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Mountain Biking Oregon

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My now husband and I racked our brains for several months trying to decide exactly what to do for our long awaited honeymoon during the month of July. I have been struggling with a chronic tendonitis in my knee and riding was looking iffy at best. We toyed with the idea of a somewhat luxurious vacation to a yoga resort in Mexico. I like yoga, Keith likes the beach, we both like margaritas…it could work. June came and we just said screw it and booked flights to Oregon, a place we’d been talking about visiting for a few years. We met racing bikes four years ago and we both knew we’d have more fun on our bikes together than on a beach. I received excellent recommendations from my friend, Christin who planned a very detailed vacation to Oregon a few years ago and was kind enough to share her Google doc with me. Honestly, with this treasured Google doc, Christin basically planned the whole honeymoon for me. In total we spent 18 days wandering the state. I planned several rest days for my bum knee as well as several non-riding activities. Luckily, by the end of the vacation, my knee really came around and we rode quite hard during last week. Below is a (lengthy) summation of my suggestions for bike adventuring in Oregon!

Portland and surrounding trails

We flew into Portland and stayed in the Crystal Hotel for a few nights. This was a great hotel in the Pearl District and the staff didn’t bat an eye when we showed up with 2 bike boxes in addition to our regular luggage. They had a storage room which was wonderful because we arrived 10am PDX time and check in time was in the afternoon. We ditched the bikes and bags in storage and went in search of street cart food. Portland has some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, even out of a food truck.

The next day, we rode our bikes to the Japanese Garden which sits on a hill that looks over the city. The gardens were impeccably manicured, lush and serene. We played tourist for the day, checking out views and then biking down to the river and crossed to the Southeast side of city to check out a bar called Apex,  that specialized in beer and has bike parking. We grabbed Mexican food next door. It was all very good. We wrapped up the tour with a stop at Voodoo Doughnuts which had a line out the door, even on a Friday at 3pm. Yes, they were worth it!

Our first real stop for riding was Sandy Ridge Trails. It’s only about a hour from Portland. Like many of the trails in Oregon, it involves a long climb and then an awesome descent. The road up to the trails was paved and a map wasn’t necessary. There were trail maps at the bottom and top of the climb. This was the link we used for information.

We took in wonderful views at top of the climb and then descended several switch back, steep, bermed trails. It is sandy, as the name promised, so I had to get used to feeling of my wheel slipping on the corners. It really takes a few runs to get comfortable. The berms were big….really big. If you’re only in Portland for a few days, I would recommend trying to hit this trail system. If you want longer, more XC rides, skip this.

  • Where to stay: Crystal Hotel
  • Where to eat: Andina
  • Where to drink: Rougue Brewery, Bridgeport Brewery

Hood River

In hindsight, we should have planned more time here. Hood River is on the Columbia River Gorge, which divides Washington and Oregon. There is something for everyone: paddle boarding, kite surfing, wine tasting, skiing at Mt. Hood (yes, in July). Keith wanted to learn to kite surf on the river so I went riding in Post Canyon. One can easily ride to this area from downtown. Post Canyon hosts an enduro and a bunch of XC races. The trails are well maintained and there are maps at the different entrances to the park. A local bike shop (which I will not endorse because they weren’t that friendly to a female) recommended that I park down the road from Seven Streams and take an unmapped/marked single track up to the main trailhead. I found it easily and started riding up….and up…and then I had to hike-a-bike a lot of it. I was having second thoughts about this plan but stuck with it until I cam to a clearing with an nice view of the gorge. I finally found the main entrance and I did the XC loop which was tacky and undulating. The climbs in the park were gentle and well developed. I got lost a bit and finally found Spaghetti Factory which takes you to the far side of the park. It was the best trail I rode there and I’d highly recommend it. It was fast, flowing with out any large climbs or descents. I’d liken it to Kingdom Trails type riding. I then took Mitchells down the canyon and it was fast with some of the biggest, steepest berms I’ve ridden. It had A and B lines to add even more steepness and challenge. I would love to go back to Post Canyon. The ride I did there was relatively short, ~9 miles but so fun. There’s also supposed to be great riding around Mt. Hood which we didn’t have time for. Just over the river, there is an exposed mountain side trail called, Syncline and we would have loved to have time to ride it. The views are supposed to be wonderful.

  • Where to eat and drink: Pfriem Brewery - best food and beer that we had in all of OR Also, check out Full Sail.
  • Lodging: we stayed in an Air Stream via Air BnB, which has a lot of options in that area.

McKenzie River Trail

The highlight of the trip and the one trail I’d been saving my knee for: McKenzie River Trail. It’s voted one of the best trails in the US and it doesn’t disappoint.

Mckenzie River is an unbelievably cold river that actually travels underground for several miles and is surrounded by volcanic rock. Once above ground, there are amazingly blue pools, large waterfalls, large crops of volcanic rock and towering ponderosa pines all along the river and trail. The trail is 27 miles long one-way. The best way to tackle it, is to get a shuttle to the top of the trail which starts at 3,000ft and then ride down. There are a few climbs on the way so don’t think it’s going to be a walk in the park.

The first section of 8-10miles of trail is pretty technical. Unfortunately, Keith got a flat within the first mile of our ride. He burped his tubeless on a corner and then found out that the valve wasn’t working properly so he couldn’t get air in. He then started to put a tube in but the valve core wouldn’t budge from the rim. We spent 45 minutes using rocks to force the valve out of the rim. It was a bit of a nightmare. We only had two CO2s with us so we needed to make sure that the tube we finally got in there would work. Note to self: bring a pump when you go to the middle of nowhere to ride. Luckily, we finally got the valve stem dislodged and a new tube in with no additional flats during the ride. However, we were very dainty when riding all of the lava rock. The first 2-3 miles of the trail is all lava rock, which will hurt and cause you to need stitches if you fall. We walked a lot of it because we just didn’t want to take the chance. After the first few miles of lava rock, the trail becomes much more flowing, with few roots or rocks.

There is a lot of bench cut trail so you can’t really get too lost in the views or you’ll go sailing off the edge of the trail. There are also many river crossings that require dismounting due to narrow bridges. We were exhausted by the end. The ride took us about 4 hours of actual moving time but much longer with our stops. It’s beautiful, epic and worth it.

The McKenzie area is pretty remote. There is one overpriced grocery store, two restaurants and a few cabins and one hotel. Camping is very popular on the river as well as cabin rentals. Don’t plan on your cell working well in this area, either.

We also did a white water rafting trip on the river. The temps while we were there were nearly 100 degrees. It was truly perfect rafting weather. The river is so cold that the rafting company requires wet suits if the temps are 80 degrees or cooler. I can see why. I was so cold at the end of the 3 hour rafting trip, I was ready for some hot cocoa while lying in direct sun. Keith loved the water and jumped in on his own. I am a bit more of cold blooded person, I guess. It was a beautiful, mellow rafting trip and I would recommend checking it out.

Shuttle serviceRafting,   Hot Springs: Cougar Hot Springs - has a reservoir for swimming with a beautiful waterfall as well as nicely developed hot springs Lodging: We stayed in a lovely cottage via Air BnB and it was perfect and well priced. Other recommendations: Take the Robert Aufderheide Scenic Byway to get to Oakridge.

Oakridge

The town of Oakridge was hit hard by the recession and it shows driving through. There is a main drag of highway 58 with a few fast-food places, a small grocery store and a very large mobile home park. There is a main street off the highway sparsely populated with a few local shops, a bakery and of course, a brewery. Oakridge has a wonderful small town feel where everyone helps each other out. The bike shop owner, the shuttle owner and the owner of our bed and breakfast all demonstrated a real love for the outdoors, the community and really wanted to grow their community for the better. It was refreshing to see community members be really involved in their town and excited about its future.

We arrived in the afternoon and stopped at the bike shop for maps and recommendations. We wanted a short ride so they suggested Larson Rock Trail. We did an out and back which I wouldn't recommend. There is a much easier dirt road climb to the top of Larson Rock trail and we should have taken that route up. Larson Rock Trail going downhill is awesome. It’s steep, flowing, tacky with a few corners of sand to keep you on your toes. Make sure your brake pads are in good shape!

The next day we took the shuttle to Alpine Trail. This was one of our favorites of the trip. We liked it so much that we did it again the following day! The shuttle drops you off at the top of a climbing portion of the Alpine trail. We decided to continue to the end of Alpine trail which actually is mainly a descent and is super flowing and somewhat technical with rocks and roots. It was really fun and we thought totally worth doing. It dumps you out on a dirt road which we climbed back to the point where the shuttle dropped us. We then re-entered Alpine trail and took it back towards town. The trail starts with some climbing into a field where you get amazing views of the Sisters Mountains. Then there is some down, more up and then down….for ~10 miles. The descents are steep but flowing. There are sharp switchbacks which keep you in check and absolutely gorgeous views and lookout points. The first day we did this trail with the extension, it was 20 miles and 2,200 ft of climbing. The second day, we only did the Alpine trail from the shuttle drop off and it was 13.5 miles. Oakridge has so much more riding. You can ride from town and do a 30 mile river trail or climb up and do more epic, flowing single track. Moon Point and Larson creek trail were recommended to us but we didn’t have the time. The shuttle service is very comprehensive and the owner is super knowledgeable of the area. They have several options, including one where they’ll drop you off and pick you up at several locations so that you can ride 17,000 feet of vertical descending. We loved Oakridge If you want real Oregon mountain biking, you have to stop here!

Where to stay: 72 Oaks (most amazing breakfast ever!) Where to eat: Brewer's Union

North Umpqua Trail

This is a 70 mile trail in the Cascade Range. We did just a sliver of it. We started in Lemolo Lake and did the Dread and Terror section, Hot Springs section and ended at Tokeetee Lake. You can hire someone to shuttle your car to any section of the Umpqua trail system.

If you want to camp along the trail, that is totally possible. There are several camp sites along the trail system. There were again, many many waterfalls, pines, valleys and views. The trail was mostly down but had some significant climbing as well. It was less traveled and had a lot of water rushing over it in some places from trailside falls so I wouldn’t recommend it in wet weather. We forged a river at one point because a bridge was out so this trail sees serious weather in the winter/spring months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would love to return to do the whole trail. The single track was mostly bench cut, flowing, and had some technical aspects with rocks along the way. It was more wild than Oakridge and reminded me a bit of our New England single track with less rocky terrain.

Shuttle service,  Where to stay: camping is the best option. There is Diamond Lake Resort that has cabins and some hotel rooms. This area is pretty remote. There is no real grocery store, gas, restaurants, etc for about 30 miles. Come prepared. Diamond Lake Resort is good in a pinch for gas and groceries but you’ll pay big bucks.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake is only 30 minutes from the Lemolo Lake. Our original plan was to take a day to ride around the Crater but we opted out. My knee needed a rest and Keith was riding a single speed so the fun factor would have been low. Crater Lake is amazingly beautiful. It’s such a geologic wonder, with some of the clearest waters in the world. It’s worth it to hike down to the Crater and jump off the cliffs for some cold water swimming. If you have a road bike or even just a bit more energy than we did, I’d recommend riding around the Crater as well.

Bend

I’m not sure that we expected to like Bend as much as we did. It surpassed our expectations. We drove there via the Cascade Scenic Byway from Rt 58 which was beautiful. It was very different from the tall trees of Oarkridge and had a lot of dead trees from forest fires. As you approach Bend, you drive around the base of Mt. Bachelor which still had snow on it in mid-July. Mt. Bachelor tops out at about 9,000ft and is about 30 minutes from downtown Bend. There is epic single track on the Mt. Bachelor side (western) of Bend. We spent a whole day in this area and rode 34 miles and did about 3,700 ft of climbing. The trails that we hit included Tidily Winks, Funner and Tyler's Traverse. Tidily winks is very sandy and has mostly man made features with jumps, berms and table tops. Funner is similarly flowing with less man made features.

We took a connector trail which traversed us across the mountainside to the mid point of Tyler’s and climbed for a while. The climb up Tyler’s is long and at points rather exposed and hot. However, it’s so worth it. There is a great view at the top and the single track down was my favorite of our trip. It’s about 5 miles of grinning because the single track is that good. It starts with a bit of tacky turns at the top and then the middle has a bit of lava rock for some technical features. All of the lava is rideable and there are almost always A and B lines. The bottom sections is flowing, sweeping, large turns that you barely have to use brakes for. It’s like Kingdom Trail’s Troll Stroll on crack for 5 miles… amazing!

The next day we did a shorter ride of 15 miles in Phil’s area. We loved Whoops trail but didn’t get to do many other more advanced trails due to where we parked. Bend has hundreds of miles of single track. We needed a week to even scratch the surface. We were told that the east side of Bend has riding all year long, while the western side is higher and is more seasonal based on snow. We didn’t even get a chance to check out the eastern side and will need to make a trip back for more exploring. My advice is to plan to spend at least 4-5 days in Bend if you really want to get a good sense of the area.

Bend also has all of the comforts of a city but none of the hassle that we could tell. There are bike paths everywhere for getting around. There are over 10 breweries and the food doesn’t disappoint. However, I would warn that breweries there don’t seem to try to compete with local restaurants with the quality of their food. If you want good food, go to a restaurant. If you want good beer, go to a brewery. There are also many activities on the Deschutes River. There’s tubing and rafting and paddle boarding. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have the time. Overall, Oregon is a mountain biker’s paradise. My advice is to go in the summer and take at least 10 days to do it right!

Where to drink: Crux Brewery, Deschutes Brewery, 10 Barrels Brewery Where to stay: we did AirBnB again and stayed in a studio apartment which was perfect and bike friendly, Tubing info

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