Category Archives: Oregon

Burnt Mountain Road/Tioga Creek Road

Distance: 49 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 6640 ftG

This ride is very much a matter of taste. It may be one of your favorite rides, ever. You may hate it. It all depends on how much you value isolation, pristine forest, sketchy road surface, and serious elevation gain. It’s one of the hardest rides in Bestrides—roughly 12 miles of tough climbing, not counting the rollers, and a total vert of 6640 ft.

This ride is for people who like to get off the grid. As in, no cell service. No road signs, at all, of any kind. No people, no buildings, no fences, no foot paths, no trail heads, no no trespassing signs, no private property signs, not even turn-outs. I encountered vehicles 4 times in 48 miles. If it weren’t for the pavement under you, you’d swear no one had ever been there. Needless to say, there is no opportunity for reprovisioning. So be self-sufficient, and tell someone where you’re riding.

Burnt Mountain Road is small

It’s 48 miles of basically one-lane road through dense woods varying from pretty to stunning, punctuated by a couple of clear-cuts you will welcome for the vistas they provide. The pavement is OK to poor—never terrible but always noticeable—which is the ride’s Achilles heel. Expect to ride slowly, savoring the solitude and the beauty and picking your way around the problem spots. It’s not a pain at slow speeds, but you can’t bomb the descents. This isn’t a “whee” sort of ride. You need a hiking mentality.

And remember, Oregon back back roads are there to facilitate logging. Oregon didn’t get the memo about how the logging industry is dead. There is the occasional clear-cut on this ride, and those clear-cut logs have to get down that road somehow. They are either actively logging in the area or they aren’t. They weren’t when I was there, and the place was as unpopulated as the moon. If they are logging, obviously it’s different.

Even finding the ride is an adventure. Drive to the intersection of Coos Bay Wagon Road (see, it’s adventuresome already) and Reston Rd. Continue west on CBWR for 1.5 miles to the first paved road to the R, which has no signage at all—not even a forest service number. That is Burnt Mountain Road. It will change its name halfway through the ride to Burnt Ridge Road, but it won’t matter because there are no signs. But there is only one paved road and you can’t get lost (ignore the route “option” in the map–it’s a glitch).

You’d never get vistas if it weren’t for the few clear-cuts

The profile is simple: you begin by climbing vigorously for 4 miles. If you don’t, you’re on the wrong road. From a kind of summit you roll up and down to about mile 12 and another kind of summit. You might well consider turning around here, which would give you 24 miles and a noticeable workout, because if you continue, the climb back up is major. But if you turn around you will miss the high point of the ride: the idyllic 6 miles along Tioga Creek.

Tioga Creek Road

Continuing on from Mile 12, you descend steeply to mile 19, where the road forks, the L fork crosses a small but unmissable bridge and the R fork (completely unsigned, of course) follows Tioga Creek (unmarked) for six of the sweetest, most beautiful miles I’ve ever done on a bike, at the end of which the pavement ends and you T into South Coos River Road. SCRR looks sweet on the map but it is in fact private lumber company property with large No Trespassing signs (the only signs on the ride) and it has a road surface that is particularly gnarly gravel you wouldn’t want to ride even on a gravel bike. So ride to SCRR, then return to Burnt Ridge Road.

Tioga Creek Road

Tioga Creek Road is basically flat, which is good because you’re looking at about 8 miles of significantly hard climbing back to the top. The only way to avoid it is to cross the bridge when you get back to it and continue on Burnt Ridge and make a loop of it, riding Middle Creek Road (which BCR becomes) to McKinley, then riding through Dora and Sitkum on what finally becomes Coos Bay Wagon Road and back to your car. It’s only a bit longer and more climbing that going out and back (63 miles, 7125 ft.), but I haven’t seen it. Assuming you’re following my route, do the climb, enjoy the rollers, and descent the last 4 miles to your car. Remember, don’t expect the descent to be exhilarating.

Adding Miles: You could spend a summer riding the good roads in this area of Oregon, none of which I’ve done yet. The obvious addition is the loop described in the ride description above. Beyond that, this area is simply thick with delicious-looking small roads. Every tiny town—McKinley, Gravelford, Dora, Fairview, Myrtle Point—has two or three back roads heading out of it and begging to be explored.

The land west of Roseburg and Winston offers the usual endless miles of PPO (Perfectly Pleasant Oregon) riding—just pick any road that looks small and non-straight on the map.

Tioga Creek Road

Marys Peak Road

Distance: 21 miles out and back
Elevation gain:3860 ft

This is a pure climb—10 miles up, 10 miles down—whose prime virtue is the spectacular view of the Willamette Valley at the top. The climbing is mostly moderate and steady, and the descent is fast and tons of fun without white-knuckle thrills, so it’s a great ride if you’re timid about descending at speed but want to give it a try. The first 8 miles are in that gorgeous west Oregon forest I love.

It’s a lot like the McKenzie Pass ride, so how do they compare? McKenzie is longer, the forest is lusher, the view at the top of McKenzie is level moonscape whereas the view at the top of Marys is valley far beneath you, Marys has less traffic, the McKenzie descent is windier, better banked, and more thrilling. McKenzie is one of the best rides in the world, whereas MPR is merely excellent.

Since a large part of the appeal here is the vista from the summit, try to do the ride on a day with clear weather or high cloud cover only.

This road is favored by sports cars playing race car on weekends. There’s plenty of room, so they won’t endanger you, but a weekday is quieter.

On my Saturday ride there were no logging trucks, but there are signs of active logging (in August, 2019), so on a weekday things might be busier. As I say, there is room.

There is a serious question about where to start this ride. If you ride from Philomath (fuh LO muth) on Hwy 34, the scenery is excellent and the two miles before the Alsea Mountain Summit, where Marys Peak Rd starts, are fabulous—challenging, steep esses through forest prettier than MPR itself. The only drawback is traffic—Hwy 34 can be very busy, there is no shoulder, there are no sight lines, and there is no room for you at all. Unless you can catch the road at a time of slack traffic, it’s unpleasant and dangerous. Without cars, it’s a dream, especially descending. When I was there, on a summer Saturday, at noon the road was constant cars; at 5:30 it was deserted. It’s up to you. Because I can’t guarantee your safety, I’ve mapped the ride from the base of Marys Peak Rd. By the way the climb up to Alsea Mt. Summit from the other side is a pedestrian slog.

Eight miles of the usual West Oregon gorgeousness

Park at the beginning of Marys (no apostrophe) Peak Road. There is a nice paved parking area. You get a half mile of mild climbing before the work starts, but if you need more warm-up you’ll have to ride back and forth on Hwy 34 around the summit and on the first half mile of Marys, because everything else is steeply up and down.

Soon the road tips up, and it stays fairly steep for the next 2.5 miles—around 8%. It’s just across the line between fun and work, and it’s the steepest leg of the ride. When you reach an unexpected mile of quick descending, the hard work is over and it’s moderate to the summit. The pitch is unvaried and the road surface is a bit chattery throughout—not broken surface or chip seal, just cheap road building. Enough to reward bigger tires or lower tire pressure.

The view from the summit, looking northeast

As you ascend, appreciate how the microclimate keeps changing. You move through belts of madrone, alder, fireweed, foxglove, and, near the top, a big, imposing pine we don’t see in California.

Around 8 miles in the forest starts to thin out. You pass through a small saddle and get the first panoramic vista, a stunning view of the land to the south (on your R—see photo below). Don’t assume it will get better, because this is the only view to the south you will get on the ride. The view from the end of the road looks east.

The view from the summit looking east over the Willamette Valley

Continue to the top, which is a parking lot with picnic tables, outhouses, and hiking trailheads. The view to the east is one of the grandest in my experience. You can see 50 miles or more. It’s on a par with the grandest vistas in Bestrides: Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. Constitution (in the Washington section of Rides by Region), and the Golden Gate Bridge ride. To the south of the parking lot is a small hill blocking your view to the south, so to see the entire panorama you’ll have to do a little hike, easy if you’ve brought walking shoes and a bike lock.

The descent is fast, bendy, and fun without ever being scary or technical. You’ll do little braking, even though you’ll be doing 30+ mph much of the time, because the pitch is never extreme and the curves are big and gentle, and the road is roomy enough that traffic is never a concern. In short, a piece of cake. The chattery road surface is only a very slight damper on your pleasure.

Adding Miles: As discussed in the ride description, Hwy 34, which goes by the foot of Marys Peak Road, is a long, dull ascent/descent on the south side and a marvelous but dangerously trafficky serpentine on the north side. A few miles to the south via 34 is the turn-around point of our Alpine to Alsea ride. The Corvallis area offers endless PPO riding (Perfectly Pleasant Oregon) among the farms and ranches along the edge of the Willamette Valley.

Marys Peak Road: looking south from the saddle mid-ride

Shotgun Creek Road

Distance: 29-mile loop
Elevation gain: 2670 ft

Grade: B

This ride may not be for everyone.   It’s a rough and tough little loop with one hard climb, pavement that is consistently poor (not broken—just rough), 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 4-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 (3 vehicles in 15 miles), 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.

I wouldn’t do this ride without at least some sunshine.  The primary reward here is the magical woods, and you need light coming through the trees to get the full effect.

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 completely unmarked forks, and many of the roads are unnamed or confusingly named on maps.  So I’m going to be particularly specific about directions.  I’d carry a map, not because you’re going to get lost, but because it’s comforting when you’re alone for mile after mile.

See note about OHV traffic in Afterthoughts below.

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North Fork Siuslaw Road

Distance: c. 45 miles out and back
Elevation gain: c. 2830 ft

Grade: B

This is another ride leaving Hwy 101 and following an Oregon river upstream.  It’s different from our others (Gardiner to Eugene, Elk River Road) because the North Fork of the Siuslaw River is big, and the land around it is that wide, open flat marsh/meadow unique to big Oregon river mouths.  So for the first half of the ride you aren’t in forest or canopy—you’re in full sun, with trees on your L and the marsh/meadow on your R.  After 12 miles, you leave the river and the ride becomes conventional, lovely western coastal Oregon forest.  Like our other Oregon coastal river routes, it’s an easy ride—in the first 12 miles you’ll climb 350 ft.  Not a life-changing ride but a very pleasant day on the bike.

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Elk River Road

Distance:38 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1200 ft

Grade: A

This, like many of the Oregon rides, was suggested by Friend of Bestrides Don.

Is there such a thing as a perfect ride?  Elk River Road is as close as it gets—a beautiful, essentially flat out-and-back roll through my beloved Southwest Oregon coastal rain forest on a good road surface with little traffic and just enough pitch to make the return ride a brisk romp.  Add a spritely rock creek along the entire length, an optional ride to a lighthouse for character, and free snacks in the form of wild blackberries.  Most of the road is on National Forest land, and the road turns to dirt at our turn-around point, which means there aren’t many people up there except campers in the undeveloped campsites along the road.  Once into the Forest, I met 5 cars on the ride in (in 12 miles), on a lovely August Saturday at midday.  The only drawback is…nope, can’t think of any.

This ride is a lot like the first 40 miles of our Gardener to Eugene ride—both gorgeous, canopied forest on a basically flat road along a pretty river—so which should you do if you can’t do both?  GTE is longer, it’s flatter (so there’s no sense of downhill if you ride back downstream) and straighter, it doesn’t turn to dirt (so you can through-ride it), it’s not in National Forest so it’s a little more developed, and the scenery has less variety.  The Elk River canyon is narrower and steeper, and thus the river does more tumbling that the Smith does.  Overall, Elk River Rd is a more dramatic, more intense ride.

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Brice Creek Road

Distance: 52 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 6490 ft

Grade: A

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 is just the best of them.

Our route 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, 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.

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Quartzville Road

Distance:  44-mile out and back
Elevation gain:  4380 ft 

Grade: A

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).

There is very little to say about this simple, perfect ride.  It has no grand vistas, no exhilarating descents, no craggy monoliths—no breath-taking features of any kind.  It’s just 22 miles of lovely, pleasantly meandering, gently rising and falling two-lane road through the faery Western Oregon rain forest, then back.  It follows Quartzville Creek, which for 10 miles of our route is widened by Green Peter Dam into Green Peter Lake.  There is in fact 50 miles of Quartzville Road (or Drive on some maps), which is officially the Quartzville Road Back Country Byway (though I saw no evidence of this along the route), and runs from Sweet Home on Hwy 20 to its dead end at Hwy 22.  I’ve selected the miles I think have the best scenery, but feel free to ride them all.   There are no bad miles on this road.  I have a friend who thinks the miles after my route turns around are the best.

This is one of the easier rides in Bestrides.  The road is rarely flat, but the pitch is often so mellow you can’t be sure if you’re climbing or descending, and it’s never enough to make you break a sweat.  I have no idea where Mapmyride gets that 4300 ft elevation figure, but it’s not on the road, I assure you.  I recorded 2370 ft of gain in 45 miles, which is a stroll.

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McKenzie Pass

Distance: 44 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 4100 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

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).

This ride is the greatest climb and descent in Oregon.  ‘Nuff said.  And in addition, you get class-A Oregon forest and an enormous lava “moonscape” you’ll never forget.

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Siletz Bay to Newport Inland

Distance:  37 miles one way
Elevation gain: 2400 ft 

Grade: B

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

You can ride from Siletz Bay to Newport along the coast, and it’s nice, but it is Hwy 101 (busy), so I prefer this inland route.  It’s never high drama—it’s easy riding through lovely, unpopulated riparian woods and the road contour is utterly charming, constantly weaving and rising and dipping gracefully.  This is what a road ride would be like if Disneyland built one.  In addition to a lot of pretty woods, you get one very small village (Siletz), the outskirts of one mill town (Toledo), a flat ride along a classic Oregon coastal river, the pleasure of watching Newport, your final distination, grow on the horizon, and a final landing in Newport’s Old Wharf district.

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Three Capes Ride

Distance:  38 miles one way
Elevation gain: 2900 ft 

Grade: A

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

The Oregon coast is a legendary destination for touring cyclists, and it’s certainly leaps and bounds better than California’s coast—fewer cars, kinder motorists, far more towns for R and R and refueling, and only slightly less spectacular scenery.  But I’m not nuts about it.  Notice I only have two rides that explore it, and the other (Gold Beach Century) does it as much out of necessity as out of choice.  Perhaps it’s because I did my north coastal riding on the July 4th holiday, and the place was a zoo.  This is the best ride on the Oregon coast and is well worth doing, in large part because here Hwy 101 goes inland and the coastal riding is on smaller secondary roads.  The rewards keep on coming—four charming coastal towns, grand bays, miles of deserted beaches, grand ocean vistas, and one easy but delightful hike.

A word of warning:  the map and the elevation profile below are accurate as far as they go, but they fail to cover the entire ride—see below for an explanation.

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