Update as of 5/24/23: McKenzie Highway, OR 242, remains closed from milepost 66 near the Linton Lakes Trailhead on the west side of the pass to milepost 84 near Forest Road 1028 on the east side.
Every year, the treasured scenic route of McKenzie Pass, OR 242, is seasonally closed from November to mid-June. The earliest possible opening day is the third Monday in June, when the highway opens to everyone. We do not open the road early for hikers or bikers before its open to vehicles, it is either closed or open to all. Signs are posted and gates are locked when the road is closed.
When closed, the road is not maintained. Weather conditions, logistics and cost make it impractical to maintain for travel year around. This is a beautiful location and everyone appreciates it. We open the road when we can ensure it is clear and safe for travel.
People who choose to bypass locked gates and closed signs to access the road when it's closed do so at their own risk. Here are some examples of reasons why it's dangerous to be on the road when it's closed:
- Even after the snow has melted in the spring, our maintenance crews are plowing, paving, felling trees, and doing other work with heavy equipment. There are no flaggers. It can be difficult to hear equipment in different areas due to snow and trees. Pre-season maintnance work can occur on any day of the week.
- Agency vehicles supporting winter operations (ODOT, USFS).
- There are no services nor is there cell service.
- The weather changes quickly and can vary dramatically.
Maintenance activities in the spring are done in preparation for opening the third Monday in June. That date may be delayed, based on weather conditions. In some cases, we may post additional signs (e.g., “authorized personnel only, “work crew ahead") on or near the gates during certain maintenance activities.
When the highway is open, vehicles over 35 feet long are not allowed. The narrow road has tight curves and many sections with no shoulder.
Please contact either the Willamette or Deschutes National Forests to learn about the status of campgrounds, trailheads and other facilities.
Looking out from the Dee Wright Observatory.
About McKenzie Pass Highway
The McKenzie Highway is part of the McKenzie Pass - Santiam Pass National Scenic Byway. The McKenzie Highway (OR 242) section of the scenic byway begins at the junction with Oregon 126 near McKenzie Bridge and ends at the junction with U.S. Highway 20 and Oregon 126 at the city of Sisters. The highway travels between two federal wilderness areas, and countless historic, recreational, and scenic features and sites. The boundaries of the Mt. Washington Wilderness and Three Sisters Wilderness also border the highway.
Learn More About the Scenic Byway
The route is also a designated Scenic Bikeway. The 38-mile McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway begins in Sisters, summits McKenzie Pass and ends at Belknap Hotsprings, offering a full day of mountain and forest views. The bikeway is rated extreme due to minimal shoulders and steep inclines.
Learn More About the Scenic Bikeway
The highway route was originally built with private funds in the 1870s as a wagon toll road. The section between the towns of Blue River in Lane County and Sisters in Deschutes County (which includes the project area) became a Forest Road in 1919 (Oregon State Highway Commission, 1920). The road was relocated and widened in 1920, graded and surfaced between 1920 and 1924, and became an Oregon State Highway in 1925.
The McKenzie Pass Highway became a seasonal scenic highway in 1962 with the completion of the Clear Lake-Belknap Springs section of Oregon 126. Even during its tenure as the main route between the southern Willamette Valley and Central Oregon, the narrow, twisting roadway and high elevation (5,325 feet) made the highway too difficult to maintain and keep clear during the winter months.
Since this time, the Oregon Department of Transportation closes the highway each fall and reopens it in early summer after the snow melts. During the summer, about 300 cars a day travel the highway.
Historic Opening and Closing Dates
list of the opening and close dates for the McKenzie Highway back to 1925. In 2022, the highway closed for the season on November 1.