The McKenzie River Trail (the MRT) is situated in Central Oregon, on the west side of the Cascades. This mountain range, predominantly made up of dormant and not-so-dormant volcanoes, does an efficient job of stopping the moisture from the Pacific Coast. On the west side you have temperate rainforests and old growth timber, and a stones throw to the east you are exploring an arid desert-like landscape. The MRT, being on the west side of the volcanoes, features towering Douglas fir, mossy forest floors, a raging river (complete with big waterfalls) and a cool climate. Apparently it rains frequently, but it was nice and dry for our visit down this renowned trail.
I met up with a crew that was sampling some Hood River singletrack the day before. None of us had ever been to the MRT, so it was a pleasant start to the day when we all arrived at the predetermined meeting place within 30 minutes of each other, despite driving from different ends of Oregon. Keeping the smooth operation plugging forward, we loaded gear and people into one truck and drove to the top of the 25-mile trail.
While it is a shuttle, and there is an overall elevation loss from top to bottom, this trail is XC. Not XC in a grunty, North Shore kind of way, but in the way that you start spinning the pedals, whipping through the woods, hammering down the trail; totally engrossed in the 30 feet ahead of you that is constantly offering up fun little surprises, and all of a sudden a few miles have gone by and you are laughing and gasping for air all at the same time. That kind of XC.
The flow does not let up for the entire 25 miles, causing our whole group to break out in uncontrollable laughter multiple times. The scenery is all time, passing a couple 80+ foot waterfalls, clear blue swimming holes, lava flows and whipping in and out of lush green forests. All the time serenaded by the resonant sound of the McKenzie River.
Using an old Boy Scout trick, I had stashed beers in the river at the trail’s end. A cold brew was a great way to end a perfect day down this Oregon singletrack classic.
Joe Schwartz hails from British Columbia, where he has spent much of his life exploring the mountains, both on his mountain bike and skis. He is a certified guide, bike coach, sponsored MTB athlete and is a marketing student at BCIT.