Summer Fun on Oregon’s McKenzie River

July 14, 2015 (Updated September 3, 2015)

Summer is a great time to visit the lovely McKenzie River, when weather and recreational opportunities are at their peak. Located in the lush green forests east of Eugene, the McKenzie is one of the most beautiful waterways in the United States and is renowned for outdoor recreation, including hiking, biking, fishing and white-water boating. This scenic waterway is special for another reason: The river is fed by a huge network of cold-water springs located under lava flows in the high Cascade Range, which means that the McKenzie maintains a constant flow year-round, even in drought years.

Begin your weekend getaway by checking into the Delta House at Horse Creek Lodge and Outfitters off of Highway 126 in McKenzie Bridge. Horse Creek is a friendly little enclave of cabins in the woods, and the Delta House is the largest, sleeping up to 16 people. Get the party started by whipping up dinner in the cabin’s roomy and well-equipped kitchen. Then gather around the outdoor fire pit to take in the starry skies and discuss the awesome raft trip you’ll be taking in the morning.

Horse Creek is lodge and outfitter all in one, and your guided river raft trip begins here. “The McKenzie River offers a fun, exciting ride on crystal blue water through scenic old growth forests and towering trees,” says Horse Creek Owner Alyssa Brownlee. The trip is as accessible as it is beautiful. Known for Class II and III rapids, the McKenzie is a perfect river for paddlers of any age and experience level, especially families and children. “It’s consistently fast and splashy with lots of waves and rapids to keep everyone laughing and entertained without being intimidated,” says Brownlee. Half-day trips cover 12 miles and take about three hours, with stops for snacks and swimming.

The McKenzie will have plenty of water all season, according to Gordon Grant, a U.S. Forest Service hydrologist out of Corvallis. “The McKenzie drains the western slopes of the High Cascades, a geological province distinguished by vast volcanic fields,” he says. “Lava fields are full of holes. Any rain that falls, any snow that melts finds its way rapidly into these holes and into the layered rocks below as groundwater, which will continue to drain slowly over the course of the summer, providing more than sufficient water for rafting.”

After your rafting trip, visit another of the McKenzie’s natural watery phenomena — Belknap Hot Springs, where you can take a dip in the warm, healing waters of two pools at this developed hot springs. For fabulous sunset views, drive the old McKenzie Highway (Hwy 242) to the summit of the pass and the Dee Wright Observatory where you can catch a glimpse of that famous Cascades lava. It’s one of the most amazing vistas in the state, comprised of acres of black a’a lava and snowy mountain peaks.

The following day, after you depart from Horse Creek Lodge, take time to hike some of the McKenzie River Trail. Twenty-six miles long and incredibly beautiful, it has been named one of the top five running trails in the U.S. by and the top U.S. mountain biking trail by Bike magazine. The trailhead is just 1 mile from Horse Creek Lodge and leads into the gorgeous green forest along the blue waters of the McKenzie. The volcanic legacy is fully evident in the waterfalls, pools and cascading white water flowing over the lava-sculpted landscape along the trail.

Still feeling ambitious? Catch a round of golf at Tokatee Golf Club, ranked among Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses in Oregon for value, beauty and overall experience. You can choose to play 9 or 18 holes on this gorgeous course, but you might find yourself distracted by the incredible views of the Three Sisters mountains. After your round, relax at the clubhouse with a cold drink and a sandwich, or take advantage of Tokatee’s picnic area for a light lunch al fresco. In the afternoon, head for home through the Willamette Valley, taking with you a new understanding of the beauty and pleasures of the McKenzie River.

About The

Kim Cooper Findling
Kim Cooper Findling grew up on the Oregon Coast and became a Central Oregon girl in the mid-90s, taking in the sunny skies and never looking back (except a few wistful glances at the ocean). She is the managing editor of "Bend Magazine" and the author of “Bend, Oregon Daycations: Day Trips for Curious Travelers,” "Day Trips From Portland: Getaway Ideas for the Local Traveler” and “Chance of Sun: An Oregon Memoir.” Catch her around the state sampling microbrews, hiking river trails, walking beaches, and hanging out with her family.