McKenzie River National Recreation Trail, Willamette National Forest

Though we loved our spot in Deschutes National Forest and there were still many a tril we would have liked to hike there we began making our way to the coast and ultimately towards Yosemite where we had a wedding to attend the following week. Before our days of relaxing on the beach – which I had really been looking forward to – we agreed on a last hurrah as far as a good hike. Based on our route I Googled for an easily-accessible trail and saw there was a national recreation trail along the McKenzie River. NRTs never disappoint; they’re kind of the best of the best.

The McKenzie River Trail is 26+ miles but the first 5.5 miles from the north includes a lake and 2 waterfalls so this seemed like an excellent choice for our hike. We began at the northernmost trailhead traveling through really, really big Douglas Fir for a mile trees before we began paralleling the pretty Clear Lake on a path over old lava flows for the next 2.4 miles. From there we returned to the forest for a half mile or so until we reached a junction with the Waterfalls Trail. Realizing we could just loop this section of our hike – hike south on one and return on the other – we kept left and began descending in tandem with the rushing McKenzie River. We first reached the 100 foot Sahalie Falls where we climbed around near the top and had a snack before continuing south along the rapids to the tripartite, 70 foot Koosah Falls. Both falls plummeted into mossy pools in the volcanic rock producing rainbows and were really quite impressive but we both had a preference for Sahalie which had more interesting columnar basalt features and better symmetry. We continued south from Koosah and rejoined the McKenzie River Trail at the junction near Carmen Reservoir, heading back north along the east side of the river and falls.

My previous glance at the map had shown we could also do a loop around Clear Lake as well, and so after passing the short section between the northern junction of the Waterfall Trail and the lake we stayed left again, following the Eastern shore on the Clear Lake Trail. This side was wooded, containing more of the huge Douglas Firs and nearly all shaded unlike the exposed lava beds on the western shore. It was also a bit longer however and made our full hike 12 miles instead of the 11 it would have been. Added to that some extra credit exploring, our step counters clocked us both at over 13 miles which was a very respectable hike considering we were also doing about 3 hours of driving that day.