Distance:38 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1200 ft
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 downhill thrill 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. Ignore mapmyride’s elevation profile, which looks like a rip saw, and elevation total of 4800+ ft, which is insane. You will gain 800 ft on the ride in, for an average climbing rate of about 45 ft per mile. Towards the end there are a few short 4-5% pitches. In other words, no 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 the ride in hugging the L side of the road, 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.
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 also turns to dirt.