The McKenzie Highway is more than a narrow, dizzying route from Central Oregon to the Willamette Valley.
The road, designated a National Scenic Byway, threads through nearly 40 miles of lava fields and forests, offering up-close views of the Cascades, a gateway to quiet alpine lakes and a glimpse of the state’s pioneer past. It also grants access to popular hiking destinations in the Three Sisters and Mount Washington wilderness areas, including the Obsidian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and Proxy Falls.
Between Sisters and McKenzie Bridge, the two-lane route also known as state Highway 242 crests at 5,325 feet, where visitors can get a 360-degree view atop the popular Dee Wright Observatory, which features a bronze “peak finder.”
The highway was built in the 1870s as a wagon toll road. It was relocated and widened in 1920 and became a state highway in 1925. For the past three years, construction crews have worked to stabilize and repave the highway. Planned work was just completed, meaning the route could be open for closer to four months in the future — depending on snow conditions — instead of the one to two months it will be open this year.
Sources: Oregon Department of Transportation, Willamette National Forest, Deschutes National Forest, “100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades” by William Sullivan