(A Best of the Best ride)
Distance: 97-mile figure-eight
Elevation gain: 9500 ft
When was the last time you rode 100 miles and almost every mile was choice? Here’s your chance. I learned this route when it was an annual organized century ride. It’s two loops connected by a stretch of Hwy 101, and it offers a remarkable variety of riding conditions: rollers along one of the most scenic stretches of coastline in the world, two substantial climbs, one wonderful descent, a ride along a ridge with ocean views, mellow riding along the Rogue River, and a charming, easy meander through meadows and forests. The northern loop is flat and pretty, the southern loop is up-and-down and dramatic. There’s a fair amount of elevation gain, but in the entire 100 miles there is not one foot that is steep—in fact I find Mapmyride’s elevation total incomprehensible. The ride starts and ends in Gold Beach, a low-key, relatively untouristy Oregon beach town.
There’s a lot of navigation on this route, so have some means of knowing where you are and where you’re going. Ride out of Gold Beach south on Hwy 101. In California the west coast highway is something to be avoided whenever possible, but Oregon’s Hwy 101 is a mellower, more peaceful thing, and Gold Beach is a long way from anywhere (as you know from trying to get there), so it’s as good as coastal riding gets. Which means, I still hate it—huge trucks whizzing past you inches from your body, a shoulder that tends to disappear precisely when you need it most, glass and cat tread tracks on the shoulder when there’s a shoulder, and constant big rollers, ruler straight and dead boring.
But the turn-outs, vista points, and beaches are without peer, and they seem to come every 1/4 mile on this leg. I recommend you stop at all of them. The last 11 miles of this stretch of coast is called the Samuel Boardman Scenic Corridor, and they aren’t kidding when they say “scenic.” My favorite beach is Meyers Creek Beach (the beach is perfect, and the hike from the road to the beach is about 3 feet), just before the better-known Pistol River Beach, where you can watch surfers and kite-boarders do their thing. The much-hyped Cape Sebastian is actually just a vista point where the views of the coastline are surprisingly poor (walking down the trail gets you a better view). Much better views are at Arch Rock further along.
Just south of Gold Beach you do a 2-mile climb, then a 2-mile descent on Hwy 101. If 2-mile descents on shoulders amid busy traffic aren’t your thing, modify our route by taking Myers Creek Rd. (clearly marked to the L, opposite the Cape Sebastian turn-off) and follow MCR to where it rejoins 101. It’s the opposite of 101—small, deserted, winding, and with a fairly rough road surface. MCR is on our return route, so you’ll do it as a climb later.
After 27 miles of 101, turn L onto Carpenterville Rd. and follow it east, then back north, then west until it ends at a stop sign. You start with a mellow climb away from the West Coast shoreline. The scenery starts out scruffy but gets prettier and prettier. After a half hour you hit a false summit, and the rest of the miles to “Carpenterville” (which is absolutely nothing) roll up and down, mostly up, along a ridge spine through very pretty woods with very nice vistas out to the ocean on your left (if the air is clear) and into interior valleys on your right. Finally you reach the real summit (someone has written “summit” on the roadway to dispel any doubts), whence begins a splendid descent back down to the coast, a long, effortless, glassy-surfaced slalom course you’ll dream about for years. 25-30 mph, and you’ll never touch your brakes. It’s been recently (as of 9/21) re-chipsealed, lord knows why since the surface was glass, but Oregon chipseal is much less obnoxious than California chipseal so it only drops the descent from spectacular down to excellent.
Traffic from your turn-off onto Carpenterville Rd. all the way back to where Myers Creek Rd. joins Hwy 101 should be next to nothing. The last time I rode Carpenterville, on a lovely September afternoon, from Pistol River to Carpenterville and back (14 miles) I saw one vehicle.
At the bottom of the Carpenterville descent you hit a stop sign (no signage), where you could go L and rejoin Hwy 101 for the ride back to Gold Beach, but don’t. Instead, go R (over the bridge) and ride around the tiny hamlet of Pistol River and up and down the hill until you hit a fork. An unsigned slight L again would take you back to Hwy 101. Don’t do it. Go R onto Cape View Rd. (signed). The “cape” in the road name is Cape Sebastian, which you see clearly far ahead of you and is your destination. This little stretch of road is a treasure. It’s flat, and it parallels Hwy 101 about 200 ft further up the sidehill, so you are constantly looking down on Hwy 101, with its frantic traffic, and the beaches and sea stacks along the coast. The perspective and solitude are just marvelous. Slow way down—it’s all over far too soon.
Cape View ends at a completely unsigned fork. Once again, the dominant L fork takes you back to Hwy 101, and once again we don’t want it. Go R onto Meyers Creek Rd. Here’s why: you need to get back up to the saddle on Hwy 101 by the Cape Sebastian vista point. It’s a big climb, and you can do it in two ways: slogging up a dead straight, unvaried 5% shoulder for what feels like an hour on Hwy 101, with traffic flashing past at 65 mph, or riding up the same 5% pitch on Meyers Creek Rd., which is quiet, beautiful, and with a deliciously varied contour. They both go to the same place. Easy choice. Take Meyers Creek. The imperfect road surface we talked about earlier is not an issue at 7 mph.
When MCR dead-ends at Hwy 101, take 101 back to Gold Beach. Ride through town and turn R onto Jerry’s Flat Road and head up the south side of the Rogue River. Note your mileage total, because you’re going to ride 10 miles of pleasant, easy rollers and then turn L on Lobster Creek Road, which is unsigned, and cross the river on Lobster Creek Bridge, which is invisible from JFR. The turn is completely non-descript, and the only signage you get is a road sign indicating directions to a campground, two trailheads, and a lookout.
If you’re adventurous there are two off-road hikes worth considering in the Lobster Creek Bridge area. First (the tough one), just before LCR you see a sign for the Frances Shrader Memorial Trail to the R. Take it and ride 2 very steep mostly-dirt miles to an easy, stunning one-mile walking loop through old-growth Port Orford Cedars and Douglas firs. Second (and much less daunting), just on the other side of the bridge is the steep 1/4-mile side road (sorta paved) to the Myrtle Tree Trail (well-marked), a walking trail to what used to be the largest Oregon Myrtle tree in the world until it fell down in 2018. Very pretty.
Back on our route, cross the bridge, take an immediate L at an unsigned fork, and ride back down the other side of the river on the wonderfully named North Fork Rogue River Road (unsigned), which turns out to be a really swell road, constantly up and down and back and forth, twistier and hillier than Jerry’s Flat Rd and with better views of the river. Turn R on Cedar Valley Drive (erroneously called Squaw Valley Rd. on some maps—it’s the road to Ophir). This is a really pretty if unspectacular meander through meadows, horse farms, and dry forest—totally pleasant, nearly flat, and constantly winding back and forth, just about what you want after riding all those more demanding miles.
Ride to where CVD dead-ends at Ophir Rd., and turn L on Ophir (don’t bother to go R to explore the “town” of Ophir—there’s nothing there). The rest of the route is fairly routine. Ride on Ophir along Hwy 101 until you see an opportunity to cross the highway and ride through Nesika Beach, merge onto 101 when you have to, get off at Old Coast Highway on your R and ride OCH until you’re forced to rejoin 101 to cross the Rogue River into Gold Beach.
Shortening the route: Pick the loop that’s to your taste, easy/pretty (northern) or hard/dramatic (southern). Even easier: ride the Carpenterville Loop. Easier still: if you aren’t keen on riding the coast (and I’m not), you can do a swell c. 40-miler by riding our route from Carpenterville to Gold Beach backwards: ride from Gold Beach to the Carpenterville summit, then turn around and ride it back to Gold Beach. Easiest of all: ride Jerry’s Flat Rd. and North Bank Rogue River Road as a loop—22 miles of gentle rollers and good river views.
Adding miles: From the Lobster Creek Bridge, Jerry’s Flat Road continues for a very pretty and less crowded 18 miles to the little hamlet of Agness. From Agness, if you’re up for a ride that’s the stuff of legend, you can take tiny, isolated Bear Camp Road for another 50 miles or so on to Galice (thus intersecting the Galice to Golden ride) and keep going until you get to Grant’s Pass 20 miles later, and you’ll have a tale you can tell your grandchildren.
Hunter Creek Road, which you pass just south of Gold Beach, is a sweet 5 miles of pavement before it turns to dirt.
Afterthoughts: a large part of the beauty of this ride is the views you get of the coast and ocean on the southern loop—from Highway 101, from high up on Carpenterville Rd., and from Cape View Rd. The Oregon coast, like any other stretch of northwestern coastline, is given to fog. For the full effect, try to ride on a day with clear skies.