McKee Covered Bridge Wayside and Picnic area makes a beautiful and historic family outing during any season. Come during the summer for a picnic and splash in the river, during spring and fall to enjoy the seasonal changes, or during winter, for a reprieve from the valley fog, and a warm drink or hot meal at the McKee Bridge Restaurant.
From Ashland, take Hwy 99 north to South Stage Road to Jacksonville OR, (17 miles) follow Hwy 238 south to the little town of Ruch (9 miles). At Ruch, turn left (south) on Upper Applegate Road towards Applegate Lake. After 8.5 miles, turn left at the McKee Bridge Restaurant. The McKee Covered Bridge and the US Forest Picnic Area are just past the restaurant.
The two historic structures to enjoy here are the covered bridge, built in 1917, and a New Deal era picnic shelter, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Study the construction of these magnificent timber frames and remember what public works used to be about.
Many people wonder, “Why cover a bridge?” A roof to keep the keep the structure dry is an effective way to preserve the strength of the very heavy timbers necessary to carry the weight and span the river. Chemical preservatives were unavailable, or too expensive in these remote locations, and much of the power equipment we have now was unavailable. A few neighbors may repair a roof easily, but replacing the massive timbers is no easy task, so the early residents found that covering important bridges worked out well in the long run.
The picnic area is just above the river, with easily accessible picnic tables, and a public toilet. A “No Alcohol” policy helps to keep it family friendly. A lovely mix of large fir and ponderosa trees shades the picnic area. Ponderous is indeed the word for these trees. Cross the irrigation ditch on one of several little bridges, and steep stone stairs take you down to the river’s edge. In the summer, there is a gravelly and sandy beach, with gently sloping shallows for little kids to splash, but it does get deep in the middle of the river. Across the river, a steep rocky bank lures the most adventurous to climb and plunge. The river is deep in places, and please; use good judgment.
Find the garbage can, or if it is full, pack up your trash to dispose of at home. We locals enjoy this spot a great deal, and always enjoy when our town neighbors show this place the respect we feel for it as well.