Aufderheide Highway

Distance: 58 miles one way
Elevation gain: 4216 ft

This is one of the Oregon rides that is expertly covered in Jim Moore’s 75 Classic Rides Oregon (see the “Oregon” section in Rides by Region).

Oakridge is an amazing place to ride.  It’s a sweet, utterly unpretentious little town with cheap and charming motels and nice restaurants that was completely under the radar until people noticed it had world-class mountain biking in every direction (check out the Mountain Bike Oregon weekend if you ride dirt).  Now every mountain biker in America knows about it, but it also has prime paved roads leaving it in all directions, not counting the main highway, which is scenic but large and busy.  The plum is the Aufderheide (pronounced OWF der HIGH dee) Highway, AKA Forest Road 19, heading north.  It’s called a highway, but every time I’ve ridden it I’ve seen about a car a mile.  It’s a straight ascent to a summit and descent down the back side, and it’s equally good in either direction.  I’m starting at the south end, for no particular reason.

The road is a bit straighter and a bit more consistent in pitch than I would wish, but you won’t care because the scenery is as good as anything in our list: perfect Oregon rain forest, than which there is nothing prettier, and by some miracle there is a gorgeous creek running alongside you as you ride on either side of the summit (much more visible on the south side than on the north).   The pitch is shallow (3700 ft of gain in 58 miles, per RidewithGPS), so you won’t do do real work until the mile or so before the summit on either side.

(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.)

The Aufderheide actually begins in Westfir, not Oakridge, just a stone’s throw to the west.  Start riding up the river and don’t stop until you reach McKenzie Bridge and Highway 126 at the other end.

About eight miles from the northern end of the ride—just after you reach Cougar Lake heading north—you pass Terwilliger Hot Springs (clearly signed) on your L, a dramatic series of cascading pools, each cooler than the previous one.  There’s a short walk to the pools, so you might want to wait until your ride is over if you’re in cycling shoes, but you don’t need a swimming suit—it’s clothing optional.

It all looks like this

I can’t tell which is prettier, a little rain…

Shortening the ride: OK, a 116-mile out and back is a bit much.   You have five shorter options.  1 and 2: ride to the summit, roughly halfway, and turn around—not a hard ride at all.  This works equally well from either end—if I was doing just one side of the mountain, I couldn’t choose between the two.  3 and 4: Ride the route from one end to the other, overnight at the turnaround, and ride back the next day. If you begin at the north end, overnight in Oakridge. If you begin in Oakridge, overnight in McKenzie Bridge.   While you’re there, Check out Belknap Hot Springs to time travel back to a 1920’s resort.  You could even rent a mountain bike, get someone to drive you up Highway 126 to the top of the McKenzie River Trail, and ride the world’s greatest mountain bike trail for 30 miles back to your road wheels.  I’m telling you, you’re in a world-class recreational area here.  5: Let McKenzie River Mountain Resort or similar local shuttle service shuttle you from the north end to the south and ride back.

And like this

…or a little sun. You’ll probably have some of both.

Adding miles: Literally, point the bike at any paved road out of Oakridge other than the main highway (Hwy 58) and you’ll be very happy—Kitson Springs Rd, Salmon Creek Rd, Rd 21 along the west shore of Hills Creek Reservoir, all good.  If you want an adventure, do the 55-mile Oakridge-to-Dorena Lake ride, the second half of which is our Brice Creek Road ride—read about the route there.

Close to the north end of the route is the McKenzie Pass ride, the best ride in Oregon.  For a comparison of the two rides, see our McKenzie Pass description.

You’re a short car trip down the road from the Eagle’s Rest Road ride, up Hwy 58 in Dexter.

Afterthoughts:  Motorcyclists love this road, so you may end up sharing it with them.   Always wave.

You may hear talk of the box canyon at the summit of this route—I’ve even heard this ride referred to as “Box Canyon.”  It’s marked on some maps, and I’ve been assured there is one, but you can’t see it from the road.

2 thoughts on “Aufderheide Highway

  1. Don

    Since I’m from the area, I thought I would mention a couple of other spots worth visiting in the area. Near the very end of the ride, on Cougar Dam Road, just before you cross the bridge over the McKenzie River, there is the Delta campground on the left. Go a half a mile to the end of the road, and there is a short, but very worthwhile hiking trail featuring a wonderful grove of Douglas Fir old growth.

    Once you intersect Hwy 126, if you take a right, about 25 miles up the road is Clear Lake. This place is magical. An unbelievably beautiful and pristine lake formed when a lava flow blocked off the headwaters of the McKenzie River. Beautiful Sahalie Falls is also along Hwy 126 on the way to Clear Lake.

    Tamolitch/ Blue Pool is along the McKenzie River MTB/Hiking trail, around 17 miles up (East) Hwy126 from the terminus of this ride. It’s around a 4 mile hike, but Just Google it and behold.

    The old McKenzie scenic Hwy 242 that Jay refers to, is an outstanding ride, and every year it is open to cyclists only, upon completion of plowing the snow off the road, for a couple of days. Amazing scenery and a never to be forgotten descent.

  2. Joe

    Did this one in July on my first biking trip to Oregon, inspired by Bestrides. Fantastic ride, definitely a highlight of the trip. My fiancee and I stayed the night at McKenzie resort, paid $120 for a one-way ride to the start in Oakridge, then rode back to our car. Not cheap, but we were on vacation and wanted to do the whole ride… totally worth it. If cyclists designed a road it would look a lot like this.

    There was only water available at one campground near the midway point, but that was all we needed. Came just at the right time.

    The mosquitoes are huge and vicious! We only had two stops that were more than a minute or so—one to get water, and a lunch stop. They started driving me nuts, which kept our breaks short.

    Definitely want to come back to this area and spend time around Cougar Dam…


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