backpack: McKenzie River Trail
The McKenzie River Trail is popular with mountain bikers, but it’s also a good location for a backpacking trip. The southern section of the trail parallels the river (and the highway) as it travels through old-growth forest.
- distance & elevation gain to campsite: 7.5 miles, 450 ft. gain
- day hike options: continue north on the McKenzie River Trail
- best months: April – June
- location: Central Oregon Cascades; nearest town: McKenzie Bridge
- land management: Willamette National Forest: McKenzie River Ranger District
- trail conditions: McKenzie River Trail #3507
- hike description: Clever Hiker – McKenzie River Trail Backpacking Guide
- permits: none required
- trailhead pass: none required
- note: a fire closure was in effect during this trip that prevented a full thru-hike; check with the ranger station for current conditions
We started at the McKenzie River Ranger Station and hiked north on the trail, passing by Paradise campground, Belknap Hot Springs Resort, and across several forest roads. None of this trail is within a wilderness area, and it’s never too far from the highway so it has a different feel than most backpacking destinations. In spite of this, the trail travels through beautiful old-growth forest on the southern section.
Since this is a popular trail for mountain biking, the bridges over tributary creeks tend to be large and sturdy structures.
We were expecting to find more campsites than there were, and most of the ones we did find were right next to the trail. Due to this, we continued until we found a private campsite set in a grove of cedars about 7.5 miles in.
Since there was a fire closure that only allows for hiking 9 miles from the ranger station before the trail is closed at Deer Creek Road, we did a shorter day hike and took our time exploring side trails on the way. Bigelow Hot Springs is a natural hot spring located on the McKenzie near the Deer Creek Road, but it was early in the season and the river levels were higher than the hot spring so we didn’t have a chance to see it. Right next to Deer Creek Road is a large dispersed camping area with space for larger groups, but due to its location next to the road, I’m glad we were able to find a smaller campsite with privacy.
We were planning to hike out and drive to Blue Pool and Sahalie Falls, so we got up early and packed up for the long hike out. The hike out was just as lovely as the hike in. However, when we arrived at Blue Pool, it was a warm weekend day and it was jam packed with people so we didn’t stop. Blue Pool is one of the most popular easy hikes in Oregon and it’s much better to visit during the week if possible. I’ll definitely have to go back sometime to do so.