New pavement, bathrooms, and bike parking coming to McKenzie Pass

(Photo: State of Oregon)
Approximate location of project.

McKenzie Pass is a hallowed route for many cyclists. The 38 miles of Highway 242 between Sisters and Belknap Springs is some of the best riding not just in Oregon, but anywhere in the world. Already enshrined as an official State Scenic Bikeway, the Oregon Department of Transportation wants to make it even better for bicycle riders.

Earlier this month, ODOT began the McKenzie Highway Pavement preservation project. Using a $4.1 million grant from the FHWA’s Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP), ODOT will pave about 15 miles of the route — from the a few miles west of the Dee Wright Observatory down to junction with Highway 20 in Sisters.

People on bikes love smoother pavement on scenic roads like this because it allows them to descend with more confidence and climb with more efficiency. But there’s more to this project than just better pavement that will benefit cyclists: ODOT also plans to rebuild the shoulders, replace/repair safety signage (some of which targets cyclists) throughout the corridor, build new bathrooms at Cold Springs Campground and Dee Wright Observatory, install bicycle parking at the observatory, and add more turnouts and interpretive panels along the route.

The work is expected to continue through the end of this year and the new road, bathrooms and other improvements will be ready for use by next spring! Learn more at the project page.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Hotrodder
Hotrodder
17 days ago

Well, Happy Friday indeed! Looking forward to those improvements.

X
X
17 days ago

McKenzie Pass is a nice ride and I’d go there again. While the pass is closed it’s worth a visit if only because the car traffic is strictly local. I don’t remember much about the pavement but it was so quiet that we could ride pretty much any part of the road.

I’d like this story more if the 15 miles of new ODOT pavement and shoulder actually connected two places that I might need to go to, or if five miles or so were in Portland where I could use it any time. For sure there are some service gaps where a couple bathrooms would be nice. Is there a grant for that?

Watts
Watts
17 days ago

I’d be curious if some of those criticizing public funding for roads in other recent stories would chime in here and suggest how (or if) this road should be maintained.

Cartwright Wainscott Boatswain III
Cartwright Wainscott Boatswain III
17 days ago

Looks like the paving project only affects the Sisters side. Once Belknap melts out I presume we’ll be able to ride car-free from the west side?

Wooster
Wooster
17 days ago

That’s usually the case every year, so probably yes.

John V
John V
17 days ago

Well, this looked interesting, then a related BP article at the bottom of the page mentioned it being car-free for part of the year! Great! So I went to see when that is, and the official word from ODOT now is that it is either closed to everyone or open to everyone and they don’t open early for hikers or bikers: https://www.oregon.gov/odot/regions/pages/mckenzie-highway.aspx

I wonder if this is a new change, or if there is some fine print I’m missing. A real bummer, because they also rate this bikeway “extreme” for lack of shoulders, etc. Doesn’t seem pleasant anymore, although maybe traffic will be light? I was just starting to plan a trip in my head when I read that.

Fred
Fred
17 days ago
Reply to  John V

Yes, in years past some of my more adventurous cycling friends talked about how they cycled the pass *BEFORE* it opened to car traffic. It sounded amazing, and I always wanted to get down there and do it.

But it sounds as though ODOT got annoyed with cyclists who tried to carry their bikes around snowdrifts etc, and now they won’t allow anyone on the road before the official opening.

I’ll bet it’s an ENTIRELY different ride with cars (and trucks?) whizzing past at 60 mph. Yuck.

Watts
Watts
17 days ago
Reply to  Fred

I always wanted to get down there and do it.

You still can. ODOT’s website contains the threatening language “People who choose to bypass locked gates and closed signs to access the road when it’s closed do so at their own risk.How is ODOT going to stop you? They just don’t want to get sued if you hurt yourself.

Even when the road is open, no one is driving 60.

Jeff S
Jeff S
17 days ago
Reply to  Fred

yes, lots of people ride it before the gates open to motor vehicles. I’ve done it from the Sisters side a couple of times and it’s a delight. I camp at the Cold Spring campground and ride from there.

This website has updates on the road/snow conditions:
https://eurosports.us/mckenzie-pass/

Because of the paving this year I’m not sure if it’ll be rideable.

X
X
17 days ago
Reply to  Jeff S

The only eurosports info at present is for last year. The road was rideable to the gate on 5/1 and incremental plowing reached the summit on 5/19. Riders had to portage some windfalls and snowbanks at times.

Sometimes paving projects shut down for the weekend…

Jeff S
Jeff S
13 days ago
Reply to  X

i presume Brad at eurosports will start updating as the snow starts to clear.

Wooster
Wooster
17 days ago
Reply to  John V

Last time I rode it, it was on the first day of it being opened to traffic and so the traffic was very light because most people probably didn’t realize it was open yet. So it’s all about timing.

Wooster
Wooster
17 days ago

This is great news! The road could definitely use better pavement and shoulders, the new bathrooms would be much appreciated, and bike parking at the observatory is awesome because I seem to recall there not being anywhere to park bikes properly. This’ll be great stuff for an iconic Oregon scenic bike ride.

Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
12 days ago

Great news. I hope these bike enhancements also include an outdoor repair stand and pump.

Oh, and a high calorie vending machine or ‘coin operated’ massage chair would be nice too! 😉