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).
This ride is half of the legendary ride from Dorena Lake to Oakridge. It’s a good ride all the way to Oakridge, if you can figure out a way back (iron men ride to Oakridge and back in a day), 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 one of its prettiest creeks at your feet.
Discussions of this ride tend to center on two issues: gravel sections and getting lost. There is less gravel than there used to be—I think it’s down to one short stretch exactly halfway to Oakridge, which happens to be our turning-around point. I’m not sure why getting lost is a hot topic—it’s impossible to get lost on this route if you stay on pavement and/or follow the unambiguous road signs. At the two noticeable intersections there are clear signs reading “Oakridge” with an arrow, and in both of those places the right way to go is the only paved option. 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 River Road, park at the eastern end of the Row River Trail (more on that later), 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 gorgeous 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 all day and forego the work, but noblesse oblige.
At 4.5 miles Lower Brice dead-ends on Layng Creek Road. Go R for a stone’s throw 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 can lose yourself in the beauty of the brook and let the miles roll by.
You won’t be alone here—the National Forest is thick with hiking trails to falls, and dirt roads lead to OHV meccas, so there are people, typically in Jeeps, but I was there on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend and it never felt crowded or busy.
At Mile 17.5 you must take a 90% turn-off to the L, but you won’t miss it because a) there’s a clear sign saying “Hwy 58—Oakridge” pointing your way and b) the road straight ahead turns to dirt in 50 ft. 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. Ignore the map’s elevation profile, which shows a fairly steady pitch throughout the ride—the ride up to this turn-off and the ride after it are two different gears.
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 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.
Adding Miles: You can continue on from our turn-around point to Oakridge, an additional 55 miles. It’s actually no harder than our return ride—same distance, same amount of climbing. You just need to find a way back from Oakridge. Riding from Oakridge to Culp Creek is much like our ride except you do the climbing in fewer miles, so it’s steeper.
But the Dorena-Oakridge road is only the tip of the iceberg. The Row River drainage is one of the richest areas for road riding in Oregon (thanks to FOB Don for the expertise here). 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, 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 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.
Afterthoughts: I know of no water resupply opportunities on this ride. There is a bathroom at a trailhead a few miles in, and there is at least one campground, where water could be begged from campers.