Classic Car-Free Cascades: An out-and-back overnighter in Oregon’s Cascade Range
Description: LeeAnn O'Neill and friends did this late spring overnight in Oregon’s Cascade Range. A big climb, hot springs, campgrounds, and fun, fueled this adventure.
When: Late Spring, 2015.
Bicycle Adventurers: LeeAnn O'Neill and friends.
Accommodations: Camping at Sunnyside Campground, a quiet, private campground near Cougar Crossing Campground.
Distance: 108 miles in two days.
Bonus: Terwilliger Hot Springs! (a.k.a Cougar Hot Springs)
Weather: Perfect spring weather.
The Route: Starting in Sisters, OR, this group of adventurers rode west into the Cascade Range on Oregon Route 242, topped out on McKenzie Pass, then descended the west side to Terwilliger Hot Springs. The next day, they retraced their way back to Sisters.
With spring in full swing and summer just around the corner, it was time to shake out the bike touring gear, lest my Surly Troll bicycle (aka “The Tank”) think I forgot her over the winter. Luckily, Central Oregon is a bike touring fanatic’s dream, with countless scenic bikeways, miles of less-travelled dirt roads, and my personal favorite, McKenzie Pass on Oregon Route 242.
This favorite bike overnight starts in Sisters, Oregon, climbs McKenzie Pass (on Adventure Cycling’s TransAmerica Trail route) to sweet views of the Cascade Range, and screams down the other side to Terwilliger Hot Springs. We return the next day.
Winter closes McKenzie Pass, but there is sweet spot at the end of May and beginning of June when the Oregon Department of Transportation plows a lane open to bikes, but still closed to cars (visit www.tripcheck.com). You can bike the pass at any time after this, but it’s not as fun because you can't go full steam down the descents due to the safety concerns of sharing the road.
On a whim, I decided to post the trip to a local twenties and thirties hiking and biking Meetup group for which I am an organizer. Well, it wasn't so much a whim, but rather a scheme to find more crazies like me to bike tour with, since my regular touring buddy, Ryan, got himself a fancy schmancy tenure job and will be moving. Lo and behold, I reeled in Derek, who was foolish enough to follow me across a mountain pass and back again!
Despite the weather forecasts telling us that we had a 20–30 percent chance of thunderstorms and rain, we had perfect weather the whole time––enough cloud cover on the climbs to stay cool, and just enough blue skies for picture perfect 360 degree views at Dee Wright Observatory on McKenzie Pass. We spent some time admiring the Three Sisters and half a dozen other mountains while we ate our lunch.
First views of the Dee Wright Observatory and the first time hitting this summit.
Lunchtime at the top of the Dee Wright Observatory. Can't talk, too busy eating.
After a glorious descent down the west side of the mountains, we detoured to the iconic Proxy Falls to stretch our legs and to get cozy with the cooling mist. We hopped and skipped over mossy green logs, dunked our heads in the water, and basked in the natural beauty of the falls.
After relishing the last bit of descent to the McKenzie River, we made a resupply stop at the McKenzie Bridge General Store. This store stocks a surprisingly large selection of craft beer (in a walk-in fridge, the coolness felt glorious) and other gourmet supplies like agave syrup (yes, really, agave syrup...no less than three kinds!). We took some time to enjoy a cold drink and chat with the zany locals who gather for happy hour at the picnic table outside the store.
Happy hour consisted of these delicious local beers and some banter with the locals.
It was a good thing we were fortified with liquid carbs for the last ten miles because half of it was unexpectedly straight uphill. Silver lining? It was straight uphill on one of the most scenic roads in Oregon, Audferheide Road!
Our reward was to end the day at the Terwilliger Hot Springs. We soaked our weary legs in the various pools and emerged grime and dust free. It was hard to tear ourselves away, but as it grew darker, so did the hunger in our bellies. The ranger at the hot springs had offered to deliver wood to our campsite, so we were in high spirits as we zoomed to our final resting spot.
I had done my homework and we knew that the Cougar Crossing Campground attracted a lot of RVs and trailers, and that less than a quarter of a mile up the gravel road towards the Slide Creek campground was the quieter, more private Sunnyside Campground whose steep entrance deters the RVs and trailers. It is not well marked, so follow the signs to the Slide Creek campground and you will see the Sunnyside Campground on the left.
There is NO potable water here, but you can either (a) carry water from the McKenzie Bridge General Store...they have a spigot outside to get free refills; (b) filter water from the reservoir, but the access point isn't super close; or (c) go up the gravel road a mile to the Slide Creek Campground which has potable water.
A short bike ride later, we arrived at the Sunnyside Campground as the sun started to set. Fortified by a quick swig of beer and wine, we set up camp and prepared to replenish all the calories we burned climbing over the mountain pass. The stars came out one by one and we stayed up far past our bedtime talking about life, the universe, and everything.
Necessity is the mother of invention! Ryan forgot his pan so, voila! Grilled perfectly medium rare. Pro tip: get the pre-seasoned steak from the grocery store, freeze it solid, and it will defrost as you bike to camp!
The next morning, we awoke to the birds chirping obscenely loudly. Breakfast was a leisurely affair, complete with coffee and mounds of food that we refused to carry back over the mountains. We set off with a bit of fear and determination for the 4600 feet of climbing ahead of us. We made a quick stop at the McKenzie Bridge General Store, bid our farewells to our friends from the night before, topped off our water, and off we went.
New friends on the road.
We survived in good spirits, legs still pumping, and ready to crush hamburgers, beers, and whatever else we could get our grubby hands on. All in all, it was a quintessential tour of the Cascades, complete with lava rock fields, snowcapped mountains, roaring rivers, peaceful lakes, scenic waterfalls, wildflowers, hot springs, and everything in between.
Celebrating at Three Creeks Brewing before heading back to Bend.
Tip for this Adventure:
My favorite place to refuel in Sisters, OR is Three Creeks Brewing. It is one of the 20+ craft breweries in Central Oregon and boasts a large selection of delicious beers and locally sourced ingredients for their burgers. My personal favorite is the BBQ tri-tip sandwich! They also have a bike rack outside and are used to seeing grubby cyclists clip clop in their cleats up to the bar. Really hungry? Sit at the bar for faster service.
About These Adventurers:
I am a recovering lawyer who likes to color outside by bike. Follow me on my adventures at http://kungfubykride.blogspot.com.
Favorite Bike Shop:
Blazin’ Saddles in Sisters, Oregon
Photos by LeeAnn O'Neill