On one of the last few days of August, having the looming realization that there were only a few days left before starting school again, we decided to give summer one last good hurrah.
With the lower trailhead just over 50 miles from Eugene, the beautiful 26.5 mile long McKenzie River National Recreation Trail is a very popular trail among both hikers and mountain bikers. It was named America’s #1 bike trail in 2008 by Bike Magazine.
The bus stop is visible in this photo to the left of the ranger station sign. This last stop on the route before the bus turns back to town is in the parking lot, so you can’t miss it.
The lower trailhead parking lot is about a mile behind (west) on Highway 126. Across from the ranger station, there is a short marked trail joining the main trail along the river.
Continue along the trail as far as you desire before turning back. I set myself an alarm for well less than half the time we had before the last bus came. This allowed plenty of margin for tired hikers, breaks, exploring and playing. Even though we were fairly well prepared, I really did not want to miss the last bus and be stuck camping overnight unplanned. We went all the way to Belknap Hotsprings Lodge, probably just a bit over 3.5 miles each way, which is a pretty ambitious distance for young kids.
We noticed quite a few burned out trees along the trail. Some were dead and had fallen. Many were standing and seemed to still be alive. The outside of the trees are not burned, so I was guessing maybe lightning instead of forest fire. The girls and I kept thinking of “My Side of the Mountain.” My dad works for the Forest Service, so we sent him an email asking what he thought the cause was. His reply: “Old wildfire. Western Red Cedar commonly has these heart rot cavities and can burn the inside without killing the tree. The bark on the outside gets burned also but sloughs off in a few years.“
I had planned to stop more on the way back so the kids could play along the river, but the girls out in front were just marching along. We ended up making it back to the trailhead almost two hours before the bus came. So, we relaxed and explored near the trailhead and the ranger station until the bus finally took us home.
I was impressed again with the distance my 4-year-old put in on his short legs. Counting the mile walked each way to catch the bus from home, the 3.5 miles each way from the McKenzie Ranger Station to Belknap Springs, and a stroll down some forest road while waiting, we totaled about 11 miles for the day.