Distance: 40 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2130 ft
The loop described in “Adding Miles” below is discussed in Jim Moore’s 75 Classic Rides Oregon: the Best Road Biking Routes from Mountaineers Books.
This is a simple, perfect ride. It’s a 20-mile delicious climb and descent through the usual drop-dead gorgeous Oregon rain forest (forty miles round-trip). These aren’t the grand, towering redwood forests of our McKenzie Pass or Brice Creek rides—rather, these woods are small, delicate, and aery. Think sylphs and fairies, not Ents. There’s a fine little waterfall halfway in that serves as a natural break (so take a lock), and a charming country mercantile store at the turn-around point.
This is the sort of riding where you want to pack away your computer, forget about speed or pace or getting a work-out, and just BE in this magical place on your bike. Stop often to gaze and to listen to the water and the birds and the complete absence of another sound.
(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)
Ride out of Alpine on Alpine Road and ride to Alsea. You’ll need to make two turns. After a 4-mile warm-up roll through Willamette Valley foothill farms, you’ll climb briskly for two miles, summiting at mile 6. Then it’s a mellow rocking-chair 25-mph serpentine descent most of the way to the falls at mile 10, or 11, or 11.1 (see below). The curves are typical Oregon sweepers—no brakes necessary.
Definitely stop to see Alsea Falls. You have a choice about where to stop. It’s a bit confusing. If you stop at the Alsea Falls campground (prominently marked with a formal sign reading “Alsea Falls Recreation Site”), you’ll have about a mile walk to the falls. It’s a lovely trail, but still… If you go further down the road, you’ll come to the formal parking area for the falls (prominently marked with a formal sign reading “Alsea Falls Recreation Site”). Right, two identical signs. I said it was confusing. The parking area will leave you with a 1/4 mile hike to the falls. If you don’t want to walk, or you don’t want to pay the use fee at the parking area, continue a stone’s throw past the second sign to a narrow pull-out area on the R shoulder lined with 11 10×10 timbers on end, standing perhaps 16 inches high. Take the informal but evident path down to the visible picnic table, lock your bike to a tree, and continue to the falls—about 150 ft. You can do this last route in cycling shoes. You’ll probably want to bring walking shoes for either of the longer routes.
Do not turn around and ride home. Incredibly, the woods are going to get lusher and prettier, and you don’t want to miss it. Anyway, the miles from the falls to Alsea and back are easy, so you wouldn’t be saving yourself much work by going back now.
Continue on down the one and only road until it debouches in a lovely agricultural valley and T’s at a sign that says Alsea is a mile to your R. Don’t turn around yet—Alsea is worth the two miles. It’s a tiny town with a classic tiny-town general store, the Alsea Mercantile, where the ice cream is good and the people are friendly. Sit on the bench in front of the Mercantile and a local will come up and talk to you. He’ll almost certainly tell you about how he used to be a big motorcyclist—rode all over the country. It’s part of the experience.
Ride back to Alpine. The climb up to the summit is 14 miles long on this side instead of 6, so of course it’s less than half as steep, an utterly lovely, relaxed saunter back through those splendid woods, with the light now coming from the other side and giving you a whole new kind of wonder. Enjoy the thrilling 2-mile descent down the back side, which is over far too soon, and laze the last 4 miles back to your car shaking out your muscles and thinking how lucky you are to have rides like these.
Afterthoughts: Try to do this ride on a sunny day, so you get the full cathedral effect of the light coming through the leaves. There is no need to get out there early in the morning or near dusk to catch the beauty—the canopy is so thick the light is magical at noon.
Honesty compels me to add that there are about 6 small clear-cut sections along the route to disturb your tranquility. It comes with the Oregon territory. Just stare at your front wheel and hum “it’s a small world” to yourself until you plunge back into the cathedral.
Shortening the ride: Ride to the falls and turn around. But you’ll miss the best of the woods.
Adding miles: it’s easy to turn this ride into a loop by continuing north through Alsea on Hwy 34, riding to Decker Rd. on your R, taking Decker to Bellfountain Rd. and returning to Alpine on Bellfountain. It’s all pretty good. Hwy 34 is pretty busy. On the map Bellfountain Rd. looks like it might be flat, but it isn’t—it’s big rollers through the foothills to the immediate west of the Willamette valley, so save some energy for it. Of course if you do this loop you miss the return ride from Alsea to Alpine, and that would be a loss.
If you’re up for a big day, the Hwy 34 leg takes you right past the start of the Marys Peak ride.
In the other direction, the miles from Alpine to Junction City are mostly flat but surprisingly charming—typical Willamette Valley farming country.