The McKenzie River National Recreation Trail  (Trail 3507) runs for 26.5 miles. It starts just east of the small town of McKenzie Bridge and goes to the Old Santiam Wagon Road, about 3 miles south of the junction of the McKenzie River Highway  and U.S. 20. But don’t let the long distance scare you. There are enough access points to let you design treks of three, five, eight, or more miles along this beautiful trail.
It is hard to say which section of the footpath is the best, as each portion has its own charms; the following highlights give you a sample of what to expect.
Start at the top of the McKenzie River Trail at the Old Santiam Wagon Road. Completed in the early 1860s, this was the first link of the route from the mid–Willamette Valley  to central and eastern Oregon. Way stations were established a day’s journey apart to assist the pioneers along their weary way. Although most of these primitive establishments are no more, some of the historic buildings have survived and are still used today by backpackers.
There isn’t much left of the Old Santiam Wagon Road either, as much of it was destroyed with the construction of Route 126. However, a seven-mile stretch remains from Route 126 through the rugged lava country to the Pacific Crest Trail. A short walk on this former road to the promised land helps you to appreciate both the hardiness of the pioneers and the comforts of modern travel.
From the Old Santiam Wagon Road, the McKenzie River Trail surveys many remarkable volcanic formations. Lava flows over the last few thousand years have built dams, created waterfalls, and even buried the river altogether. Koosah  and Sahalie Falls  were also created by lava dams, and the view of these white-water cascades from the McKenzie River Trail is much different than the version accessible from the highway.
Another interesting sight is the Tamolitch Valley, where the McKenzie gradually sinks beneath the porous lava, disappearing altogether until it reemerges three miles later at cobalt-colored Tamolitch Pool. This area is accessible only on the National Recreation Trail.
If possible, arrange your McKenzie outing with friends and run a two-car shuttle; McKenzie River Mountain Resort (541/822-6272) runs a shuttle service. Also keep in mind that hikes starting at the upper end of the trail take advantage of the descending elevation. Mountain bikes are allowed on all sections of the McKenzie River Trail.
Amazingly, travelers without cars can get to the McKenzie National Recreation Trail from Eugene  via Lane Transit District (541/687-5555, www.ltd.org , $1.50). Their route 91 bus starts at Thurston station in Springfield (with frequent bus connections to downtown Eugene) and heads up the McKenzie River Highway . The bus is equipped to carry a couple of bikes. The terminus point is the McKenzie River Ranger Station at McKenzie Bridge.