A spectacular ride on the McKenzie River Trail. However…

The Wigley men, about to ride the McKenzie River TrailGriff Wigley, riding through the upper lava fields of the McKenzie River TrailMy three sons and I went mountain biking on the McKenzie River Trail last week while in the Eugene, OR area for a family reunion.  (We rented bikes from the McKenzie River Mountain Resort and used their shuttle service.)

The 26-mile trail is oft-mentioned as a top-ten mountain bike trail in the USA and it’s been written up by many.  All the reviews I read were 99% effusive in their descriptions of the trail (good example here). I found this write-up to be the best, as well as the most entertaining. Excerpts:

The majority of people do the 25 mile ride from top to bottom with a shuttle. Do not think that just because it is mostly downhill that you will be fresh as a daisy at the end…

If you have a spouse that holds you personally accountable for the outcome of all outdoor activities or there is an inverse correlation between perceived risk and perceived love, you might want to avoid the ride through the lava field on the east side of Clear Lake. You would however be missing some incredible views into the depths of Clear Lake (come back and hike the east side to earn romantic bonus points).

And after riding McKenzie, I have no big issue with the glowing reviews. It truly does provide spectacular scenery from top to bottom. The photos we took don’t begin to do it justice. (I only brought my  wide-angle lens so I wouldn’t be tempted to go crazy on the photos.) If I lived in the area, I could imagine myself riding McKenzie once or twice a year, just for its sheer beauty.

The trail is difficult in many spots, as the reviewers note.  Sharp lava rocks are not for the faint of heart.  But even if your skill level is up to the trail’s challenges, if your body isn’t in good shape, the sheer length of the trail will take its toll.  The bigger lava fields are not so much the problem—it’s the preponderance smaller rocky areas as well as the small rocks on the trail throughout. You don’t get much relief from the jarring riding, even on stretches of the trail that are ‘flowing’ single track through the woods.

Moreover, McKenzie is really as much a hiking trail as it is a mountain biking trail.  (Officially, it’s name is the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail, managed by the US Forest Service.) And that means that the exhilarating riding that I’ve come to enjoy at mountain bike parks here in Minnesota like the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System (video here) and Lebanon Hills are not there: no berms, no smooth and fast down hills with roller coaster whoops, no options for technical obstacles like logs or rocks.  I’m not arguing that it should provide these, just that riders should know what to expect. 

See my album of 27 photos (large slideshow, recommended) or SLOW CLICK this small slideshow:

See this two-minute video clip:


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Griff Wigley, Mountain Bike Geezer


4 thoughts on “A spectacular ride on the McKenzie River Trail. However…”


  1. Clay, just remember: don’t expect Leb or Cuyuna type trails. It’s the scenery that’s the main thing.

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