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McKenzie River Valley, Oregon Travel Guide
Last Updated: Jul-20-2012, Hits: 5,615, Rating: 0, Reviews: 0, Votes: 0 Bookmark and Share
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McKenzie River Valley, Oregon Travel Guide Hotels and Lodging (16)
Restaurants (8)
Bars and Nightlife (1)
Attractions (37)
Services (5)
Maps (2)
Links (2)
Oregon Travel Forum (20)
Eugene, Oregon Travel Guide
Sisters, Oregon Travel Guide
Location: North America
Geography: Mountains, Forest
Vacation Type: Family, Adventure
Popularity: Off-the-Beaten Path
Costs: Budget, Moderate
Attractions: Golfing, Scenery, Boating, Camping, Fishing, Hiking, Rafting

Facts and Stats:
Population: Approximately 3,000
Elevation: 607 ft to 3012 ft
Country Dialing Code: 1
Area Code: 541
Languages: English
Electricity: 110V
Currency: US Dollar
Time Zone: Pacific (PST) UTC-8/UTC-7 (Summer)
Current Time:

This travel guide includes the McKenzie River Valley communities of Blue River, Leaburg, McKenzie Bridge, and Vida.

The McKenzie River Valley is a beautiful destination offering a wealth of outdoor recreation activities such as rafting, fishing, camping, hiking, and more. The fishing is excellent on the river which is home to steelhead, salmon, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and bull trout.

The McKenzie River Valley is located in the Willamette National Forest, and in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. In these foothills, Clear Lake is fed by mountain springs and is the headwaters of the McKenzie River.

As you head west down the valley, you will encounter several unincorporated communities. 21 miles southwest of Clear Lake on Highway 126 is the town of McKenzie Bridge. Drive another 9 miles and you arrive at Blue River which is the largest town in the valley, and that is not saying much. In between McKenzie Bridge and Blue River is the junction with Cougar Dam Road. Head south on this road for a half mile, and head right at the intersection on Aufderheide Road. This will take you to the Cougar (Terwilliger) Hot Springs, Cougar Reservoir, a number of campgrounds, and other attractions.

Back in Blue River, head west 15 miles on the highway and you will reach the small town of Vida. 6 more miles is Leaburg, and 7 more miles will put you in Walterville; the end of the valley located just 10 miles from Springfield. The McKenzie River continues flowing west until it empties into the Willamette River just north of Eugene.

Brief History:
It is estimated that Native Americans have lived in the McKenzie River Valley for over 8,000 years. More recently, the Kalapuya and Molalla tribes lived here until being sent to reservations during the 1850's.

The first non-Indian visitors to the area arrived in 1812. The Pacific Fur Company sent an exploration part out from their fort in Astoria to explore the Willamette River. The party was led by Donald Mackenzie, and when they discovered the McKenzie River, it was named in his honor, although they didn't explore the valley.

In 1853, a group of settlers led by Benjamin Franklin Owen got separated from their wagon train. They headed over the Cascades from the east, down the valley, and were eventually rescued.

In 1862, the valley was traversed the opposite direction by Felix Scott Jr who led 50 men and 900 cattle up the valley, over the Cascades, and on into Idaho.

In 1871, the McKenzie Salt Springs and Des Chutes Wagon Road Company turned the route into a toll road. Tolls were collected at McKenzie Bridge and then Blue River. In 1874, the first wagon train passed through the new toll route.

In 1898, the road was sold to Lane County and called The McKenzie and Eastern Oregon Road.

Although in poor shape, the first automobile passed over the McKenzie road in 1910, and the road was improved during the 1920's after receiving government funding.

Thomson's Lodge was opened in 1912 and Herbert Hoover became a regular guest. The lodge burned down in 1954.

A new route over the mountains was constructed during the 1960's as the old route, now called the McKenzie Pass Scenic Highway 242, was unpassable in the winter. Highway 242 is still closed during the winter, but highway 126 is open year-round.

People & Culture:
Once an important logging area, the McKenzie River Valley is now mainly an outdoor playground. There are only about 3,000 people living in the area, and many of them are retirees and part time seasonal residents. A number of these people run businesses that cater to the outdoor enthusiasts that visit during the warmer months.

Food & Nightlife:
For a stretch of road about 60 miles long, there are relatively few dining options, and that may have something to do with the fact that many visitors have self-catering lodging or are camping. Most of the restaurants are traditional American fare, and there are a couple of pizza joints as well.

There are a few small markets along highway 126, but it is a good idea to stock up in Eugene or Springfield.

There is basically no nightlife to be found here.

Money & Costs:
This destination is very affordable. Most of the accomodations are in the budget range, although there are a couple of moderately priced options. Lodging tends toward rustic, and amenities are often fairly basic at most places.

Dining here is very inexpensive, but then again, it's not fine dining.

There are no banks or ATMs in the valley, however, credit cards are widely accepted. The closest banks can be found in Sisters or Springfield depending on which end of the corridor you are at. There is no sales tax in Oregon.

Getting There & Around:
About 4 miles east of McKenzie Bridge is the McKenzie Bridge State Airport which is actually not much more than a landing strip for small planes. The vast majority of visitors to the area will arrive by car. This method is preferrable anyway as the drive through the valley is one of the main draws of visiting. If coming from out of state, you will most likely want to fly into the Eugene, Oregon Airport. A decent 2nd option would be to fly into Bend and then drive an hour to Clear Lake.

A car is great way to see the valley, however, another popular option is to mountain bike the 26 mile McKenzie River Trail that is considered world class. Few ride both ways, fortunately, the McKenzie River Mountain Resort offers a shuttle service. Cog Wild also provides shuttle service.

As the area that this guide covers has a 2,500 foot range of elevation, the weather varies some depending on where you are in the valley. In general, the climate is mild with warm summers. In the winter, there is quite a bit of rain in the valley and snow in the mountains.

Below are the current conditions and weather forecast in Blue River, Oregon.

The table below shows the average high and low temperatures.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg High 43 48 55 63 71 78 86 86 77 62 47 41
Avg Low 32 31 34 38 42 47 51 50 45 40 36 31
Precipitation 8.93" 7.60" 7.01" 5.92" 4.13" 2.88" 0.85" 1.04" 2.21" 5.30" 10.40" 12.34"

Important Contacts:
  • Emergency - 911
  • Operator - 0
  • Directory Assistance - 411
  • McKenzie River Ranger District - 541-822-3381
  • Department of Fish and Wildlife - 503-947-6000
Tips & Additional Information:
  • Mountain Bikers on the McKenzie River Trail should be at least of intermediate ability.
  • The upper McKenzie River offers class II and III rapids for rafting and kayaking.

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