Distance:38 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1790 ft
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.
Begin at the intersection of Hwy 101 and Elk Creek Road and ride east until ECR Y’s into NF 5325 and NF 5201, which both immediately turn to dirt (there’s a small sign with the road numbers before the Y); turn around and ride back. The road is a consistent 1-2% pitch. Mapmyride’s elevation gain is nuts. RidewithGPS says you gain 975 ft on the ride out, for an average climbing rate of about 50 ft per mile. Towards the end there are a few short 4-5% pitches. In other words, no hard work at all, but just enough pitch to let you do stretches of the return ride at 18-20 mph. The road surface is consistently good—there are a few major cracks, but they’re all longitudinal so you ride alongside them rather than over them.
At first the landscape is wide, flat river-mouth valley with houses, but after the Fish Hatchery you enter the canyon, the “river” (really a small creek) gets wilder, the houses disappear, the traffic lessens, and the road serpentines more. It’s like this to the end. The woods are dense so you glimpse the river in fragments, but it’s always right on your L shoulder. I spent much of my time hugging the L side of the road on the ride in, the better to see the water. The scenery is surprisingly varied: maples, alders, conifers, bare rock walls, mossy rock walls, ferny rock walls, boulder-strewn cascades, wide, open pools. If you’re there in August or after, there are wild berries along the road—delicious. I found my surroundings so consuming that I ghost-pedaled much of the ride at 10 mph, just to take it all in.
I suggest you do your river-watching, berry eating, scenery-gawking, and photo-taking on the ride in, because the return ride is just brisk enough that you’ll want to attend to your cycling.
Adding Miles: The ride to Cape Blanco lighthouse, just north and on the west side of Hwy 101, is well worth riding though of a totally different character. Also just north but on the east side of the highway is Sixes River Rd, which parallels Elk River Rd and thus gives you very similar topography. It too turns to dirt.
I did this ride yesterday – 3/26/21 – and it was all I hoped for and more. I was concerned that there would be logging trucks as I rode on a weekday. There were none. I marveled at one turquoise blue pool after another, struggling to decide which vista to take a picture of. It was a sublimely beautiful ride. Since I was on my gravel bike, I rode five additional miles past the pavement (800′ of vertical gain total), but the dirt section wasn’t nearly as pretty as the tarmac.
I rode this 8/3/21 and absolutely loved it. It’s an incredibly scenic route with very little traffic and a decent road surface. As Jay suggested, I deliberately rode at a casual pace just to take everything in. I really didn’t want it to end.
Another way to add a few miles is to start at Port Orford—plenty of easy parking.