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West Fork Evans Creek Road Etc.

Distance: 71-mile out and back
Elevation gain: 4820 ft

This ride has one spectacular virtue: isolation. If you like riding where there are no cars, no cyclists, no signs, no fences, no mailboxes—just nature—this is your ride. It’s very good riding, with fine scenery, a nice road surface, and nice road contour, but there are other Oregon rides in Bestrides just as good or better in those regards. But on no other Oregon ride will you be so alone. In four days of riding these roads—on weekends no less—I saw zero bikes and only a handful of cars. And, while there may be rides in California with similar isolation, the road surface will almost certainly be poor. Only in Oregon do they see fit to keep the surfaces of roads no one uses so pristine.

71 miles is a lot of miles, so we’ll talk later about cutting it down, but it’s all good stuff and I wanted to tell you it’s there because no one seems to know about it. In fact, the route connects with a remarkable number of attractive roads, so adding on miles is highly recommended, if you’re an ironman or you have another day to spend in the area (see Adding Miles). If you plan to shorten the route, the riding goes from good to better to best, so I’ll encourage you to cut from the Wimer end.

Despite the mileage, the ride isn’t all that hard. The elevation gain, only a little over half our 100 ft/mile benchmark for difficulty, doesn’t lie. You’ll climb noticeably 4 times on the ride, a 2-mile climb and a 1-mile climb on the way out and a 4-mile climb and a 1-mile climb on the way back, all of it moderately pitched (5-7%). The rest of the route is imperceptible climbing or descending, just enough to avoid flat/boring.

This is non-coastal southern Central Oregon, which is pretty dry, so the woods don’t have the rainforest lushness of the rides on the coast or around Cottage Grove. No ferns, no mossy maples, no riparian alders. But still very pretty, I promise—like the other Bestrides rides around Ashland and Grants Pass.

A lot of people don’t like out and backs, and those people will immediately start thinking about making this ride a loop. Indeed, at the turn-around you could continue west on Upper Cow Creek Rd. and ride to Azalea, a little community on Hwy 5, but from there finding an alternate route back to the trailhead in Wimer is a big ask—you’re going to end up riding an enormous number of miles. Your other loop option is to turn R at the top of our route, Upper Cow Creek Rd. eastward and turn R on Applegate Creek Rd., which will drop you back at the top of W. Fork Evans Creek Rd., but it’s all dirt. So I’m leaving the ride as an out and back—if you find a workable loop route, let me know.

(To see the map in a more user-friendly format, clip on the drop-down menu in the RWGPS box in the upper R and select “map.”)

Our route starts at the unprepossessing intersection of East Evans Creek Rd. and Covered Bridge Road, 1/2 mile from the tiny town of Wimer, which is nothing more than a classic country grocery store and a very few houses. Ride Covered Bridge Road to Wimer so that you can have the pleasure of stumbling upon and riding through “the old covered bridge” (it says that right on it) just before town. Parking at our starting place is difficult, so if it’s more than you want to contend with, or you’re sick of riding through Oregon covered bridges (hard to imagine), drive to Wimer and park in the large dirt parking spot across the street from the grocery store. You’ll cut a mile off our route if you do. While in Wimer, now or after the ride, check out the grocery store, which is pleasant and friendly and has a sign reading, with tongue firmly in cheek, “Best hamburger in Wimer.”

The State Building of Oregon

From Wimer, ride East Evans Creek Rd. east to mile 11.3, which is the intersection of EECR and West Fork Evans Creek Road. EECR is the most domesticated and built-up leg of the ride. It’s a pleasant meander through woods and unpretentious farms, and you should see a vehicle every couple of miles. Most of them will say “Joe’s Stump Removal,” “Bill’s Horse Shoeing,” or something equally rural on them.

East Evans Creek Road

At the intersection go L (the only possible way) onto West Fork Evans Creek Road. The only sign at the intersection reads “Elderberry Flat Recreation Site” and “Cow Creek.” Now things get good. The traffic should drop away to almost nothing—both times I rode it I saw 4 cars, and they were all in the first couple of miles. After those first couple of miles, all signs of human interference, except for the road itself, vanish—no fences, no power poles, no driveways, no mailboxes, no “No trespassing” signs, and, except for one sign marking the Elderberry Flat campground, no road signs at all. Perhaps because of this, someone has painted large mileage markers every half mile in the middle of the road, so it’s easy to know where you are and when it’s time to turn back if you’re out for a short day.

West Fork Evans Creek Road

The riding itself is lovely, for 14 miles an almost imperceptible climb you can do all day without effort, through pretty woods and with a pleasantly varied road contour. At mile 14 (Mile 27.5 on the total tripometer) you hit the first real climb, 2 miles of moderate up that take you to Mile 16, where a number of things happen:

You hit a major intersection, with 3 roads heading off to your right, an intersection called Goolaway Gap on Googlemaps, though there is no sign saying so there.
You continue straight onward, staying on the obvious main road (despite some maps making it look like you take a fork to the R).
The road changes its name (with no signage, of course) to Snow Creek Rd. The first and only time you will see this name used is on the road sign where SCR dead-ends into Upper Cow Creek Road. There is a small sign reading “32-3-5,” the Forest Service number for the new road.
The mile markers stop going up and begin counting down from 8 (because it’s 8 miles to the end of Snow Creek Rd.)
If you ride down SCR 20 ft and turn around, you’ll see a sign (OK there are 2 signs on the route) reading “W. Fk. Evans Cr.”
The road changes its character.

Snow Creek Road

Snow Creek Rd. is smaller, curvier, and even more isolated that what you’ve already done. There are no sign of human presence other than signs marking buried optical cable. If you meet any vehicles at all it’s news-worthy. I have ridden it twice and never seen a human being. I met so many deer hanging out on the road I had to shoo them away like mosquitos. The road surface is a step less fine that WFECR (it’s that Oregon flat-rolled chipseal), but it’s still totally rideable. It’s considerably more up and down that what you’ve done so far—most of the work in the ride is in these 8 miles (16 miles out and back).

Snow Creek Road

When SCR dead-ends at Upper Cow Creek Rd., notice the two road signs telling you you were in fact on Snow Creek Rd. all along, turn around, and ride home.

Shortening the ride: If you like mellow climbing and smooth road surfaces, start at the intersection of East Evans Creek Rd. and W. Fork Evans Creek Rd. and turn around when you want to. If you like more challenging up and down and don’t mind chipseal, start at the intersection of Upper Cow Creek Rd. and Snow Creek Rd. and ride south as far as you want, then turn around.

Adding miles: The roads around this route offer a superfluity of riches:

1. East Evans Creek Rd. continues for a few good miles beyond the W. Fork intersection before the pavement ends.
2. Sykes Creek Rd. is paved for 3.4 miles, all pleasant moderate climbing through partially built-up woods.
3. Mays Rd. is only paved for 1 mile.
4. Six miles up W. Fork from East Evans Creek Rd., Rock Creek Rd. forks off to the R and climbs at a challenging rate for 6 miles of pavement—a real adventure, very narrow, with a less groomed road surface. This gets my vote as the add-on to ride first. As always, there is no sign, but someone have helpfully written “Rock” across the road at the fork.
5. At the north end of the ride, Upper Cow Creek Rd. runs for 13 miles from Snow Creek Rd. to the tiny town (in other words, country grocery store) of Azalea. It’s a big, polished two-lane road with a pleasant contour and next to no traffic through pretty woods and farm country, but it’s been recently repaved (as of 8/23) with a nasty chipseal, so I’d avoid it for a couple of years at least.

Briggs Hill Road/McBeth Road Lollipop

Distance: 35-mile lollipop
Elevation gain: 1980 ft

The network of roads southwest of Eugene is an amazing cycling resource. Anywhere south of Hwy 126, west of Hwy 5, almost every road is good riding. 

It’s all pretty much the same sort of thing: rolling gently through open, postcard-pretty meadows and ranch-dotted valleys, along wooded streams, and over mellow hills, on moderate-sized, relatively untrafficked roads with excellent pavement. Not an ugly mile to be found. No killer climbs. Few busy highways to avoid. Courteous drivers. No litter. No broken glass. No drama.

It’s all so pleasant, and all so the same, it’s almost a waste of time to designate a particular route. But not quite. Some roads are duller than others. Some are busier. So here’s a lollipop that I consider the cream of the area’s roads, excluding Siuslaw River Road, which is on a whole other, higher, plane and which you should ride first.

It’s an easy ride—check that elevation gain-to-distance ratio. You will climb twice—a moderate, extended climb on Mcbeth Rd. and a short, moderate climb up Briggs Hill Rd. Not surprisingly, you also get two noticeable descents, a ripping descent on Fox Hollow Rd. and a very short drop on the back side of the Briggs Hill summit. Both are joyous.

(To see the map in a more user-friendly format, clip on the drop-down menu in the RWGPS box in the upper R and select “map.”)

Begin in the tiny town of Lorane, which is a quaint country grocery store and a few houses. It’s also the start/end point of the Siuslaw River Rd. ride and the Cottage Grove-Lorane Rd. ride (in the Adding Miles section of the Siuslaw ride), which means you can do one of the three rides, then roll without interruption into either of the other two, or both.

McBeth Road

Ride north on Territorial Hwy, which sounds like a grand thoroughfare but is in fact a small two-lane without shoulder. It’s the main north-south artery for travel west of Hwy 5, so some people find it too trafficky, but I’ve never had a problem and the contour is very sweet. Ride to the 3-way intersection called Gillespie Corners (actually signed that way on the other road, Lorane Hwy) and continue straight on to Briggs Hill Rd. on your R.

Lorane Highway

There are two kinds of terrain in this area, rolling, open farm/grassland and wooded hill, and this leg from Gillespie to Briggs is the former. Briggs Hill Rd. is the latter—a tidy, almost manicured road up to a small summit and down the other side through vineyards and pretty woods. The only work is the short leg just before the summit.

Territorial Highway

Turn R on Spencer Creek Rd., which is all more open grassland and farms and the nearest thing to boring on the route. The next intersection is confusing because both roads change their names there—the crossing road is Bailey Hill Rd. to your L and Lorane Highway to your R, and straight ahead Spencer Creek becomes Lorane Hwy. There is a road sign a hundred feet before the intersection, and another with its back toward you on the other side of the intersection. Go straight onto Lorane, and turn R. on McBeth.

Briggs Hill Road

McBeth and Fox Hollow are my favorite part of the ride and the most exciting. McBeth is almost entirely up, 2+ miles of pretty woods and moderate climbing (5-8%) that you will notice. When McBeth dead-ends, take Fox Hollow Rd. to the R and discover an unexpectedly exhilarating, fast (35 mph+) descent as you give back all the elevation you gained on McBeth, then descend mildly to Lorane Hwy. FHR has been freshly (as of 8/23) repaved with chipseal, which dampens the descending slightly but is a strong argument against riding the loop in the other direction. Take Lorane to the L. back to Gillespie Corners. This leg is typically fairly busy shoulder riding, but it’s short and mostly a gentle downhill and it goes by what I think is are prettiest meadows in the area.

At Gillespie go L and retrace your steps back to Lorane.

Shortening the ride: Omit the lollipop stem.

Adding Miles: Obviously, do Siuslaw River Rd.,which begins where our ride ends. The Adding Miles section of that ride has more suggestions for additional riding in the area. The handiest of them: Cottage Grove-Lorane Road is a sweet jog that also begins in Lorane, where our ride ends.

The woods at the summit of Cottage Grove-Lorane Road

Conzelman Loop

Distance: 12-mile sloppy figure eight
Elevation gain: 1640 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

This ride is a spur off the Golden Gate Bridge Loop ride, and as such it can be added on to that ride or ridden as an alternative to the GGBL’s post-Bridge second half. It adds considerably to the work load, since the GGBL ride is essentially flat and this ride is almost never flat, but it jacks up the drama and scenic power of the ride by a factor of about 10, because, even though the scenery from Sausalito to Tiburon is just fine, the vistas on this loop are simply staggering…if you can see them. The Marin Headlands are often wrapped in fog, especially in the summer (see final photo). In fog this ride has its magic, but I’d try to wait for a clear day.

The riches packed into these 12 miles beggar the imagination: spectacular views looking down on the Golden Gate Bridge below you and SF Bay in the distance, glimpses of inaccessible beaches along the north shore of the Golden Gate, a lighthouse, a charming little museum, World-War II gun batteries, a battleship’s 16-inch gun, a lovely cove with a beach and surfers, a lagoon, a Cold-War missile base you can tour, and a ripping 18% descent you don’t have to climb back up. Don’t just ride it—explore, drink it in, wander. Every foot of paved road is worth riding, and there’s history and natural beauty at every turn. Conzelman Road itself is named after Lt. Col. Clair Conzelman, a decorated soldier who was captured by the Japanese in World War II and died in captivity. You can read about him in Konz: A Legacy of Courage, written by his family.

If you’re riding across the Bridge, you’ll have to work your way to the west side of Hwy 101. Ride out the north end of the parking lot, ride the shoulder of Alexander briefly until there’s an obvious intersection, then carefully cross Alexander and ride through the little tunnel to Conzelman. If you’re driving, take the Alexander exit and go south on Alexander briefly to Conzelman, then turn into the parking lot at the base of Conzelman overlooking the Bridge.

Your warm-up ride

Conzelman is instantly and seriously steep, so I ride the Bridge sidewalk to warm up. Depending on the day and hour, you may have to ride over to the east side to do this, but that’s easy to do. Once on Conzelman, the pitch is at its worst in the beginning and gets easier. The road is one-lane one-way for cars so you have tons of room.

Ride up Conzelman to the roundabout and continue on Conzelman uphill. Soak up the views of the Bridge below you and the City across the Gate, and keep an eye out for glimpses of hidden beaches snug along the shoreline west of the Bridge.

At the top of the climb there is a sign reading “18% descent.” I question that figure, but it’s steep, and the view of the road curling below you to Point Bonita and the Point Bonita Lighthouse is matchless. Take your photos before you get up a head of steam, because it’s hard to stop mid-plummet. There’s a nice run-out at the bottom which lets you carry some serious speed. As the road levels out, you pass several World War II gun batteries. The guns are gone, but you’re welcome to explore them and contemplate a time when San Francisco expected enemy fleets to sail into the Bay.

Partway up Conzelman and masked for Covid, with SF, Alcatraz, and the Bay Bridge in the distance, the Golden Gate Bridge closer, and Mt. Diablo on the horizon to the far L

Ride to the end of Conzel- man. You can’t ride to the lighthouse, so you might want to bring a lock and shoes so you can walk there. At the western terminus the road does a U and becomes Field Rd.

Find the Nike missile base, a relic of the Cold War. You’re allowed to poke around on Saturdays, and once a month there’s a docent tour where they actually elevate a missile on its launch pad.

Ride Field Rd. to Bunker Rd., stopping at the museum—it’s a nice one. Go L on Bunker.

Now find the loop to Battery Townsley. It’s to the north of Rodeo Lagoon, and it’s inexplicably left off a lot of maps or represented as a hiking trail, but it’s old pavement and perfectly rideable. It’s unmarked on our map at the extreme NW point of the route. Stop at the summit to muse on Battery Townsley, where they have on display a 16-inch gun from the Battleship Missouri in lieu of the battery’s own guns of a similar size. Its dimensions are mind-boggling, as is the fact that it fired a projectile weighing over a ton. There are docent tours once a month.

The Conzelman descent (center of photo), with Point Bonita on L–the lighthouse is on the tip of the point

Before leaving, savor the incomparable view of Rodeo Beach and Point Bonita below you. Continue on to the beach. Watch the surfers and the pelicans.

Continue on Bunker Rd. At the intersection of Bunker and McCullough you will have to choose between two return routes. If you continue on Bunker, the return ride is a very gentle climb that goes through a fairly dreary tunnel and returns to Alexander—go R on Alexander to return to your car or the Bridge. If you want more work and more fun, turn R on McCullough and you’ll have a nice, moderate climb back to the roundabout of Conzelman, whence you get a very nice descent back to your car.

Rodeo Beach and Rodeo Lagoon from Battery Townsley, with the Golden Gate and SF behind

Shortening the route: You can save one substantial climb by driving to the roundabout on Conzelman and starting there. You could skip almost all the climbing by driving to the lagoon area and riding around on the flats, but you’d miss a lot.

Adding miles: Do the Golden Gate Bridge Loop. For more excellent options, see the Adding Miles section of that ride.

The Conzelman descent on a typical August morning

Salmon River Road

Distance: 34 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 3790 ft

This ride is an offshoot of the Forks of Salmon loop ride, and has the same virtues: rugged, rocky landscape, minuscule road width, little traffic, major exposure. Since it’s short and relatively easy to get to, it makes a nice alternative if you found the FOS ride seductive but didn’t want to invest the 100 miles. The vert is somewhere between easy and hard—RidewithGPS gives the elevation total as 3200 ft, which isn’t daunting, but I promise it feels like even less than that.

Of its 17 miles, 10 of them are just very nice canyon riding along a river on a large, polished two-lane road. But the other 7 miles are extraordinary—hair-raising serpentining along a vertical canyon wall on a true one-lane road with no guard rails or any kind of protection, with massive rock on one side and a 200-ft drop-off to the river at the very edge of the road on the other. I loved it, but it’s not for people who have trouble with exposure.

Salmon River Road takes off from Hwy 96 at Somes Bar and follows the river upstream for 17 miles to Forks of Salmon, an intersection with a few buildings but no services. The road is often mildly up and down, but it’s never hard work and no pitch lasts very long. Both Mapmyride and RidewithGPS agree the ride has over 3,000 feet of gain, but I don’t know where they are. It’s only slightly more work going upstream than it is going downstream. The Salmon River is dramatic and grand, and views of it far below you along the route are frequent and excellent.

The good 7 miles

The first 7 miles are domesticat-ed riding, on a polished road surface with a double center line and road shoulders through a broad valley where the river is tranquil. At mile 7 a sign says, “Narrow winding road next 35 miles,” all the road amenities stop, and the good stuff begins. The canyon steepens dramatically, the river falls away beneath you, the tread becomes iffy (which feels perfectly appropriate), and the road width becomes truly one-lane, with no guard rails or shoulder of any sort. I saw two pick-ups meet, and one had to back up a quarter of a mile to find a turn-out. Don’t rush through these miles—drink in the exposed rock, the views of the river, the absurd drop-offs on your L. It’s quite a place.

At mile 13, around Nordheimer Campground, things mellow out and go back to something like the first miles. When you see an unintentionally hilarious sign reading “Congested area” you know you’re nearing Forks of Salmon, which is an intersection with two or three houses, a couple of barns, and—surprise!—a modern school (who’s going to this thing?). Turn around and ride home.

If there’s a down side to this ride, it’s that there’s not much in the way of carving turns on the descents. Most of the down isn’t steep enough to be dramatic, and when it is the road tends to be pretty straight. I only had a couple of “Whee!” moments.

Traffic should be next to nothing. When I was there, a forest fire was burning adjacent to the road, so I saw a fair amount of forest service and Cal Fire vehicles—perhaps 20—but on a day without fires I’d expect 3-4 cars in 34 miles.

There are no services on this route, but there are a number of places where emergency help could be gotten: a fire station, a few campgrounds (with brick outhouses), private houses at Forks of Salmon, and the Otter Bar Lodge a few miles before Forks of Salmon. It’s a kayak school, and it doesn’t cater to other guests, but it’s there in a pinch. The only sign from the road is a large mailbox reading “Otter Bar” and a dirt road, but you notice the buildings deep in the trees on the river side.

Shortening the route: Drive to the “narrow winding road” sign and start there. It will save you 14 miles.

Zero shoulder, 100 ft straight down to the Salmon River

Adding miles: This is a great bike riding area with lots of opportunities. At Forks of Salmon you are at the midway point in the Forks of Salmon loop—ride as much of it as you’d like, in either direction. If you’re not going all the way to Etna or Callahan, I’d recommend the southern route (Cecilville Rd.) over the northern (Sawyers Bar Rd.) because it’s right along the banks of the river and offers excellent swimming.

At Somes Bar, Ishi-Pishi Rd. parallels Hwy 96 for about 7 miles of tiny, meandering road deep in pristine woods. Quite lovely, but a significant ascent, so be sure you’re up for it.

Hwy 96 itself is a popular through-ride for long-distance cyclists. In fact the Etna-Happy Camp-Forks of Salmon-Callahan-Etna loop is a bucket-list ride. But most of 96 is only pleasant riding, a 60-mph highway that is pretty but too straight and too big for any sort of drama. The one stretch of it that looked fun to me was between Orleans and Hoopa, and it also looked deadly—tightly winding with no sight lines, no shoulder, with a guardrail on one side and a rock wall on the other, on a well-trafficked road and impatient drivers.

The Salmon River

Beyond Yellowbottom

Distance: 55.5-mile out-and-back
Elevation gain: 5680 ft

A couple of people wrote to me about the Quartzville Road ride saying, “You stop the ride just when it starts to get good.” So I checked it out. My judgment: Yes and no.

Beyond the Yellowbottom campground, which is the turn-around point of the Quartzville ride, the road changes dramatically, and which ride you prefer depends on what you like and what mood you’re in. The new ride is on a road that’s smaller, less developed, less lush (but still pretty), much more isolated (3 cars in 32 miles), and much more up and down. Usually that’s exactly Bestrides’ cup of tea, but there is one downside: the road contour. For a skinny mountain road, it’s surprisingly straight—so straight that both the climbing and the descending lack a certain drama. So, because it’s prettier and swoopier, I’d still do Quartzville first. But this one’s very good too.

First, a disclaimer: I only rode to the summit and back, 16 miles each way. But I’m assured the rest of the road is also good, so I’ve mapped it all and am recommending it all.

Begin at Yellowbottom campground. There is plenty of turn-out parking along the road. At the large “Yellowbottom” sign on the creek side of the road is a pretty little trail that will take you down to the water—either a little falls or a large swimming hole just downstream—if you want to cool off after the ride.

The first mile or two of the route is exactly like the road you just drove on to get there, a wide, developed two-lane road through gorgeous Oregon canopy. Soon you cross a large bridge over the creek and the road forks, both forks looking equally good, just like Robert Frost said they would. Go R, onto FS 11 (it’s signed).

Somebody doesn’t want anyone using FS 11, because there is a fair amount of “All hope abandon”-type signage, all of it lies. First a sign reading “One lane with turn-outs.” Not really. There is no centerline, but the road is plenty wide enough for two cars. The next sign reads “Rough road ahead 25 miles.” I guess Oregonians are a pampered lot. In fact, the surface is flawless save a few cracks here and there, which run lengthways on the road and are easily avoided. Any road with a surface this good in Butte or Sonoma County would be celebrated in story and song. Then you get to a spot where someone has written “BAD BUMP” on the roadway. It marks a pimple in the road so minor you would never notice it if someone hadn’t drawn your attention to it. Don’t let any of this deter you—it’s a sweet, smooth, unthreatening ride, at least as far as I got. Streetview suggests things may get a little more frayed further down the road, but still nothing worrisome.

At first the surrounding foliage is just like Quartzville Road—stunning mossy maple forest, with a nice, noisy creek beside you whose constant rush is guaranteed to mellow out your wa. But as you climb above the creek the landscape gets drier and you’re into alders, ferny walls, and rocky outcroppings—pretty, but different. Finally near the summit you’re in the solid green of conifers (less interesting).

There is some weird stuff on this road. For instance, there are mileage markers painted neatly on the route, but they were done by someone who was insane, had OCD, or had an agenda invisible to me, because they mark mileages like “24.76” and “32.99” (see photo). Almost never are they round numbers. Sometimes the markings are 1/100th or 2/100ths of a mile apart, so you’ll get to answer that question that plagues all cyclists: What’s your time in the 1/100th-of-a-mile sprint?

Weirder still, at one of the many bridges crossing the creek you’re following you’ll see what appears to be a section of freeway, cast aside and lying on the far bank of the creek (see photo). Anyone who has any idea what it’s doing there, or how it got there, let me know.

Mid-ride, it gets rockier

Just before the summit (at mile 15.6 for me), there’s an unexpect-ed fork with no signage at all and each branch looking equally good. It’s only a momentary worry—the R fork turns to gravel almost immediately, so go L.

If you ride to the end of FS11 at the intersection with Hwy 22, you’ll probably want to ride north on Hwy 22 the few miles to Marion Forks to resupply for the ride back. 

The psycho mileage markers

Mapmyride’s elevation profile is useless. Be sure to use RWGPS’s to plan your workout. The first miles are almost flat, climbing at a pitch so mellow that when the first stair steps, around 5%, appear you welcome them as a diversion. But the steps get steeper and longer, until the final 6 miles are work, with regular pitches of 7-8%.

Shortening the route: Ride to the summit, as I did. If you want still shorter, ride until the scenery or pitch fails to please and turn around. It’s only going to get harder.

Adding miles: Ride Quartzville Road, the ride this is a continuation of.

The mystery freeway

Siuslaw River Road

Distance: 35 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2010 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

(This ride is discussed as part of a much larger loop in Jim Moore’s 75 Classic Rides Oregon: the Best Road Biking Routes from Mountaineers Books.)

I talk about the network of roads southwest of Eugene in the Briggs Hill Road/McBeth Road ride, which represents the area. It’s all very nice, but not much in the way of a “Wow!” factor. If you want something more intense, ride Siuslaw River Road. Bestrides actually has another ride on the same river, North Fork Siuslaw Road, but that one’s on the coast where the river, now much larger, meets the sea. This one is inland, near Hwy 5. Whereas the rest of the area is merely fine, Siuslaw River Road is great. It’s through a canopied riparian cedar/mossy maple/fern forest that is as pretty as anything Oregon has to offer, which means as pretty as Earth gets. I think you’ll see two houses. The road surface varies from good to glass. The contour for the first 12 miles of the ride is not-quite-flat—constantly rising and falling at 1-3%—and always meandering back and forth, so it offers constant effortless variety. The contour for the next 5.5 miles is a series of 0.5-1.0-mile climbs and descents, 5-7%, never seriously taxing or lasting long enough to lose the novelty. The descents are short but outstanding, just at that pitch where you can carry some speed without having to ride the brakes, with the curves all sweetly shaped and banked so you feel like a champ. There is no traffic—on my last ride, midday on a Tuesday in August, on the ride out I encountered 0 vehicles (3 on the way back). A basically perfect ride. And you are in total control of the work load: since all the work is in the second half of the route, if you’re on a recovery day you can simply turn around when the climbing starts.

(RidewithGPS’s elevation profile is more revealing.)

Begin in Lorane, which is an intersection with a convenience store. Ride Siuslaw (pronounced “sigh-OOH-slaw”) River Road (always signed Siuslaw Road, but called SRR on maps) to its intersection with Wolf Creek Road, then ride back.

The miles from Lorane to Letz Creek Rd are merely good, and if you are only interested in out-standing you can skip them. The name of the road is easy to remember: “Shall we skip the first few miles?” “Letz!”

The first miles of the route meander along the river, but it’s a river in name only—it’s a big stream where it meets the sea but here it’s a mere trickle in late summer. The water itself isn’t especially pretty, and you can almost not see it even though it’s right beside you. The foliage varies from good to breath-taking, from Forest Primeval to clear-cuts and tree farms. Sun lights up the maples, which is nice, but I’ve done the ride in overcast and it’s still stunning.

You ride past Fire Rd., which made me wonder if there was a road named Logging Rd. or Dirt Rd. nearby. A short way into the ride you pass the turn-off to Siuslaw Falls County Park (clearly signed). The falls are lame—just water passing over a low shelf—but the half-mile ride in is pretty and fun.

All the work is in the second half of the ride out. After you hit the first real hill it’s pretty constantly up and down to the turn-around. The workload isn’t burdensome—2010 ft of gain in 35 miles isn’t nothing but it isn’t a lot. After the climbing starts, the woods dry out (because you’ve left the riparian ecosystem) and you hit clearcutting, so it’s less pretty, but continue, because the woods return in the last couple of miles before the turn-around and they’re exceptionally beautiful.

Shortening the route: Start at Letz Creek Road. This saves 10 miles of pleasant but fairly domesticated riding. There is no shoulder parking on Siuslaw River Rd. near the intersection but there is minimal shoulder parking on LCR if you look for it. To shorten the ride even further, turn around when the climbing starts.

Adding miles: Literally, just go anywhere. Siuslaw River Road continues west from our turn-around, all the way to Hwy 126, which was a traffic nightmare the last time I saw it. At our turn-around point you’re actually on the route of our Gardiner to Eugene ride, which will let you ride west all the way to the sea if you ride it backwards. To the east, from our starting point in Lorane you can ride Cottage Grove-Lorane Road, 12 miles (one way) of sweet Oregonian farms and woods with a noticeable but not hard hill in the middle (thanks, Andrew). It’s bigger, more developed, and busier than some other roads in the area but well worth riding nonetheless.

Wolf Creek Road heads north back into the Southwest o’ Eugene road network from our turn-around, so take it if you’re looking for a loop. The obvious loop is Wolf Creek to Territorial Hwy back to Lorane. If you’ve got more legs, keep going north when Wolf Creek dead-ends at Territorial Hwy and work your way over to our Briggs Hill Road/McBeth Road ride.

Siuslaw River Road

Even on the side of the road away from the maples, the Siuslaw River woods are beautiful

South Upper Truckee Road

Distance: 11.5-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1080 ft

This is the only ride in the immediate Tahoe area in Bestrides.  That’s because I don’t like the riding around Tahoe.  I know it’s legendary, especially the ride around the lake.  The century that circumnavigates the lake is one of the most popular centuries in the country.  I’ve ridden in the Tahoe area a lot, including around the lake several times, and in my opinion it all sucks.  The roads, at least in summer, are insanely crowded.  The ride around the lake is 1/3 faux Vegas, 1/3 Tahoe City gridlock, 1/6 a slow tedious climb up Hwy 28 to 50 on a shoulder amidst whizzing cars, and 1/6 actually not bad stuff around Emerald Bay, if you don’t mind narrow, rough roads with no shoulder crowded with tourists gawking at the scenery.  But aren’t the views of the lake majestic?  Yes, for the stretch around Emerald Bay.  The rest of the loop, the lake can’t be seen.

The roads radiating out from the lake— 89 and 267 to the north, , 431 and 50 to the east, 89 to the south—are all straight, monotonous shoulder rides with lots of traffic (admittedly 89 to Truckee is easy and pretty—the rest are tough climbs).   Hwy 50 towards Sacramento would be a lovely ride if it weren’t heavily trafficked—I’ve never seen a bike on it or heard of anyone riding it.

OK, but what about the bike paths?  Lake Tahoe is bike path central.  There’s a path that runs along the road on the west side of the lake from Tahoe City to Sugar Pine Point, a path that runs along the Truckee River almost to Squaw Valley, a path that runs along the south shore from near the Y (the Hwy 89/Hwy 50 intersection) past the Tallac Historic Site, and a path that runs south from the lake to Meyers along Hwy 50.  They’re all fun at 8 mph on a cruiser or mountain bike, but they’re too small-scale for a road bike.  The prettiest by far is the Truckee River trail, and in season it’s packed with pedestrians.

Then there’s the Fallen Leaf Lake Road, a 10-mile out-and-back to a famously lovely little lake with a nice waterfall, Glen Alpine Falls, on the back side.  It’s in all the guides to Tahoe-area riding, and it’s the worst ride I’ve ever done on a bike—one lane of atrocious pavement that’s busy, even in the off-season, with cars, half of them in the act of backing up and pulling off the road to make room for the other half going the other way.  I did this ride in November, when everything around the lake was closed, and the car traffic was still awful—on some stretches I had to pull off the road every minute or two to let a car pass me.

But if you’re a Californian who likes to travel you’re going to spend time around Tahoe, and even hell has one good road ride, so luckily there’s South Upper Truckee Road.  I’d be tempted to add the ride to Bestrides on the name alone (I wish it were Old South Upper Truckee Road, but one can’t have everything—as we shall see, it’s actually Lower South Upper Truckee Rd.).  But it’s also a very sweet ride.  It’s only 11.5 miles long, but in that space you get a stiff 3.5-mile climb, gorgeous scenery, serious solitude, and a fast, straight descent.  The road surface on SUTR can be rough, so our route doesn’t descent it, but instead comes down Luther Pass Rd., which is a wide-open, straight 35-45-mph shot.  The scenery is typical Tahoe aspen, granite, and pine—gorgeous—but the road is essentially one lane and you are IN the landscape in a way you never can be on larger roads.  It isn’t a long enough ride to fill a day, so do it and drive south to the better rides around Markleeville and Hope Valley.

November proved a little late for the annual aspen color display

Park at the intersection of Hwy 50 and South Upper Truckee Road, just west of Hwy 89 and the agricultural inspection station.  There’s plenty of roadside dirt on SUTR.  For 3.2 miles you’re on flat ground among houses as you follow the Upper Truckee River, the upper reaches of the river that runs out of Tahoe and down to the town of Truckee.  Note how the first houses were built closest to Hwy 50, then later ones added further out, so as you ride they get newer and bigger, and still bigger, until the last house is spanking new and comically huge.  You go through some nice aspen groves which must be stunning during the fall color (I was too late).  You pass the clearly marked trailhead for the Hawley Grade National Recreation Trail, which is reputed to be nice for hiking.

Boulder heaven

Soon after the houses end, the road turns up, and is constantly 8-12% for the next 3.5 miles.  These miles are why you’ve come.  Since Hwy 89 goes to the same place, there is no reason why a car should be on this road (unless they’re shuttling mountain bikes—see below) and you should have it to yourself.  It twists and turns deliciously, the road surface has some nastiness, and it gets very narrow—It’s signed “one-lane” at the top.  This is about as close to a mountain-bike trail ride as pavement can get.  I love the scenery—scattered pines and boulders.  This is probably the best boulder ride west of Boulder.  At the bottom of the climb you pass the downhill end of a busy mountain bike trail, which may involve you in some traffic.

After 4.6 miles you meet up again with Hwy 89, and you could turn L and ride the rocket ship back to your car, but our route crosses 89 and continues up a completely unsigned road with an intimidating gate (open except in winter) that is in fact more of SUTR—it is quite literally Upper South Upper Truckee Road.  Continuing on has its risks—this 1.2-mile leg goes by a very large campground, then passes Big Meadows, perhaps the biggest of the trailheads on the Tahoe Rim Trail.  So I would imagine it’s hectic in summer.  I did it in November, and it was deserted.  It’s also utterly delightful, with all the virtues of lower Upper, but curvier and with much better pavement.  It also has the novelty of being utterly unsigned at both ends—given the activity along this road, that’s inexplicable.

When Upper Upper T’s into Hwy 89 (again) at 5.8 miles, turn downhill, to the R (it’s easy to go the wrong way), and strap in for the 3-mile dead straight 7% descent, then 3 miles of flats that take you to 89.

Shortening the route: Not a lot of options here.  Start where the houses end.  Turn onto Hwy 89 when the route first intersects it.

Adding Miles: See the beginning of this post.

At the top of this ride you’re 2/3 of the way to Luther Pass, after which it’s a straight, fast descent to Hope Valley and all the Bestrides riches in the area.

A ride slightly out of the Tahoe area, not quite Bestrides-worthy but totally worth doing once, is Donner Pass Road, which parallels Hwy 80 from Cisco Grove to Truckee.  It’s 23 miles one way, so it makes a nice out-and-back with one significant hill.  From Cisco Grove it’s 13 miles of steady, mild climbing to the Donner Summit Bridge, where there’s a vista point with an unforgettable view of Donner Lake below you, then the one thrilling moment in the ride, an 1100-ft drop through two big esses to the lake.  Donner Pass Road follows the north shore of the lake, and it’s fine, but I prefer taking South Shore Dr. on the other side, which is quieter.  Both routes are lined with vacation homes.  South Shore goes directly through Donner Memorial State Park, then rejoins Donner Pass Rd., which goes through unappealing modern Truckee and ends in the old, charming downtown.

Old Meyers Grade, aka Lincoln Highway Trail, forks off South Upper Truckee Rd. immediately after the beginning of our ride and climbs rather steeply for about 1.5 miles to Hwy 50 (see Don’s comment below).  Where it dead-ends, you can go R on Hwy 50 for about 50 ft and take a very small, unmarked one-lane road on your L, Echo Lake Road (though there is no signage), which continues on for two more miles to Echo Lake.  It’s a wild and wooly ride on poor pavement.  The last time I was there, OMG was gated off at both ends but the gate was jumpable.

There is a North Upper Truckee Rd., almost directly across Hwy 50 from the beginning of South Upper Truckee, but it isn’t worth riding—it looks appealing from the highway, but it’s soon mired in mountain subdivisions.

Afterthoughts: Once back at the intersection of 89 and 50, you can do a very short ride up 50 toward the lake and eat at Pretty Odd Wieners, a highly rated hot dog stand (actually a trailer) in a gas station parking lot on the R.  Or a stone’s throw up 50 from the intersection on the L is Burger Lounge, whose burgers are the standard by which all others are measured.

Adelaida Road/Chimney Rock Road

Distance: 23.5-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1980 ft

The country west of Paso Robles is a network of sweet, meandering roads with mostly vineyards for backdrop.  This route is the best loop ride in the area and probably the easiest, a charming, pretty ramble that includes a particularly joyful 6-mile stretch of rollercoaster.

Adelaida is a fairly major artery through the Paso wine country, so traffic is an issue.  You’re going to meet a lot of cars if you ride during rush hour or on a weekend.  I drove it at 9 am on a weekday and had to pull over frequently to let mobs of cars pass.  Then I rode it at 11 am on a weekday and pretty much had the road to myself, seeing only the occasional farm or service vehicle.

This ride is equally good done another way, so be sure to see the Alternate route discussion below.

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Santa Rita Road/Cypress Mountain Road

Distance: 45.5-mile loop
Elevation gain: 4860 ft

This ride has a lot of dirt—the only largely dirt ride in Bestrides.  I don’t do dirt, and my bike wasn’t made for dirt, but this is doable dirt as long as you have 25 mm tires, and the pleasures of the route make the dirt worth enduring.   Beyond that, Bestrides has two rides in Paso Robles (Adelaida, Peachy Canyon) and a ride in Cambria (Santa Rosa Creek Road), and it would be lovely if there was a way to ride from one to the other without the grim tedium of Hwy 46.  This is the way, as the Mandalorian says.

The route involves two pretty, deliciously isolated stretches of dirt road, both of which climb up and over a summit, one short tough pavement climb, a nice descent on one of Paso Robles’s classic wine trails, and some of the most spectacular vistas in all of Bestrides.  There is one mile of smooth but steep dirt climbing (10%+).

The loop can be started at any point, so just decide where you want to end up and start there.  As with all dirt riding, I wouldn’t attempt this ride if the ground is wet.

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Shotgun Creek Road

Distance: 29-mile loop
Elevation gain: 2670 ft

This ride may not be for everyone.   It’s a rough and tough little loop with one hard climb, pavement that is consistently poor, a descent so steep you have to brake constantly, and 15 miles of shoulder riding.  It’s more work than the elevation numbers suggest, because most of the 2670 ft of gain is in one 3-mile climb, and the lone descent is so jarring that it beats you up.  Still, it has its merits.  The back road half is often beautifully wooded, the isolation is remarkable (on my last ride, a lovely midday in August, I saw one human being of any sort from the beginning of Shotgun Creek Road to Brush Creek Road), and even the shoulder riding is through lovely scenery.  At points the road is so narrow and the solitude so extreme that you’re as close to trail hiking as you can get on a road bike.  So it’s a ride where it’s less about the riding and more about being in this extraordinary place.  It’s a good ride for a gravel bike, because the fat tires will smooth out the road surface and the disc brakes will make the descent less stressful.

Navigation is in one sense easy, because there are few ways to go wrong, but in another sense challenging because there’s no cell service (so no Googlemaps) and several unmarked forks, and many of the roads are unnamed or confusingly named on maps.  So I’m going to be particularly specific about directions.  Of all the maps I’ve seen, RidewithGPS is by far the clearest as to road names, and I’ll be referring to it in my ride directions.

The Shotgun Creek area is a hotbed of OHV recreation.  You’ll see signs and staging areas from the beginning of Shotgun Creek Rd. all the way to the Seely Creek Rd. summit, including signs reading “Watch for OHV traffic on the road.”  I have done this ride twice and never seen an OHV, perhaps because the area is closed to OHV’s during times of high fire danger.  If you’re doing this ride any time but late summer, I’d find out if the OHV’s are active first.  There’s a ranger station in Marcola that can tell you.

I continue to wonder if the ride would be better counter-clockwise.  RidewithGPS says the big climb is even steeper that way, but there would be two benefits: you’d be experiencing the best of the woods at a slower speed, so you could appreciate them more; and you’d have the swimming hole at the Rec Area nearly at the end of the ride, when you could use it.

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