Distance: 46-mile loop
Elevation gain: 5010 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 an approximate square. Each of the 4 sides is a different kind of riding. Three sides are great, and the fourth is a very pleasant warm-up. The four sides are 1) 7 miles of gentle shoulder riding through pleasant farmland, 2) 7 miles of uninterrupted climbing up a dramatic canyon, 3) a rambling, rolling saunter through rich forests, past meadows, and along lake shores, and finally 4) a breath-taking, supersonic 14-mile descent. You also get two resorts, one charming inn, one pretty lake, one semi-pretty lake, the likelihood of eagles, and (with a slight detour) a natural spring with awesome water (yes, water can be awesome). Dead Indian Road is actually only about a third of the ride, but it’s a much more energetic name than “Highway 66,” which is our other choice, so let’s go with that.
This may be the only ride in Bestrides where you have a choice between two routes, both excellent in different ways. There are two ways down from the summit, Dead Indian Road and Hwy 66 (the way you came up). It’s a question of what sort of descending you like. DIR is essentially straight, with you sitting on the bike and doing nothing at 40+ mph. 66 is constant smooth, effortless serpentining at 25-30 mph. I’ve mapped it to show you the long route, but I encourage you to ride it both ways.
(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.)
You can start anywhere on the loop, but I’m starting you at the intersection of Dead Indian Rd and Hwy 66 (Green Springs Highway), because you’ll get about 7 miles of gentle rollers to warm up on. Head south on Hwy 66. This is outskirts-of-town farm country, quite pretty to the eye, but the road is always busy and you’re on the shoulder, so it’s not great. It is, however, a lovely shoulder, wide and smooth.
Shortly after the Old Siskiyou Hwy turn-off, you dump almost all of the traffic and start to climb, and you climb without interruption for about 7 miles. The climb is always 5-7%, so you work but you don’t suffer (2200 ft in 7 miles), and the scenery is grand, open, and varied, and the road, while constant of pitch, is always serpentining and giving you different looks. It’s one of the prettiest roads I know, a series of curves as lovely as a Japanese ink drawing. If you look west across the valley after you gain some altitude you can clearly see Hwy 5 making its long descent into Ashland.
At the end of the climb you reach the obvious summit signed “Summit Green Springs Mountain,” and at the precise summit Old Hyatt Prairie Rd. takes off on your L. Don’t be tempted to take it, unless you want to ride a 10-mile dirt road that intersects our route later. The road we want is E. Hyatt Lake Rd., the next paved road to the L. about 3 miles further along. Finding it is made more complicated by the fact that some maps call our road “Hyatt Prairie Rd.,” which it later becomes, and the fact that our road has no road-name sign at the intersection. In fact there are no road-name signs between Hwy 66 and Dead Indian Rd., so you have to follow directional signs, following signs first to Hyatt Lake, then to Howard Prairie Lake, then to Dead Indian Road, through a couple of questionable intersections. Just keep along the western shore of both lakes.
Because the turn off Hwy 66 is sketchy, look for a large colorful sign reading “Hyatt—Howard Prairie Recreational Area” on the L and the unmissable Green Springs Inn on the R. Consider checking out the Inn. It’s quite a place (note the free re-supply depot for PCT hikers). The pies are legendary, and the cinnamon buns are the size of hubcaps.
Before you turn down E. Hyatt Lake Road, consider staying on Hwy 66 for another 1.5 miles and visiting Tub Springs, a tiny State Park consisting of three stone troughs with the best spring water in Oregon. People drive hundreds of miles to fill up the back of their station wagon with 5-gallon jugs of the stuff. The 1.5 miles returning are a tedious uphill slog, but the water is worth it.
The miles from Hwy 66 to Dead Indian Rd. are a lovely break from the drama that precedes and follows them—easy, sweet meandering through lush conifer forests and grassy meadows. You do 3 miles of very low-key climbing to Hyatt Reservoir, then ride along the reservoir’s edge, with constant pleasant views of the water, which is not the most beautiful lake in the world but is OK. Hyatt is reportedly a haven for bald eagles and ospreys, though I never see any—there’s a turn-out with informative plaques about the birds just past Hyatt Lake Resort. Then it’s on to Howard Prairie Lake, which you can only barely glimpse from the main road and which you could easily not know is there unless you take the 1/4-mile road to Howard Prairie Resort. Which I encourage you to do, because HPR has much to offer: splendid bathrooms (with soap and showers, in case you want to freshen up mid-ride), a developed marina, nice picnic tables overlooking the lake (much more scenic than Hyatt), and a snazzy glass-and-stone central building.
Soon after you clear Howard Prairie Lake you dead-end into Dead Indian Rd. and turn L. Thinking all the climbing is over, you quickly hit a 3.8-mile climb, a shallow, tedious grind to an obvious summit at the sno-park. If you know it’s coming, it’s merely a pain in the ass; if you don’t, it can be soul-crushing.
Now it’s all down. The descent down Dead Indian Rd. is spectacular, a masterpiece of wide-open, high-speed descending, with big sweeping curves that rarely force you to drop below 35-40, and it goes on and on until your hands are cramping and your neck is aching from being in the drops. It’s the best of that sort of descent I know. If you love fast descents, do this ride.
This route offers you three places to resupply: Green Springs Inn, Hyatt Lake Resort, and Howard Prairie Resort—IF you’re late enough in the season for them to be open. Many resorts in Oregon don’t really open until July. Call ahead. I think Green Springs is year-round. And of course there’s always water at Tub Springs.
Shortening the route: Ride to Green Springs Inn; ride back. Riding Dead Indian as an out-and-back is an option, but I consider the climb a mind-numbing slog.
Adding Miles: About 8 miles into our route you pass the start of our Old Siskiyou Highway ride.
Our route has you riding about half of Dead Indian Rd. You can turn R instead of L when you intersect it and ride the other half, up to Lake of the Woods, and turn around. Not that I’m recommending it.
You’re about a half hour by car from a good ride from the charming faux village of Jacksonville to Applegate Lake, detailed in Moore’s book. On this ride you can spend time on Applegate Road, Upper Applegate Road, and Little Applegate Road. I take pleasure in little things like this. You can take the direct route, which is flat, or the more challenging route up Sterling Creek Rd, which involves a moderate climb and long, almost Bestrides-worthy descent.
Afterthoughts: The weather at the top of this loop is much colder than at the bottom—expect at least a 10-degree drop—so take a layer more than you think you’ll need. I once did this ride during a cool spell in the middle of June. I dressed for summer, it was 48 degrees at the lakes, and I froze.
You’ll see riders doing this loop in reverse. I don’t know why anyone would want to do that. The pitch on the climb is about the same going either direction (c. 6%), but Highway 66 is by far the more interesting road profile and the better scenery, so that’s where I want to be doing the 6 mph stuff.