The 26-mile McKenzie River Trail is in the Willamette National Forest, 55 miles east of the Eugene/Springfield area. The iconic trail runs along the McKenzie River, offering stunning views of the river and the surrounding Cascade Mountains.
The trail is open year-round, but the best time to visit (and also the most crowded) is from May through October, when the weather is mild, and the wildflowers are in bloom.
Mountain bikers love the McKenzie River Trail for the challenging and technical rides with steep climbs, rocky terrain, and fast descents. Shuttle services transport riders and their bikes to the top of the trail, allowing for a downhill-only ride.
There are several spots for trail runners to enter the trail. The upper trailhead is a great place to start if you have someone for a shuttle or want to run around Clear Lake. The lower trailhead near Paradise Campground is the closest spot to start if coming from Springfield.
The Clear Lake loop from the upper trailhead is a 6.5-mile flat loop around the lake through lava fields and Coldwater campground on the east side of the lake and Clear Lake Resort on the west side. Clear Lake is fed mainly by underground springs that flow year-round. As a result, the lake’s transparency is remarkable, with the bottom of the lake visible in even the deepest spots, where trees still stand up from the lake floor. Clear Lake was created about 3,000 years ago due to lava flows from surrounding mountains.
The 2.35 Waterfall Loop starts at Carmen Diversion Reservoir or the parking areas of Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls Viewpoints. The Waterfall Trail winds through an old-growth forest before reaching the waterfalls. Expect big crowds here, especially on a sunny day. Connect back with the McKenzie River Trail on the other side of the river to finish the loop.
The last 20 miles of the trail continue around Carmen Reservoir through more old-growth trees. Lava rock beds make up for the next two miles, crossing several bridges to cross as the trail heads downstream to the viewpoint of Tamolitch Blue Pool, where the river amazingly gurgles up from the underwater springs in a crystal clear, blue-colored pool.
Continue five miles through more old-growth forest on the single track to the Trailbridge Reservoir. It moves briefly on Forest Road 610 past a gate and back to the sections of the trail, including Belknap Hot Springs Resort, Paradise Campground, McKenzie River Ranger Station, and the lower trailhead.