: Russ Roca / pathlesspedaled.com

How to Ride the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway in Spring

August 25, 2017
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Editor’s note: the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway closes seasonally due to snowfall. Check our route detail page for updates before you head out.

Treks across the incredible McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway remain some of the best of the best Oregon riding — especially for the short time each spring that this scenic highway is closed to vehicle traffic. Riding McKenzie Pass in the spring has become an Oregon cycling tradition.

Why the spring? McKenzie Pass closes each winter, and although it’s rideable all summer, it’s understandably popular with bikes and motor vehicles alike. But… there’s a window each year when word spreads among cyclists: “Hey, the pass is cleared to the top.” And the scattered parade of pedaling pilgrims begins.

You see, every year the Oregon Department of Transportation plows a single snow-blower-type swath down the highway in order to facilitate snow melt. And that irresistible swath of clear pavement has become a more and more popular addition to Oregonians’ (and visitors’) spring “must-ride” lists.

So, whether you take advantage of this small window of opportunity or share the road with vehicles, take a short trip to Central Oregon. You won’t want to miss this incredible riding experience: on the western side, a serpentine road through a lush green fir forest; on the east side a spin through high-desert pines – and in the middle a mind-blowing expanse of lava rock and views to a dozen peaks.

If you’re looking to ride before the cars can, the easiest and most popular take-off point is Sisters; you can make the climb up to wherever the pavement has been cleared (check with a local bike shop for details), and often when you reach the top you’ll be flanked by snowbanks taller than yourself even while you’re riding bare pavement. On a sunny day in the spring, dozens of riders will take advantage.

If you’re riding late enough in the season, the pass continues down the other side, ending at the McKenzie River and Highway 126. You can ride this out-and-back (about 70 miles round-trip), one way with a shuttle, or to the top and back from either side. The west side is steeper and more technical on the way down, but both sides offer a challenging climb and an exhilarating descent.

If you decide to try this ride in the spring, please keep the following safety precautions in mind:

ODOT’s plowing operations are meant to facilitate snow melt and prepare for a full highway opening — not to accommodate cyclists or others. For that reason, all riders should bike carefully at their own risk, watching out for plows and other moving or parked equipment, and paying attention to obstacles and debris that may remain in the roadway, including snow and ice patches, rocks, cinders and limbs that won’t be cleared until ODOT prepares the pass to open for all users. The centerline of the roadway may not be visible until all of the snow melts, so please watch for cyclists traveling in both directions.

Ride safe, ride smart and enjoy this amazing, uniquely Oregon route!

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