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Cycling McKenzie Pass Hwy 242

Published: May 25, 2021

 

In past years, cyclists and pedestrians have accessed Highway 242 prior to the road re-opening to cars in mid-June. This is part of the well-known summer-based "McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway" and it is a beloved bucket list ride. And each year this shoulder season has been an eagerly anticipated time when bicyclists slip in on the weekends to cruise the scenic road before the summer traffic commences.

However, it is important to know that this road is currently closed. It is expected to open in mid-June. Until then, any access is done at your own risk and there can be significant risk. 

What is this ride all about?

You've heard about it from friends— the challenge, the thrill, the accomplishment. It is a truly special ride, which is why it was granted official "scenic bikeway" status for its summertime route, i.e. the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway. From the town of Sisters, the road ascends 2,000 feet, tracing an old 1860s wagon route. During the early part of the summer season you’ll pedal through a corridor of snow embankments, past ancient lava fields and summit at Dee Wright Observatory, with unobstructed views of waterfalls and snow-capped mountains. A truly amazing experience!

From the summit to Highway 126, enjoy a stunning descent into lush old growth forests. After the long haul up, the downhill ride is a splendid treat. Reward yourself with a lodge room at Belknap Hot Springs. Rest your body with a soak in the mineral hot springs pools. The river view, the hot spring warmth and the surrounding forest will leave you relaxed, refreshed and ready for you next adventure.

So When is Highway 242 Open?

Highway 242 is a secondary, scenic road — not a main travel corridor. Weather conditions, logistics and cost make it impractical to maintain for travel year around. Therefore, the road is closed mid-November to mid-June. When closed, the road is not maintained and accessing it is done at your own risk. Highway 242 typically re-opens by the third Monday in June, barring any work delays and weather conditions. There is no official "just-cycling" access. 

Who Clears Highway 242 & Why?

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) clears this route as part of seasonal road maintenance designed for all access in late June. Road clearing is not done for the purpose of car-free cycling. Work includes promoting snowmelt with blowing and plowing for maintenance access, clearing rocks and debris, cutting trees, fixing potholes and repairing the road surface. Often there is only one narrow lane cleared through the snow as needed for work crews. ODOT posts signs and closes gates to support the closure for safety, and increase understanding that there are crews working on the road. Please do not put yourself, or the crews, at risk.

The westside of Highway 242 near McKenzie River has more trees, shade and late season storms; so it is often cleared later then the east section near Sisters. At times, gates on one side or the other may be open while the other side remains closed. Do not assume you will be able to drive all the way through just because one gate is open. A turn around may be necessary at the Dee Wright Observatory midpoint. 

How can I check the road status?

ODOT does not release updates for the purpose of cycling. When Highway 242 is closed by the gates to traffic, it is closed to all traffic, and travelers who use Highway 242 while it is closed do so at their own risk. Check TripCheck.com and ODOT's McKenzie Highway webpage for road status and plans. And always closely monitor the weather.

May I still ride?

If you choose to ride before the road is open, you do so at your own risk. It is considered dangerous. You may encounter tree limbs, rocks, unstable road conditions, snow and ice. The weather changes quickly and can vary dramatically, particularly in the shoulder season. Cyclists riding while crews are on the roads are a hazard. Each year there are near misses between work equipment and cyclists. Do not ride when crews are working, typically Monday through Friday. It is also important to note that there are no services to this road during its closure and there is no cell phone service in this vicinity.

When planning a bike ride, let someone know your itinerary. Pack along emergency supplies, plenty of water, a first aid kit and bike repair kit. Work up to long rides just as you would train for a marathon. And make sure your gear is in top shape and weather versatile. And of course, don't forget to have a great time and enjoy the ride!

Author: Taj Barnhart Morgan

Taj Barnhart Morgan is the Director of Content Strategy for Travel Lane County. A journalism graduate from the University of Oregon, Taj has two decades of special event management and hospitality marketing experience in San Diego, CA and Maui, HI. Passionate about mothering, and back to her Oregon roots, she is discovering the Eugene, Cascades & Coast region all over again through the eyes of her daughter.