One comment we frequently get at Dirty Freehub is that we don’t have many … Big. Gnarly. Tough routes. Well, here you go!
What this route has:
- Big views of Mt Washington, Three Fingered Jack, and Hayrick Butte.
- A stop at one of the clearest lakes in the Cascade Mountains.
- Scenic trail riding along the McKenzie River.
- A long, paved climb that twists and turns up the Cascade Mountains topping out at an observatory.
- And, a no brakes descent (almost) back to the start.
We have ridden most of the route, except some of the roads on the McKenzie River sector. This sector is the big unknown of the ride. We are unsure if the single track connects to the gravel roads as we have mapped it out. The maps and satellite photography all show that it is a go… but sometimes we miss something.
This is not a ride for everyone. It is demanding and has some difficult riding sections. Thus, read the below description in its entirety to make sure you know what you are getting into. However, we anticipate this route becoming a 5 Star route when we complete the documentation. So go forth with a big smile and a sense of adventure.
Note, the pictures are only of the Old Santiam Wagon Road sector (miles 0 to 27).
If you do give this route a go, we would love to hear from you. And … if you have ideas on how to make the route better, we are “all ears”! Leave us a comment below.
Adventure / Gravel Route
Technical Difficulty & Risk[what this means]
Moderate+. This route has a significant amount of primitive dirt road / jeep track on the first leg (that may require a bit of hike-a-bike) and some single track on the second leg.
There is limited cell phone reception along the route. However, many areas of the route are frequented by campers, moto bikes and mountain bikes.
When we like to ride this …
… in the late fall after a snow or two has fallen in the high country and then melted out. Nights need to be below freezing temperatures. The first leg of this route needs moisture in the soil; otherwise, it is almost an unrideable sandbox. Also, we prefer the route mid-week as there is a lot less moto traffic on the trails.
Cold Spring Campground. Pit toilets.
Lat / Long: 44.309256, -121.630944
Food & Water
Clear Lake Resort (seasonal), ~ mile 27. Call before hand to ensure that they are open and food & water is available.
Miles 0 to 27 / Old Santiam Wagon Road / 100% Gravel
This first 27 miles has “killer” views of Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack, and Hayrick Butte. But it also has chunky dirt road and soft jeep / moto track (~ 4 miles in total): the Old Santiam Wagon Road (sectors 9, 10, and 11).(Micro-video) Just after mile 21, there is a gate, access is allowed for non-motorized use. Continue. **Click to Read More
Hayrick Butte is a type of subglacial volcano, located near Santiam Pass, and adjacent to the cinder cone Hoodoo Butte, which has a ski area. Hayrick Butte likely formed when lava erupted underneath an overlying glacier or ice sheet, producing the flat top with near-vertical walls along the ice-contact margin as the lava cooled and hardened. Hayrick Butte has a nearly flat plateau about 0.5 miles across and steep walls rising about 700 feet above its surroundings. [Wikipedia]
Miles 27 to 45 / McKenzie River Sector / Gravel Road & Single Track Trail
From Clear Lake, climb up the paved access road. It is short but steep, 10% plus. Cross the highway and continue on the gravel roads west and then south. From ~ mile 36 and on, this sector follows the McKenzie river alternating between gravel roads and the McKenzie River mountain bike trail (from Tamolitch pool / Blue pool south). The trail, as used here, is rated mountain bike intermediate. We have ridden this section on our mountain bikes, but not on our gravel bikes. Thus, part of the adventure!
The McKenzie River Trail is probably one of the most famous mountain bike trails in North America. Nearly 25 miles in length and slightly downhill. Most riders will take at least 4 or 5 hours to complete the ride partly because of the number of amazing photo opportunities. After Tamolitch Pool, the trail becomes an intermediate route with a lot of flowy twists and turns to the bottom. [Bend Trails]
Miles 45 to 68 / Dee Wright Observatory Climb / Paved
The third sector is a long, paved climb up the west flank of the Cascade Mountains, from the intersection of Highways 126 and 242, to Dee Wright Observatory. The climb is 3700 feet over 21 miles, but the heart of the climb is in the first 12 miles, where you gain 2800 feet.
We have ridden this on our road bikes. It is a deeply forested climb with big, moss-covered trees that breaks out into high alpine terrain at ~ mile 61. There will be “in your face” views of the North Sister. Make a stop at the Observatory and get ready to finish out the ride.
Dee Wright Observatory, located in the Cascade Range at 5,187 feet, offers panoramic views across 65 square miles of black lava rock that looks so much like a moonscape, that in 1964, NASA conducted drills with astronauts as they prepared to travel to the moon. On a clear day, you can view Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson, the South, North, and Middle Sister, and even see Mt. Hood, 78.5 miles to the north. If the snow has melted, don’t forget to look for the glaciers! Collier glacier on the North Sister is the largest glacier in Oregon. [US Forest Service]
Miles 68 to Finish / Windy Point Descent / Paved
The last sector is a curvy but not too steep of descent back to the start; 10 miles with a loss in elevation of 2000 feet. The upper section rolls a bit, requiring some pedaling. But, after Windy Point, it is all downhill.
50 mm tires are almost a must for this route due to the Old Santiam Wagon Road sector and the McKenzie River single track.
Air pressure recommendations. Start with low, low air pressure. Ride out the rugged and sandy stuff. Add a bit of air at Clear Lake Resort and then add more air just before beginning the Dee Wright Observatory climb (at the intersection of the McKenzie Highway 126 and Highway 242, the McKenzie Pass Scenic Byway). For Captain O, on 53 mm tires and tubeless with Cushcore, the pressures used would be (front / rear) 14 / 16, then 17 / 18, then 30 / 32.
We prefer this riding direction (counter-clockwise) as we find it more “comfortable” to climb the chuck on the Old Santiam Wagon road than descend it. The views are also more dramatic and revealing in this direction.
Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road
Blue = single track
For help with GPS files, the RideWithGPs mapping app and to learn how to download our routes for free, see the “Using Our Rides” page.