Distance: 21 miles out and back
Elevation gain:3860 ft
This is a pure climb—10 miles up, 10 miles down—whose prime virtue is the spectacular view of the Willamette Valley at the top. The climbing is mostly moderate and steady, and the descent is fast and tons of fun without white-knuckle thrills, so it’s a great ride if you’re timid about descending at speed but want to give it a try. The first 8 miles are in that gorgeous west Oregon forest I love.
It’s a lot like the McKenzie Pass ride, so how do they compare? McKenzie is longer, the forest is lusher, the view at the top of McKenzie is level moonscape whereas the view at the top of Marys is valley far beneath you, Marys has less traffic, the McKenzie descent is windier, better banked, and more thrilling. McKenzie is one of the best rides in the world, whereas MPR is merely excellent.
Since a large part of the appeal here is the vista from the summit, try to do the ride on a day with clear weather or high cloud cover only.
This road is favored by sports cars playing race car on weekends. There’s plenty of room, so they won’t endanger you. Riding on a weekday should cut down on the sports cars but may just trade one irritant for another—on my Saturday ride there were no trucks but signs of active logging (in August, 2019). As I say, there is room.
There is a serious question about where to start this ride. If you ride from Philomath (fuh LO muth) on Hwy 34, the scenery is excellent and the two miles before the Alsea Mountain Summit, where Marys Peak Rd starts, are fabulous—challenging, steep esses through forest prettier than MPR itself. The only drawback is traffic—Hwy 34 can be very busy, there is no shoulder, there are no sight lines, and there is no room for you at all. Unless you can catch the road at a time of slack traffic, it’s unpleasant and dangerous. Without cars, it’s a dream, especially descending. When I was there, on a summer Saturday, at noon the road was constant cars; at 5:30 it was deserted. It’s your call. Because I can’t guarantee your safety, I’ve mapped the ride from Alsea Mt. Summit. I wouldn’t ride up to Alsea Mt. Summit from the south side—it’s a pedestrian slog.
Park at the beginning of Marys (no apostrophe) Peak Road. There is a nice paved parking area. You get a half mile of mild climbing before the work starts, but if you need more warm-up you’ll have to ride back and forth on Hwy 34 around the summit and on the first half mile of Marys, because everything else is steeply up and down.
Soon the road tips up, and it stays fairly steep for the next 2.5 miles—around 8%. It’s just across the line between fun and work, and it’s the steepest leg of the ride. When you reach an unexpected mile of quick descending, the hard work is over and it’s moderate to the summit. The pitch is unvaried and the road surface is a bit chattery throughout—not broken surface or chip seal, just cheap road building. Enough to reward bigger tires or lower tire pressure.
As you ascend, appreciate how the microclimate keeps changing. You move through belts of madrone, alder, fireweed, foxglove, and, near the top, a big, imposing pine we don’t see in California.
Around 8 miles in the forest starts to thin out. You pass through a small saddle and get the first panoramic vista, a stunning view of the land to the south (on your R—see photo below). Don’t assume it will get better, because this is the only view to the south you will get on the ride. The view from the end of the road looks east.
Continue to the top, which is a parking lot with picnic tables, outhouses, and hiking trailheads. The view to the east is one of the grandest in my experience. You can see 50 miles or more. It’s on a par with the grandest vistas in Bestrides: Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. Constitution (in the Washington section of Rides by Region), and the Golden Gate Bridge ride. To the south of the parking lot is a small hill blocking your view to the south, so to see the entire panorama you’ll have to do a little hike, easy if you’ve brought walking shoes and a bike lock.
The descent is fast, bendy, and fun without ever being scary or technical. You’ll do little braking, even though you’ll be doing 30+ mph much of the time, because the pitch is never extreme and the curves are big and gentle, and the road is roomy enough that traffic is never a concern. In short, a piece of cake. The chattery road surface is the only slight damper on your pleasure.
Shortening the route: Since the goal here is the vista from the summit, start as far up the road as will allow you to get to the top.
Adding miles: As discussed in the ride description, Hwy 34, which goes by the foot of Marys Peak Road, is a long, dull ascent/descent on the south side and a marvelous but dangerously trafficky serpentine on the north side. A few miles to the south via 34 is the turn-around point of our Alpine to Alsea ride. The Corvallis area offers endless PPO riding (Perfectly Pleasant Oregon) among the farms and ranches along the edge of the Willamette Valley.