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Trail difficulty
BLACK DIAMOND
Elevation Gain
?
Trail type
One-way/Shuttle
Distance
14.80 mi (23.82 km)
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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.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

Not Required

Pros

Stunning scenery. Endless, top-quality singletrack. Old-growth.

Cons

High traffic in some areas.

Pets allowed

Allowed

Trailhead Elevation

2,640.00 ft (804.67 m)

Net Elevation Gain

-1,000.00 ft (-304.80 m)

Address

NF-750
Sisters, OR 97759
United States

Features

Backcountry camping
Historically significant
Hot springs
Lodging
Waterfalls
Old-growth forest
Fishing

Suitable for

Hiking
Horseback

Location

Field Guide + Map

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Comments

I arrived to this area fom Bend in the afternoon, parked at Belknap as well advised, and tried to hitch to the start of the trail. It was the afternoon so I wasn't having much luck, so I went back to Belknap and they hooked me up with an adjacent shuttle crew that took me to the top.

The trail option suggested by the team here is highly recommended. I elected to start at the top and a mile or so you have a choice between the actual trail to the left and the lake trail to the right. At the advice of the driver I took the lake loop which is a mile longer but cruiser flat trails and the opposite is technical lava fields, which you will experience below don't worry.

This trail was not at all what I expected. I'm from CA and a shuttle run is an epic downhill. This trail is cross country all the way. There are sections involving lava rocks that are very techinical; if you are not an experienced rider I recommend walking these sections. I went over the bars a few times on this ride.

Ending at Belknap was the way to go. Their "hot springs" are pools heated by the local springs so don't expect anything great but the bacon cheeseburger makes up the difference. The camp sites to the north of the trail are secluded and near a lake and really nice. Enjoy and ride safe!
07/14/2014
We road from Trail Bridge Campsite north a few miles then turned around and road down to Belknap Resort and back to Trail bridge campsite. The start of the trail from the campground was a climb then we found the lava rocks. It was beautiful but taxing. Once we turned around it was less technical as we moved up the slopes and back down to the river. We stopped for a quick lunch at the Belknap Resort, they have a nice outdoor grill. The ride back up to Trail bridge was easily rideable (no shuttle needed) and a cool down in the river was amazing.
Trail Bridge campground has mostly walk-in campsites (no river access) and a few others are along the river. It was not busy.
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