Distance: 61 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2000-3000 ft (see below)
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 passes through three very different ecosystems, all rewarding. The first stretch, from Indian Mary County Park to the Rogue River bridge, is through the Rogue River Canyon, which by the end leaves you clinging to the face of a steep rocky canyon wall. Very dramatic, very nice. Lower Graves Creek Rd/Wolf Creek Road, the second leg, is up and down and back and forth, narrower, tighter, through riparian woods and almost car-free. The third leg takes you on a classic “family” ride through sun-lit forests to the interesting ghost town of Golden.
(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.)
Two-thirds of this ride (everything except Lower Graves Creek Rd/Wolf Creek Road) is might-as-well-be-flat. Mapmyride’s elevation total, 5048 ft, is seriously out of whack. Moore lists total vert as 3127 ft. My computer recorded 2700 ft., which is practically nothing for a 60-mile ride.
The route actually begins in Mary County Park, a short ride before Galice, but I liked the “G to G” alliteration. Ride west on Galice Rd., with the Rogue River, one of my favorite rivers on the planet, continuously on your R. In the beginning the ride is no more than very pleasant. The canyon starts out wide and developed, with plenty of resorts and vacation homes, and then passes through the community of Galice (rhymes with police, not malice), which is little more than a convenience-and-T-shirt store, a resort with cabins, and a large river rafting operation. This is Oregon river rafting central, so if you’re there on a summer weekend the place is a bit of a madhouse, but you will soon leave it behind. A mile out of town the buildings stop, the canyon steepens, and the views (of the river below you and the rock wall above) get better and better, until the road unmissably crosses the river on a bridge and the road immediately forks. These first miles are essentially flat, even though you’re riding down-river. You’ll share the road with river recreators and rafting companies, but there’s plenty of room and it’s easy to get up earlier than they do. Most of this leg has an immaculate road surface but unfortunately it’s a moderate chip-seal, nothing like California’s godawful prickly pear but rough enough to jack up the rolling resistance a tad.
At the fork, go R onto Lower Graves Creek Rd, which turns into Lower Wolf Creek Rd and takes you to the town of Wolf Creek (in 15 miles). Everything is suddenly different. The traffic disappears (on a partial ride of the route I saw 2 cars in 20 miles), the road surface is now potluck (everything from glass to chip-seal to patches, from one-lane to wide two-lane with a center line), the atmosphere is wooded and shady, and the road is constantly serpentining, climbing, descending, never straight and never the same for more than 50 yards. It’s a joyous contour, road riding at its best. The woods here are not Oregon’s famous redwood forest primeval—it’s drier and scrubbier than that, so it’s not a ride I do to look at the trees, but it’s still pretty.
You will do some work. Googlemaps says it’s 1500 ft gain in 15 miles, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but none of it is flat and I guarantee you’ll feel every one of those 1500. The pain never lasts long.
You’re following Wolf Creek beside you or below you. It’s upstream in this direction, so two-thirds of the elevation change is up, which is a strong argument for doing this ride as an out-and-back (see Shortening the Route below), because the descents on the return ride are top-notch, yee-ha-worthy.
Wolf Creek is tiny but worth a stop. There’s a classic general store and a wonderful old inn with lots of history and a welcoming attitude toward droppers-by. It was a stop-over for outdoorsy celebrity types, so there are lots of memorabilia related to famous guests like Clark Gable and Jack London. Ask about the faked John Wayne photo.
You might be tempted to skip the few miles between Wolf Creek and the ghost town of Golden, but it’s a lovely stretch of easy, ideal riding through classic sunlit (if the sun is out) woods, and Golden itself is of interest. Head south out of town on Old Highway 99 (the obvious main street) briefly, take the L that takes you under modern Highway 99, go R immediately on the other side of the underpass onto Coyote Creek Rd, and follow CCR to Golden.
Don’t expect something on the level of Bodie, CA. There’s not much to Golden. It’s only a sweet little church, two or three other unprepossessing shacks closed to visitors, and a few historical placards. Still, it was interesting enough that I drove back on a later date to show it to my wife. The church is still used for weddings and such. I was lucky enough to arrive when a family was decorating the church for an approaching wedding, and I’m sure that added to my fondness for the place.
The return ride is easy. Wolf Creek/Lower Graves is still up and down, but it’s downstream in this direction so the bulk of the elevation change is down and the road becomes a super-fun roller coaster in several places. From the Rogue River bridge back to your car is upstream but imperceptibly so—you’ll do no significant work.
Shortening the route: There is no best leg of this ride. The leg to the bridge is dramatic canyon; the leg to Wolf Creek is pretty woods and serpentining road contour; the leg to Golden is easy, sun-struck woods. Pick a favorite. I’d go with Wolf Creek, out and back—30 miles. But that’s me.
Adding miles: The miles from Merlin to our start at Indian Mary County Park are very pleasant, domesticated Rogue Valley riding. Bear Camp Rd. (which takes off to the L shortly after our ride begins) to the ocean is a famous bucket-list epic (long, remote, rough, lots of climbing, lots of gravel sections) and only to be undertaken by the adventuresome and well-prepared. Wikipedia, in its article on Bear Camp Rd., lists names of people who have died on it.
Our Tour de Fronds ride is on the next east-west road to the north.