Oregon Rode Trip – Leg III: McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway

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Central Oregon's McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway

If you missed Parts I and II of our Oregon Rode Trip, start from the beginning here (Portland to Champoeg) and here (Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway)

This post is written in partnership with Travel Oregon, Oregon Wine Country, and Eugene Cascades Coast.

I’m not sure how Dave managed to ride from Portland to Eugene with his flu/cold/death sentence. His cough was so bad at night that he couldn’t fall asleep until 5am for over a week straight. And when he did finally drift off, it was only a few hours before we would have wake up to pack and move on again. His coughing became rhythmic. I could predict his next bout to the second. His constant coughing meant I also suffered in shut eye.

He took to Facebook and asked for remedies, as his health insurance only covered him in WA (yay ‘merica!). We bought out the natural store of elderberry syrup, echaneaca throat spray, and cherry root cough syrup.  They were little use for him at this point, but helped lessen the force of my cold when it eventually passed onto me.

Having moved on from Armitage Park to the Home2 Suites by Hilton in downtown Eugene, we could recover in a real bed rather than our tent. The homey suite hotel that included a pool, weight room, free laundry, and daily breakfast that featuring vegan Belgian waffles. It was the perfect place to recover for a few days before tackling the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway.

Beer Garden tap house in Eugene, Oregon. Sweet Life Patisseries in Eugene, Oregon. Vegan, gluten free bakery. | Long Haul Trekkers Sweet Life Patisseries in Eugene, Oregon. Vegan, gluten free bakery. | Long Haul Trekkers

Days 1-2 Eugene

We spent a two full days exploring, eating, and recovering in Eugene, taking a much needed break after five straight days of cycling. We had been to Eugene several times for quick stops en route to places like Ashland or the coast, but never really felt like we had the chance to really  to get to know the city until this visit.

Our first intended stop was one of our favorite dog-friendly breweries, Ninkasi, however, as we approached, we noticed a sign indicating that this was the one nights dogs were not allowed due to a visit from Dimitri the Owl from the Cascades Raptor Center. So Oregon. So we opted for the Beer Garden, a fantastic spot with 42 beers and ciders on tap, several food carts to satisfy your hunger, and a huge dog-friendly patio. 

For breakfast the following morning, we were directed to the most wonderful bakery, filled with all sorts of vegan and gluten-free, and everything-full treats. Our eyes grew way bigger than our appetites once we saw the display case at Sweet Life Patisserie. Coffee cakes, cinnamon rolls, cookies, cupcakes, cakes, pastries—just about any delicious good we desired, they had available in vegan form. We may have gone a little overboard…

With bellies still full from too many sweet treats, we headed to Tap and Growler to meet our friends from Burley Design, where we toasted our two years of working together and finally having the chance to meet in person. After lunch, we visited their office for a tour (Sora particularly enjoyed the tour of people’s treat drawers) and then they filmed us for video interview involving drones and a mapping Tail Wagon.  If you haven’t already, watch this video. It’s super fun and really well done.

Read our review of the Burley Design Tail Wagon

After visiting with Burley, we biked back to downtown Eugene along the Fern Ridge Bike Path, but not before stopping at Bike Friday  a local manufacturer of folding bikes. They custom-build every single bike to your preference and we got to tour the factory to see it all in action. The most fun part, of course, was taking some for a spin!

Two days is not nearly enough to spend in any new town, but we saw so much more in Eugene in those two days than we ever had on any other visit. We officially love the city and look forward to returning to explore more again soon! 

Camping at Holiday Park RV Resort in Rainbow, Oregon Camping at Holiday Park RV Resort in Rainbow, Oregon.

Day 3 Eugene to Rainbow (by car)

Still feeling under the weather, we accepted a ride from the staff at Travel Lane County. After cycle touring in Patagonian winds blasting in our faces at 40mph, we learned that it’s perfectly OK to take a ride when offered. Stephen generously took us down Route 126 from Eugene to Takoda’s restaurant in the small community of Rainbow.

As vegans, we were pleasantly surprised to find a delicious homemade veggie burger among our food options (check out the juicy noms on Instagram). In a teeny tiny town, we had low expectations, but Takoda’s delivered. 

Being in Central Oregon, I was convinced the rains from the Willamette Valley would dissipate, but no such luck. This is Oregon, after all. As we left the restaurant to go in search of a wild camping spot alongside the McKenzie River, a heavy drizzle set in and carried through until we gave up an hour later. We finally found home for the evening at the friendly Holiday Farm RV Park, where we were lead to a pretty meadow next to a pond. Shortly after arriving, the host returned with an axe, casually mentioning that a guest recently spotted a cougar in the very meadow in which we would sleep. Right, in the event that a large predatory cat approaches our tent, sneak out, grab axe, and aim at beast. Luckily, under a heavy dosage cough syrup, we both slept through the night for the first time in a week, thankfully, without any feline visitors.

Hiking along the McKenzie River Trail from Belknap Hot Springs. Hiking along the McKenzie River Trail from Belknap Hot Springs.

Day 2 Rainbow to Belknap Hot Springs (a whopping 6 miles)

The gray stuck around as we packed for our short ride to Belknap Hot Springs, just a few miles down the road. We were stoked to soak our aching and battered bodies in the hot waters located adjacent to one of our favorite spots in Oregon—the McKenzie River Trail. A 26-mile trail famous for Tamolitch Pool (better known as Blue Pool), Sahalie and Koosah Falls, and mountain biking, we loved it for the quiet trails, raging river, and pristine scenery along which we could run forever. Of course, we wouldn’t be running on this visit, but we would be hitting that hot spring pool.

We purchased food for the next two days at the well-stocked Blue Sky Market. Between the market and Takoda’s, we had no problems finding plenty of healthy, vegan foods to supply us our nourishment over the next couple of days. From hummus to lots of fresh vegetables and energy bars, to organic canned goods, we were set.

Belknap sits on a huge property with the McKenzie River dividing it in two. The pools, lodge, and RV park on one side, the camping, cabins, and trails on the other. One night was not enough to explore it all.

After setting up camp, we promptly changed and headed for the pool just behind the lodge, one of two on the property. We Sora in the tent while we soaked, as the pool is not dog-friendly and she is used to being alone in there when we do need to leave her behind for a short amount of time.

With our short ride, we had plenty of time and energy to take Sora for a long walk before eating dinner and easily found the McKenzie River Trail, connected right to the resort through the RV Park. After heating up some soup, we went to bed early, hoping we’d awake to some sunshine. We had met some cyclists in the morning who lamented about the clouds, cold weather, and rain while riding the pass that day. Not particularly fond of frozen toes and fingers and icy rain, I sent a pleading message to the weather gods.

Dee Wright Observatory on the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway. Dee Wright Observatory on the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway Sora playing in the snow along the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway

Day 3 McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway – Belknap Hot Springs to Sisters (38 miles)

We awoke to a symphony of songbirds, and yes, finally, those elusive blue skies. Setting up for breakfast, we realized that pesky chipmunks had nibbled their way into our rice cakes and and created a hole in a front pocket of my pannier in search of some delicious EmergenC packets.

We set off around 8:30 to try and beat the heat and meet our friend in Sisters by early afternoon. We’d be taking a break from riding and spending a week in Bend before making our way back to Portland. My favorite part of the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway, besides the killer views from the top, is that the road is closed to cars until mid-June. So once the snow clears and the pass is ridable, cyclists have car-free riding for about half the way up and over. Cyclists still need to take caution, however, as we heard an accident caused between two cars and a cyclist on our way up (all involved were OK). 

Dozens of roadies passed us, cheering us on as we chugged along, the only fools to attempt tackling the pass with loaded gear and a dog. I normally plug into a podcast while riding, but the number of cyclists passing and wanting to chat had me taking out my left earbud so frequently, I put them away, as I’m fairly certain that I was answering questions like “Where did you come from?” with “Good Morning!” They asked about Sora and how old she was. What it’s like to cycle with a dog. They asked about our trip. Where we had come from and where we were going. They asked about our panniers. Question after question. It was cycling happy hour.

We grinded out revolution after revolution, waving to cyclists coming down who had passed us only a couple hours earlier on their way up. The steep roads never seemed to flatten, yet, we felt such immense joy to be among so many cyclists on such a beautiful day, such a stark change from South America, where we carried triple the weight, forcing us to push up most of the miserable hills on a daily basis. Further, having completed this ride previously, we knew what awaited us at the top—one of the best views in all of Oregon—most of the state’s tallest peaks in one 360° spin.

The thick pines turned to gray alpine trees and we found remnants of snow in which Sora played and cooled her body. Soon, the lava fields emerged and I anticipated our arrival to Dee Wright Obesrvatory, the peak at 5,187 feet.

At least fifty bicycles leaned against the black rocks formed by lava flows surrounding the observatory with their respective owners milling about. Two other dogs, wandered about off leash (they were part of a support team for an organized ride taking place that day)(yes, I specifically mentioned that so that we look more badass as the ones who brought their dog uphill on bicycle). We ascended the observatory to take in the view of the surrounding volcanoes—Mt. Hood, Washington, Jefferson, and the Three Sisters. I soaked it all in.

With our friend awaiting our arrival call in Sisters below several hours later than we had estimated, we mounted our bikes and pointed down, reaching the edge of town in 45 minutes, traveling at record speeds for us slowpokes. We continued on to Village Green City Park, one of the most useful parks we have found in all of our travels. There were clean pay showers, water, and benches where we sat and snacked while waiting for our friend to take us to Bend, where we would take a weeklong break from our cycling adventures before hitting our final route, the Cascading River Scenic Bikeway.

Logistics: Cycling from Eugene to Sisters via the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway

Mileage: 97 miles // From Eugene to Belknap, you travel along 126, which is a fairly busy highway. The shoulder is generous in most parts. On the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway, the road is partially closed to cars until mid-June. 
Difficulty: Challenging, based on the traffic and climb to 5,000+ feet to the summit at Dee Wright Observatory.
Food Options: In Eugene and Sisters, the food options are high, with plenty of markets, restaurants, and cafes to fuel. In between Eugene and Sisters, Rainbow is one of the few options to buy food. 
Scenery: Thick pine forests and river views from Eugene to halfway up McKenzie Pass. The remainder of the ride has some of the best mountain views in all of Oregon.
Road: Good condition. The shoulder on 126 is plenty wide, but cars are going fast, so beware. The road on McKenzie Pass was partially paved and is glorious.

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