Alpine to Alsea

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.

I don’t know what’s going on with RidewithGPS, but the elevation profile for this ride is just wrong.  RWGPS says that the 2-mile climb on the ride out has a lot of 12-14% stuff and maxes out at 17%.  This is absurd.  The climb is work, but my legs say it’s never more than 10%.  Similarly, RWGPS says the big climb on the return is 1 mile long and has lots of 12% stuff.  Again, absurd.  The climb is 2 miles long and is easy to moderate—I’d say never more than 7%.  Have no fear.

(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.  The first 4 miles are rollers through farm country and aren’t more than pleasant, and you could skip them without loss, but then you’d be starting on a demanding pitch with cold legs.  So ride those four miles.  Then do the 2-mile climb (see above), summiting at mile 6.  Someone has helpfully painted mileage markers every half-mile, starting at the base of the climb, to mark your progress.  After the obvious summit you do a very sweet rocking-chair 25-mph serpentine descent for two miles, then descend imperceptibly to the falls at mile 10, or 11, or 11.1 (see below).    The curves are typical Oregon sweepers—no brakes necessary.CIMG8011

Definitely stop to see Alsea Falls (see photo below).  You have a choice about where to stop.  First you’ll see a large sign reading “Alsea Falls Campground.”   If you stop there, you’ll have about a mile walk to the falls.  It’s a lovely trail, but still…  A bit further down the road, you’ll see a road sign reading “Alsea Falls Picnic Area” with an arrow pointing down the road.  Next you’ll see signs reading “Alsea Falls Picnic Area” and “Alsea Falls” pointing into a parking lot, and a big formal sign reading “Alsea Falls  Recreation Site.”  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 last 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 through the campground, lock your bike to a tree, and continue to the falls—about 80 ft.  You can do this last route in cycling shoes.  You’ll probably want to bring walking shoes for either of the longer routes.

CIMG7997Near the falls the flora changes.  The woods are now less piney and more mapley, lusher and more delicate.  The rest of the route out is dead easy riding, a very gentle downhill followed by flat.

The road 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 ride from Alsea to the summit is easy, 12 miles of effortless plus 2 miles of moderate climbing.  The two-mile 2-mile descent down the back side is marvelous, much faster than the descent on the way out because it’s much steeper.  It’s over far too soon.  Roll 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.   As with all canopies, the light is more magical before or after noon, when the sun isn’t overhead.

Shortening the ride: Ride to the falls and turn around.  But you’ll miss the best of the woods.  Even easier: start at the west end and ride to the falls, then turn around.

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.

Readers’ comments below suggest other, longer options.

Alsea Falls

5 thoughts on “Alpine to Alsea

  1. corvetti

    The local general store at the end sells a sundry array of goods – we went for the hot pockets and the frozen snickers bars, and then also stopped at a roadside stand to get homemade apple cider. Fun ride.

  2. ACree

    This is a great ride. It can be extended by adding on Lobster Valley on the Alsea end, which can be looped with hwy 34 or done as an out and back. Alpine > Bellfountain > Decker > Hwy 34 > Lobster Valley > Hwy 34 > Alsea Falls back to Alpine is a very nice century.

  3. Jack Rawlins

    ACree: That loop would be, from the town of Alsea: west on Hwy 34, L on Lobster Valley Rd., L on Hazel Glen Rd., L on Alsea-Deadwood Hwy back to Alsea (according to the Benchmark atlas). Looks like fun—I’ll put it in the to-do list.

  4. Jim B.

    One of our favorite rides. We start and end in Corvallis, clockwise–55 miles.

    The Alpine store is no more, but there’s a park just west of town on north side of road that has water.

    Alsea Falls campground has water at hand pump, that’s where we fill bottles.

  5. Elaine Popp

    Instead of stopping at the store in Alsea, we opted to sit at Deb’s cafe and devoured a made-from-scratch cinnamon bun—so good. We turned the ride into a loop by starting in Corvallis. Yes, we missed the return trip back through the tree canopy.


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