Best time to visit Portland

McKenzie Pass in Portland

Wildly contrasting landscapes make this pass unique

Best time: July–October

McKenzie Pass
McKenzie Pass
McKenzie Pass
McKenzie Pass

Golden grasslands, green valleys, and cedar forests are replaced by high-mountain lava fields and snow-capped volcanic peaks. The landscapes change so dramatically along the 132-km (82-mi) Scenic Byway over McKenzie Pass that it is definitely worth a trip.

McKenzie Pass is located between Deschutes and Linn counties, in the Cascades range of central Oregon, about 150 miles from Portland. McKenzie Pass has an elevation of 1,623 m (5,325 ft) between the Three Sisters to the south and Mount Washington to the north. The pass was named for Donald McKenzie, a fur trader who explored Pacific Northwest in the early 19th century. The summit of the pass marked by lava flow hosts the Dee Wright Observatory constructed in 1935. Clear Lake, a popular location for fresh-water diving, is also nestled next to the summit.

McKenzie Highway or Highway 242 has lots of switchbacks which makes it challenging for trucks, trailers or RVs. The pass is usually closed to traffic from early November to late June due to ice and snow. One of the most scenic roads in Oregon features two federal wilderness areas (Mt. Washington Wilderness and Three Sisters Wilderness), many historic, recreational, and natural sites. The boundaries of the wilderness areas border the highway.

Its scenic landscapes make it one of the most popular routes for bicycles and motorcycles. The ride is known as the greatest climb and descent in Oregon with class-A Oregon forest and a lava “moonscape” on a backdrop. McKenzie Pass is also a popular hiking destination in late summer. The area is traversed by the Pacific Crest Trail with the trailhead some half-mile west of the Dee Wright Observatory.

The McKenzie Highway usually opens for traffic in June. For the traffic access updates, check the Oregon Department of Transportation website.

Practical info

What is McKenzie Pass?

McKenzie Pass is a scenic byway in central Oregon that stretches between Deschutes and Linn counties within the Cascade range. Featuring diverse landscapes ranging from open grasslands, cedar forests, and valleys to high-mountain lava fields and snow-capped volcanic peaks, the pass is named after Donald McKenzie, an explorer. Marked by the Dee Wright Observatory, the highest point of the pass offers mesmerizing views. Clear Lake, on the summit, is an ideal destination for freshwater diving. Show more

What are the best months to visit McKenzie Pass?

Travelers planning a visit to McKenzie Pass should aim for the period between July to October. These months offer milder weather, making it ideal for hiking, biking, and scenic drives. However, the McKenzie Highway is closed from early November to late June, owing to the prevalence of ice and snow. Visitors should check the Oregon Department of Transportation for Traffic updates. Show more

Can trucks, trailers or RVs drive on McKenzie Highway?

Due to numerous switchbacks on the highway, vehicles that are 35-feet or longer are not allowed in McKenzie Pass, making it challenging for trucks, trailers, or RVs to navigate. In the winter months, travelers driving RVs or towing trailers should avoid McKenzie Pass and opt for the Santiam Pass on US Highway 20 to avoid any size conflicts. Show more

What are the activities available in McKenzie Pass besides scenic drives?

The McKenzie Pass offers numerous outdoor activities besides scenic drives, including hiking, motorcycling, and biking. Clear Lake, a great place for freshwater diving, lies near the pass summit. It's also home to the greatest climb and descent in Oregon, featuring diverse terrain and switchbacks. The Pacific Crest Trailhead at Dee Wright Observatory is a popular destination for hiking enthusiasts. Show more

Is McKenzie Pass accessible year-round?

McKenzie Pass is only accessible for certain months since it's closed from early November to late June yearly due to ice and snow on McKenzie Highway. Visitors should keep up with traffic updates before heading to the area. When open, McKenzie Pass provides stunning views, making it an ideal destination for both drivers and cyclists. Show more

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