Monday, November 2, 2020

HIKING ALONG THE MCKENZIE RIVER NEAR EUGENE, OREGON, Guest Post by Caroline Hatton at The Intrepid Tourist

The McKenzie River, Oregon
My friend and fellow children’s book author Caroline Hatton took the photos in this post in 2019-20 when she enjoyed this free outdoor activity.

On the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail.

From Eugene, Oregon, driving an hour east into the Cascade Mountains leads through tall evergreen forest, up the rushing McKenzie River, to a treasure: the ~26-mile (~42-km) McKenzie River National Recreation Trail. My husband and I day-hiked different segments on three different dates. On each hiking day, we parked at a different one of the eleven trailheads, hiked upstream until lunch time, then back downhill to our car.

A quiet pool on one side of the river.

Since I love being near water (careful not to get wet—only to admire it, feel revitalized, and take photos), I found immediate rewards upon hitting the trail.

The trail crosses creeks on log bridges.
The trail took us through the same old, same old, dense, mixed forest, moss, and fern wonderland as in many hikes near Eugene.

The Tamolitch Blue Pool, where the river resurfaces after running underground for miles.

But a unique highlight, the most spectacular point near the trail, is the Tamolitch Blue Pool  where the river, having disappeared underground three miles (~4.8 km) upstream, resurfaces in clear blue gem tones. The nearest trailhead is 2.1 miles (~3.4 km) away. By mid-day on a summer weekend, the site was full of visitors of all ages.

Koosah Falls

Not all the waterfalls have names, and some have unofficial names, such as Our Lunch Spot. The 2.6-mile (~4.2-km) Sahalie and Koosah Falls Loop Trail  makes it easy to see both falls, as they crash over ~3,000-year-old lava flows. This trail, which goes on both sides of the river, is so easy that it is hard to imagine ever being alone on it, especially since parking is available at Koosah Falls.

Clear Lake

At Clear Lake, one of the few lakes along the McKenzie River Trail, I sat in the log shelter and through the trees that ring the water, cleared my mind while watching fishermen float past in rowboats. Parking is available at the Clear Lake Day Use Area. Near the north end of the lake, the McKenzie River Upper Trailhead is the upstream end of the trail.

The shelter at Clear Lake

We shared the trail with occasional mountain bikers coasting downhill, a few backpackers plodding toward campgrounds, and happy families strolling near picnic areas. Because most of the trail is only wide enough for one person, distancing, to reduce Covid contagion risk, required one group to step off the trail to let the other through. We always put a mask on to pass others, and most of the other people did too.

In some spots, we had to walk close to the two-lane road or even on the road shoulder, near fast car and truck traffic. But we never strayed far from the river, creeks, lakes, reservoirs, or waterfalls. And although the most popular spots attracted crowds like picnics attract ants, other parts of the trail remained uncrowded between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. even on weekends. And when summer temperatures in Eugene rose into the 80s F (near 30o C), the trail stayed cool because it goes through deep shade at an altitude of ~1450-3140 ft (~442–957 m).

Our three hikes added up to less than half the length of the trail. We were planning to explore the rest by the end of 2020. But on September 7, Labor Day in the U.S., hot dry winds fanned suspected sparks into an inferno, the unprecedented 173,000-acre or ~700-km2 Holiday Farm Fire, between Eugene and the nearest trailhead.

At writing time, a few weeks and as many heavy rains later, thousands of firefighters and other braves have achieved 96% containment, but the McKenzie River Trail is still closed, even though it runs entirely outside of the fire perimeter. For status updates, check the official web page and call the ranger at the number listed there. I’ll be watching for when the trail reopens, to go again through its portal to paradise.


Good map to plan mileage for a hike on the McKenzie RiverTrail, even though it doesn’t show trailheads or parking lots. Click on “view full map” to see the trail map and profile, then put the cursor on the profile graph. A blue line will appear at that point on the profile, with the corresponding distance from the upper end of the trail, elevation, and grade. A blue dot will appear on the corresponding spot on the trail on the map. The yellow dots are waypoints.

An excellent website for Oregon hikes is, even though it covers only parts of the McKenzie River Trail.

Best mobile phone mapping app for intrepid tourists, because even when you don’t have an internet connection, it shows where you are on a previously-downloaded, offline map.


All text and photos, copyright Caroline Arnold.

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