Distance: 52 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 6490 ft
A longer version of this ride is expertly covered in Jim Moore’s 75 Classic Rides Oregon (see the “Oregon” section in Rides by Region).
The Dorena Lake/Cottage Grove area is one of the richest troves of cycling roads in Oregon. You could spend a couple of weeks here and ride a different good road every day. See Adding Miles for suggestions. This ride and our Siuslaw River Road ride are the best of them.
Our route is the west half of the big, legendary climb and descent from Dorena Lake to Oakridge. It’s a great ride all the way to Oakridge, if you can figure out a way back (iron men ride to Oakridge and back in a day, exactly 100 miles), but this route just goes to the summit and returns. It’s the prettier (lusher) side of the divide. The appeal here is scenery: some of Oregon’s prettiest rainforest, and a very pretty creek alongside you much of the way.
This route used to be plagued by gravel sections and tricky to navigate, but both problems are history—I saw one short gravel section, and it’s impossible to get lost if you stay on the pavement. That being said, the upper reaches of this ride are remote and wooly, so come prepared for solitude and self-sufficiency, especially on a weekday.
In Culp Creek, a cluster of houses east of Cottage Grove on Row (rhymes with “cow”) River Road, park at the eastern end of the Row River Trail (more on that in Adding Miles), in a little dirt parking area cum outhouse on the L side of the road with the large sign reading “Culp Creek Trailhead/ Row River Trail.” Ride east on Row River Road and in one mile go L onto Lower Brice Creek Road. Row River Road itself is fine riding and you may be tempted to stick with a good thing, but don’t, because Lower Brice does RRR one better. It’s not only gorgeous—it’s also tiny, rolling, and deserted. And it has a wonderful little falls and swimming hole, Wildwood Falls, which may call to you on the return ride if the weather is warm. I was sorely tempted to ride up and down Lower Brice Creek Rd. all day and forego the work, but noblesse oblige.
At 4.5 miles Lower Brice dead-ends on Layng Creek Road. Go R for forty feet and reconnect with Row River Road, which now (or somewhere in here) changes its name to Brice Creek Road/NF 22. From here to Mile 17.5, BCR climbs at a relaxed pace through a lovely forest of maples, moss, alders, and fern, much of its length on the very lip of charming Brice Creek.
You won’t be alone here—the National Forest is thick with hiking trails to falls, the road itself has several campgrounds along it, and dirt roads lead to OHV meccas, so there are people up there, but the traffic is amazingly spare. The last time I rode it I saw 7 (!) vehicles on the road, on a lovely summer Monday mid-day. Once I rode it on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend and traffic was still light.
Brice Creek is pretty but often below you and obscured by foliage in the first miles. There’s one place where you should really get off your bike and check it out. You can’t see it from the road, so you’ll have to follow my directions. Exactly .5 miles after the large Cedar Creek Campground sign on the R and campground turn-in on the L (at Mile 11), there’s a small, one-group campground without a name. Pull in, take off your shoes, and walk the 40-ft trail on your L down to the water. There you’ll find a gorgeous little stair-step falls, perfect for meditating, wading, and even swimming (well, emersion) if you’re determined. You’ll hear it before you see it.
At around 13 miles you pass the Champion Creek Trailhead (signed). Immediately afterwards, you cross the creek on a bridge and it’s now on your R. Now begins my favorite leg of the ride. The road gets smaller and the creek is now right along the road, at your elbow, and it’s utterly charming—a constant series of little falls, mini-rapids, and still pools, all lined with mossy maples. Of course there is a price: for the creek to make falls, it has to drop, so you, who are going in the other direction, have to climb a bit more than you’ve been doing. Slow down, stare at the water, and let the climbing miles roll by painlessly. When you cross the creek a second time, the road ramps up again, enough that you’ll feel like you’re doing a little work, but it’s not hard, and it only lasts for a mile or two.
At Mile 17.5 you must take a 90-degree turn-off to the L, and you have to watch for it because there is one small sign marking your route and nothing else. The sign is a small rectangle reading “Connect Lane” (the county) and underneath a very small sign reading “Oakridge CL 1” with an arrow. I could find no forest service numbers or other markings. Luckily you have little choice because the only alternative, straight ahead, is obviously wrong because it turns to gravel in 50 ft.
Following the sign, go L and the road changes dramatically. It’s much steeper and much narrower (though it’s still NF 22), and the forest is drier, with the trunks of mighty conifers instead of maples. Any traffic you’ve been seeing should trickle to nothing. The next 4 miles are the hardest climbing in the ride. It’s never brutal, but you can get lulled into complacency by the previous gentle climbing, and if so it’s a shock.
At Mile 21.5 you reach a notorious 4-way intersection which in the old days reduced riders to tears. Now it’s foolproof. You enter on NF 22. Straight ahead is Rd 2110, dirt, clearly numbered. Crossing your path is 5850, clearly numbered. To the R, 5850 is dirt. To the L, it’s paved and it’s the road you want. Because of road curvature, you end up making a tight near-180-degree L turn. There is also an obvious sign reading “Hwy 58—Oakridge” pointing our way. Trust your navigation at this point, because you aren’t going to see signage (and quite possibly humans) for the rest of the climb.
There is nothing marvelous beyond this intersection. If you turn around now, you won’t miss anything but the satisfaction of making it to the top.
The road continues up for about another 4 miles at a straight and steady pitch, none of it grim, all of it work. Again the landscape changes, because it’s been logged here and there’s less water, so the forest is stunted and at times feels more like shrubbery than forest primeval. At the obvious summit you descent for 1.5 miles to the bottom of a large saddle and meet the gravel patch that is our turn-around point. Again, if you’re done climbing for the day, turn around back at the summit—you won’t miss anything. On the other hand, if you decide to log a few more miles, past the gravel the road soon climbs 8 more miles to a second summit before plummeting steeply down to Oakridge.
On the ride home, the descent from the summit to the four-way is fairly straight, but the descent from there back to the main road is breath-taking. Descending the main road offers some 30-mph stretches, but it’s slow and straight enough in the main to let you relax and take in the splendid scenery a second time.
Take Lower Brice Creek Road on your return for maximum scenic payoff or creek swimming, but it is more up and down than the main road, so if you just want to be done, stay on Row River Road back to your car.
There are at least three campgrounds with formal outhouses before the turn at 17.5 miles—after that, you’re on your own. There is no potable water. There will be campers, from whom water can be begged.
Shortening the route: Turn around at the 17.5-mile-out L turn.
Adding miles: As I said, there’s a lot of good riding within 20 miles of this ride. Most simply, you can continue on from our turn-around point to Oakridge, an additional 24 miles, making for a total of 50 miles—actually fewer than our out-and-back route but more work because past our turn-around point you climb for 8 more miles). You just need to find a way back from Oakridge. Riding from Oakridge to Culp Creek you do the same elevation gain in fewer miles, so it’s steeper (14 miles to the summit from the Oakridge side, 34 miles from the Culp Creek side). Once in Oakridge, you’ve got the Aufderheide ride and the other roads discussed in the Aufderheide ride’s Adding Miles section.
If you’re looking for tranquil, there’s the Row River Trail, a rail-to-trail conversion that runs from our parking lot all the way to Cottage Grove (16 miles). I’m not a fan of rail-to-trail conversions, but this is one of the better ones. The miles before and after Dorena Lake are pretty stock flat farm country stuff, highlighted by a couple of nice covered bridges along the route and a couple of nice bridge crossings (of the Row River and Mosby Creek), but the 5 miles along the lake and the 2 miles west of them are prettily wooded. The trail by the lake has a lot of root upheavals, but they’re all boldly outlined in yellow paint. There’s a nice pamphlet on the trail, with a good map, free at any visitor’s center in the area.
The roads on either side of Dorena Lake (smaller Row River Road on the north shore, larger Shoreview Drive, the main road, on the south) are good riding (though the south side is somewhat trafficky), so you can actually ride along the lake three times and never repeat your route—both roads and the rail trail. There are also two roads leaving Brice Creek Road that are very worth doing: Layng Creek Rd. turns to gravel in about 8 miles and is beautifully wooded when the light is right. If you have a gravel bike, you can continue on when the pavement ends and ride to short (1/3-1/2-mile) hiking trails leading to any of three stunning little falls: Spirit, Moon, and Pinard—Google for details.
Sharps Creek Rd. keeps going. You can keep riding southward until you get to Steamboat (33 miles one way starting at the north end of Sharps Creek Rd), or you can make a 74-mile loop starting in Cottage Grove and riding Row River Rd to Sharps to Clark Creek Rd. to Big River Rd. back to Cottage Grove. The Lane County Bicycle Map lays out the loop route. Take a map—there are a number of road name changes. But Sharps Creek Rd is good for shorter out-and-backs too. For the first 10 miles it’s a mellow 2% climb on a big, domesticated, smooth two-lane road through woods that vary from OK to fine. Then at the unmissable, well-signed fork (Sharps Creek Rd goes L, Martin Creek Rd goes R, but it’s soon renamed Clark Creek Rd), you go R, cross a bridge, the road becomes smaller, rougher, more densely wooded, and steeper—an easy 4% for a while, then suddenly a truly daunting, unrelenting 8-10% for 4 or 5 miles. By this time the road has shrunk to bike path size and the woods have closed in dramatically. I rode 24 miles of Sharps Creek Road and saw not one car on the road.
Don’t be tempted to ride the loop up Sharps Creek Rd., past Bohemia Mt., and down Champion Creek Rd. The Lane County Bike Map says it’s all paved, but it’s actually gravel from when you leave SCR.
On the west side of Cottage Grove, all the roads are favorite cruising grounds for Eugene cyclists—feel free to wander. See our Siuslaw River Road post, especially the Adding Miles section, for details.