The McKenzie River Trail has long been legendary among Oregon mountain bikers for its technical challenges, considerable length, and stunningly beautiful scenery. Thanks to exposure in national magazines and on the internet, this trail has garnered a national following as well. This 16-mile section extending from Carmen Diversion Reservoir to Belknap Hot Springs comprises the heart of the 26-mile trail. It is also a more manageable length for short fall days or for those who aren't physically prepared to cover all 26 miles of technical singletrack in one day.
The McKenzie River runs underground from Carmen Diversion Reservoir to Tamolitch Pool, and the trail winds its way through quiet old-growth forest along the dry riverbed. The McKenzie reappears at Tamolitch Pool, formerly the site of Tamolitch Falls, where it wells up from deep underground. Although the crystal clear water looks enticing, it is always extremely cold. A University of Oregon tennis player died here in 2013 after he jumped from one of the surrounding cliffs and was unable to swim to shore. Use extreme caution jumping from these cliffs.
Just below Tamolitch Pool the trail follows a lava rock bench above the river that is the most technically challenging portion of this ride; exercise caution on the extremely rocky and jagged trail surface. This section is often crowded with hikers making the short pilgrimage to Tamolitch Pool from the trailhead near Trail Bridge Reservoir. After about a mile of lava rock the trail descends to the level of the river and becomes much less technical before reaching Trail Bridge.
The trail climbs slightly around Trail Bridge Reservoir and then drops down to cross the Smith River before regaining the banks of the McKenzie. This is the only noticeable climb and descent of the ride. Below the Smith River the trail continues to snake its way through old-growth within earshot of the Class III and IV whitewater of the Upper McKenzie. Turn right when the trail hits Belknap Springs Road to finish your ride with a soak in the developed hot springs at Belknap Hot Springs Resort. The large hot pool at the lodge is right on the banks of the river you've spent the day riding alongside.
The portion of the McKenzie River Trail above this ride offers another technical lava rock section along the shores of Clear Lake as well as stunning views of Sahalie and Koosah falls along the waterfall section. This is another high traffic area for hikers. Below Belknap the trail becomes smoother and less technical as it passes through Paradise Campground on its way to the lower trailhead near McKenzie Bridge.