The McKenzie Highway (OR 242) is now open for the season. It opened on June 21, 2021. Please contact either the Willamette or Deschutes National Forests to learn about the status of campgrounds, trailheads and other facilities.
McKenzie Highway closes annually from mid-November to mid-June. The earliest opening is the third Monday in June. That date may be later, depending on weather and road conditions. ODOT posts signs and closes gates 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. ODOT opens the road when they can ensure it is clear for safe travel.
People who choose to access the road when closed do so at their own risk. It can be dangerous to be on this route when it's closed. Here are some examples of potential reasons why the road is closed during winter months:
- ODOT maintenance crews plowing, paving, felling trees, and other work with heavy equipment. There are not flaggers. It can be difficult to hear equipment in different areas due to snow and trees.
- Agency vehicles supporting winter operations. ODOT, USFS and others requiring access.
- 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, ODOT may post additional signs (e.g., “authorized personnel only, “work crew ahead") on or near the gates during certain maintenance activities.
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.