Many residents and visitors in Central Oregon are aware of the McKenzie Pass Scenic Byway (OR Hwy 242) from having traveled the route by car. The roadway is both visually stunning and historically significant, tracing an 1860s wagon route. Fewer people are aware that each spring the road is partially plowed but remains closed to vehicles, allowing cyclists exclusive use for one of the most spectacular tour rides in all of Oregon.
McKenzie pass can be approached from the east or from the west, but the routes vary in difficulty. This adventure covers the eastern approach that begins at Village Green Park in Sisters. From here the ride covers 15 miles and climbs 2,200 feet to reach McKenzie Pass and the Dee Wright Observatory. Nearly the entirety of the ride is within the Deschutes National Forest. The first 9 miles of the ride from Sisters steadily climbs 1,000 vertical feet before arriving at the eastern snow gate to the pass, where you can also choose to begin the ride. From the eastern snow gate it is another 6 miles and 1000 feet of climbing to reach the summit of McKenzie Pass and the Dee Wright Observatory. The midway point for this section is the aptly named Windy Point, which offers a stunning viewpoint of the Belknap, Little Belknap, and Yapoah lava flows that cover much of this region.
The western approach to McKenzie Pass begins in Belknap Springs and climbs 4,000 vertical feet over 23 miles through the Willamette National Forest to reach the summit pass. With shuttle planning, the entire 38 mile route can be ridden in one direction, and for the ambitious, the 76-mile over-and-back ride includes 6,000 feet of vertical climb. These routes can still be ridden once the snow gates are opened to vehicles, but non-existent road shoulders and heavy traffic make it far less enjoyable and considerably less safe.