Originally the McKenzie River corridor was traversed by the Molalla and Kalapuya Native Americans as they gathered and hunted. Later the Oregon Trail brought settlers to the region beginning in 1843. The earliest recorded homestead was by James Belknap in 1861 on a McKenzie River site that supported a ferry service and eventually the historic Belknap Covered Bridge. A wagon route was established from Walterville to the upper McKenzie River, and stage stops every six to ten miles apart reflect the current river communities today. Gold was found, but lumber and livestock later became the primary industries. In the 1870s the McKenzie River's hot springs and fishing lodges started to draw tourists, and this increased when the road was paved in the 1900s. Cruising the scenic routes became a popular pastime, and in the 1930s the Civilian conservation Corps built the Dee Wright Observatory along a former 1860 wagon route over the lava beds (Hwy 242).

Takoda's & Blue Sky Market

Takoda's & Blue Sky Market in Rainbow

Today, the McKenzie River is comprised of eight small towns spread out every six to ten miles (10 - 16 km) along the old stage coach route. Watch for the town signs or you might drive right past! Many of the residents here have grown up on the McKenzie River and are passionate guides, anglers and historians. McKenzie River's beauty and solitude has further attracted artists, naturalists and outdoor enthusiasts. If you can, stop for a meal at a tiny café or pop into a store for supplies. Engaging with the locals is sure to enrich your appreciation of the area's rich history and deepen your connection to its many exquisite places and experiences.

Patio dining at the Obsidian Grill

Patio dining at the Obsidian Grill in McKenzie Bridge

As you drive northeast along Highway 126, paralleling the river, the communities are identified by large wooden signs. 

Cedar Flat

Milepost 10.5

Just outside Springfield, Cedar Flat originated as a stage coach stop and there was a ferry crossing nearby at today's riverfront Hendricks Bridge park and boat ramp. Today Cedar Flat is a tiny community of tree farms and agriculture at the entrance to the McKenzie River region. Passing through there is a market, a BBQ-joint and an auto repair shop. Herrick Farms has a seasonal farm market with fresh produce, flowers and preserves. 

Cedar Flat in McKenzie River


LTD Bus Route 91

Walterville offers a restaurant and feed and tackle store. The annual Walterville Community Fair is held here in September. Walterville is also part of Eugene's hydropower system, home to the 70-acre (28 ha) Walterville Pond. The Walterville post office was established in 1875. If you are traveling to the McKenzie River region on public transportation, this is your first bus stop.

Halfway between Walterville and Leaburg is McKenzie River Lavender Farm which offers seasonal access for lavender artisan produces during its annual festival. Upriver Organics offers a seasonal roadside market of their farm products.

Upriver Organics (formerly Organic Redneck Farms)

Upriver Organics in Walterville


LTD Bus Route 91

Leaburg has an art gallery, community center, fire station and a country store with groceries and gas. Rolling on, you'll find Ike's Lakeside Pizza, which is now home to life-sized Simpsons' family statues. (Another photo opportunity!) And Spring Creek Holly Farm, which sells Christmas trees in the late fall.

Leaburg is also a picturesque destination for fishing — the Goodpasture Covered Bridge spans the McKenzie River at the east end of town. There is a public boat launch on Greenwood Drive, and the Leaburg Dam is an excellent spot to observe salmon and steelhead climbing a fish ladder. Just four miles east of Leaburg is the historic fish hatchery. Bring your camera along with your fishing rod!

Leaburg fish hatchery stream in the McKenzie River region

Leaburg Fish Hatchery


Milepost 26.9
LTD Bus Route 91

Wonder where the popular UO campus-area bar "Rennie's Landing" name came from? It's a boat launch in Vida! Also here is Ben & Kay Dorris Park which includes the famous Marten Rapids stretch of the McKenzie River. Vida was established in 1868, and named for the first postmaster's daughter. In Vida you can find a post office, gas station, market, fire station and real estate office. The Vida Cafe is a locally-loved and delicious dining spot.

Drift boat fishing on the McKenzie River

Drift boat fishing on the McKenzie River

Please Note: Areas of Nimrod to McKenzie Bridge are still in recovery from the wildfires of 2020. Please respect private property as residents and businesses rebuild.


LTD Bus Route 91

Nimrod's name gets a lot of attention (and the town has had to bolt its sign down) as a modern day synonym for "fool," but some believe its name is actually in reference to a biblical figure known for his hunting prowess. A ferry crossing was once established here. In 1938, Nimrod hosted the first white water parade, an event that attracted thousands and peaked with 300 boats covering 20 miles (32 km) until it was shut down in 1970 due to reckless boating. Today the annual Wooden Boat Festival is re-created on a modified scale from Eagle Rock Lodge. Eagle Rock itself is a huge boulder on the south side of the river. 

Along here you will also see orchards and river access like Helfrich Landing.

Wooden Boat Festival at Eagle Rock Lodge

The Wooden Boat Festival at Eagle Rock Lodge

Blue River

Milepost 41.3
LTD Bus Route 91

A former 1863 gold mining town, Blue River is nestled near Blue River which flows into the McKenzie River. It is just off the main highway and was impacted severely by the 2020 wildfire. Blue River offers the McKenzie Community Track & Field which hosts track meets and the annual Arts Festival. The site of the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest is nearby (check status as this area was impacted by wildfire). 

Turn onto the Aufderheide, a national scenic byway that connects the McKenzie River area with Oakridge-Westfir. (The Aufderheide is a seasonal road, not maintained in the winter.) Cougar Reservoir, and adjacent Terwilliger Hot Springs, are popular for water recreation. 

McKenzie Community Track & Field

McKenzie Community Track & Field in Blue River


Milepost 47.1

Rainbow was once an important stage stop for travelers and offered ferry service. Later a series of bridges crossed the McKenzie River here. The current Belknap Covered Bridge, built in 1966, still accommodates cars. Here there is a gas station, Blue Sky Market and Takoda's restaurant which serves pizza and hamburgers. McKenzie River Resort, formerly the United States Basketball Academy, provides event space for groups with a lodge and cabins. Hike to Castle Rock, a former fire lookout with amazing valley views. Or play golf at Tokatee Golf Club with views of the Three Sisters Mountains from the greens.

McKenzie River Resort / Jeff Huling outdoor courts

McKenzie River Resort outdoor basketball courts in Rainbow

McKenzie Bridge

Milepost 51.1
LTD Bus Route 91

Lane Transit District's bus will take you this far from Eugene, right to the McKenzie River Ranger Station and close to McKenzie River National Recreation Trail (MRT) trailheads. McKenzie Bridge has the McKenzie General Store and Obsidian Grill, which operates as a local market, a restaurant and a gathering place with seasonal entertainment on their patio.  

Further along, discover Belknap Hot Springs Resort & Camp Yale, a camper's paradise of gardens, hot spring pools, riverfront campsites, cabins and a rustic lodge. From here, branch off onto Highway 242 during the summer season for an amazing drive through lava fields to the Dee Wright Observatory. (Hwy 242 is closed to vehicle traffic in the winter months.)

Tokatee Golf Club by Colin Morton

Tokatee Golf Club in McKenzie Bridge

Beyond the Communities

On the way to Sisters and Bend there are many campgrounds, hiking trails, waterfalls and lakes — but no services. It is always a good idea to travel with a full tank of gas, extra food, water, warm blankets and a first aid kit. Check road conditions, print out or download any needed maps and know before you

Clear Lake with Bridge by Wyatt Pace

Clear Lake above the McKenzie River