2-Day Bikepacking Trip Near Sisters, OR: The McKenzie River Trail – and Some Minor Mishaps That Totally Redeemed Themselves

The Map

Want the GPX version of the map or just more detail?  Click here.

The Ride

After convincing myself I could get far enough ahead in my grad school work to earn a weekend mountain biking trip, I called my friend, Andrew Glick, to see if he’d be available for a little two-day excursion down east of Eugene, on the McKenzie River Trail. My mountain biking yes-man agreed, and the date was set for the 21st and 22nd of February. Friday found us traveling to Eugene to stay with some friends, and then Saturday morning found us starting the ride at around 8am.

Traditionally, people take two cars to the McKenzie River Trail, park one at the south end at a trailhead a couple miles before Paradise Campground, and then drive north to a trailhead just south of Fish Lake with the other car, to begin the 26 mile ride. However, Andrew and my plan was to ride up from the south end the first day, spend the night at Coldwater Cove Campground 23 miles up, and then ride back the next day.



Getting everything loaded up.


About to start!

The weather and trail conditions were perfect on the way up. Unfortunately, about 13 miles into our ride, Andrew heard something loud snap on his bike, and upon inspection, found that the bolt holding his saddle to the seatpost had snapped in two, making the 10 miles we still had to ride impossible without a fix. Andrew and I limped our bikes to Trail Bridge Campground and assessed our options. When a family with a truck pulled up I suggested to Andrew that he ask them if he could hitch a ride to the nearest hardware store. One of the men in the group agreed with alacrity, stating he hated all this hiking *crap* anyway. While I stayed with the bike, Andrew rode 17 miles with his newfound friend Larry, who happily helped find the bolt and drive a total of 32 miles out of his way just to help a guy out… and to avoid hiking I guess.

If only that were the end to Andrew’s problems. After a couple more miles, Andrew’s chain snapped, and he had to take it out and ride one chainlink down. A couple more miles down the road Andrew got a flat tire, and 500 yards past there his chain broke AGAIN. A bit disheartened, we took the last few miles at a snail’s pace to our campsite, Coldwater Cove Campground, where we had the entire place to ourselves and a chance to recover from a somewhat stressful and frustrating first day of riding.



Making minor adjustments.



I don’t know how this happened, but it looked awesome.


The road goes ever on…


…and on.


One of the many bridges on the McKenzie River Trail.


Most of the riding was easy to handle.


But some of the riding proved to be a bit beyond our skill.


Snack spot.


And the trouble starts. The seat post bolt snapped on Andrew’s bike so he had to hitch a ride with a stranger to a hardware store 17 miles away.


While Andrew was gone for an hour and a half, I sat here guarding our bikes and listening to a book on tape.


And then this happened.


And then this happened. I didn’t take pictures of the final chain malfunction because no one was in a picture taking mood at that point.


The campsite was picturesque and tranquil. A perfect end to a stressful first day.


Campsite.  Andrew was hesitant to let me try out my one-man tent since he had a perfectly functional two man, but the next morning he admitted that having all the extra room and not worrying about waking someone else up in the middle of the night was kind of nice.


Triple heating with three supercats (stoves made out of fancy feast aluminum cans).


And the evening was topped off with a roaring fire. Things ended on a high note before going to bed.

Fortunately, the second day brought only smiles, as we had zero mechanical failures and way more downhill than the previous day. The highlight for both of us was a section of technical lava rock gardens just a couple miles past Sahalie and Koosah falls. Although we weren’t able to ride through all the sections of lava rock, both of us gained confidence the farther we went, and found that as the minutes passed, we gained more and more confidence on these technical sections of trail.


A bit of morning trail.



Some of the lava rock gardens.



Do you think I made it? I’ll let you decide.




And back to the trailhead.


Lunch of champions to finish off the two day biking experience; and washed down with a solid Eugene-based IPA.

Overall, the McKenzie River Trail is a must-ride for any mountain biker. Dense forest scenery gives way to powerful waterfalls and rugged lava rock formations, and it is this diverse scenery which makes for such varied and exciting trails.


Categories: Oregon Bikepacking, Pedals and Packs

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