad snow year, especially below 5,000ft.

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  • Hazel May 4, 2018 at 11:59 am

    Anyone know if it will be open to bikes on Memorial Day?

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    • Fred Ihle May 4, 2018 at 12:41 pm

      it’s open to bikes now. details are in the article.

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      • Hazel Gross May 4, 2018 at 1:02 pm

        Yes but it’s technically only open on Saturdays and Sundays. Memorial Day is a Monday

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        • Chris I May 4, 2018 at 3:13 pm

          My guess is that it would be open, as construction shouldn’t be happening. Might not hurt to call or email ODOT, though.

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        • Alex May 7, 2018 at 7:28 pm

          No one is going to stop you from riding. Just go do it.

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    • Ben G May 21, 2018 at 12:12 pm

      I emailed ODOT, they replied “You are good to go on Memorial Day”

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  • Al May 7, 2018 at 9:14 am

    One thing to keep in mind during the week is that authorized vehicles like work crews and rangers drive like they own the place since they’re familiar w the road and don’t expect car traffic there. Bicycles surprise them!

    Even though you may feel like you’re alone because you haven’t encountered anyone in half an hour, wet pine needles and trucks hauling ass on the wrong side of the road are a bad combination.

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  • Keith May 7, 2018 at 1:33 pm

    Rode this with a group starting from Belknap Hot Springs May 5. Road was practically free of debris. More caterpillars crossing the road than anything else. One spot near the top with a small tree snag encroaching in the eastbound lane. Snow walls aren’t higher than four feet at the deepest parts. Be wary of snowmelt across the road on the descents, as well as pollen slicks on the lower sections. Roads are a little dirt-covered on the Sisters side, but no impact to descending.

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    • Paul Gronke May 7, 2018 at 2:25 pm

      Keith, I’m part of a Reed college faculty group who has done this for the past few years. Am I right in reading your email to confirm that we can get all the way up to the summit without snow?

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      • Keith May 7, 2018 at 5:17 pm

        We went from Belknap to Sisters to Belknap, so short answer: Yes.

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  • Keith May 7, 2018 at 5:23 pm

    I should add that weather and runoff may change road conditions, but for all practical purposes, it was clear along the whole route on May 5.

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    • Benjamin May 8, 2018 at 10:51 am

      Keith, super helpful, thanks for posting. Was going to go up there this weekend, do you know if you can park your car overnight at Belknap Hotsprings?

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  • Keith May 8, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    I went ahead and paid to camp there. $30 a night for tent camping, which is just a couple bucks more than camping at a state parks site. It seemed still early in their season, and there were spots available by the lodge, but the meet up group I went with parked in the overflow lot about 100 yards or more from the main lodge parking. We seemed to have the only cars in that lot (no fees). I do recommend budgeting time to use the hot springs post ride. Something like $8 to day use their facilities.

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