Distance: c. 45 miles out and back
Elevation gain: c. 2830 ft
This is another ride leaving Hwy 101 and following an Oregon river upstream. It’s different from our others (Gardiner to Eugene, Elk River Road) because the North Fork of the Siuslaw River is big, and the land around it is that wide, open flat marsh/meadow unique to big Oregon river mouths. So for the first half of the ride you aren’t in forest or canopy—you’re in full sun, with trees on your L and the marsh/meadow on your R. After 12 miles, you leave the river and the ride becomes conventional, lovely western coastal Oregon forest. Like our other Oregon coastal river routes, it’s an easy ride—in the first 12 miles you’ll climb 350 ft. Not a life-changing ride but a very pleasant, charming day on the bike.
By the way, Bestrides has another ride on the same river, but way upstream on another fork: the Siuslaw River Road ride.
Park at the intersection of Hwy 126 and North Fork Siuslaw (pronounced “sigh-OO-slaw”) Rd, which is called just “North Fork Road” in Googlemaps and on the sign here, though you’ll see the full name on a street sign in a mile or so and locals seem to use the long name. There is a dirt turn-out a stone’s throw down NFSR. Ride to some point or other, then turn around. We’ll discuss options later.
As I said, for the first 12 miles the terrain is open river meadow—at first very wide and flat, with a lot of water, then gradually narrowing and becoming a bit drier and more rolly, as the terrain changes from marsh to hay farming meadow to cow/horse ranch. Stop at Bender Landing County Park, a few miles in, for the only close-up view of the river you’ll ever get (very pretty), or if you forgot to go to the bathroom.
One perk on this ride is blackberry vines. On my ride in early August they were just coming ripe. Look at milepost 5 and just before milepost 11—if they aren’t ripe there, they aren’t ripe anywhere on the route.
At mile 12 you get to Minerva, which is an intersection and a house (not even a “Minerva” sign). North Fork Siuslaw goes off to the R (signed), and I think turns to dirt. Anyway, we’re going straight, onto Upper North Fork Rd (according to the sign), or 5084, called “Upper North Fork Sius Rd” on mapmyride.
Immediately the ride changes. The road is smaller, a little steeper, and a lot less trafficked (I saw 2 cars in 16 miles). You’re now following a creek that is a mere trickle (you won’t notice it), and you’re back in the Oregon Coastal Forest, as gorgeous as ever.
When to turn around? There is no obvious right answer. You don’t have to turn around at all—at about 18 miles in, the road changes its number from 5084 to 5082 and its name from Upper NFR to Big Creek Rd (oddly, all this is clearly signed at the change-over), and you can ride Big Creek out to Hwy 101 and take the highway back to Florence, Hwy 126, and your car. Or, you can ride to the summit (which is the way I’ve mapped it), if you like summitting. If you choose this option, note that almost all the elevation gain in the route is in the couple of miles before the summit (it’s still only c. 5%). Or, you can turn around at about mile 17, where there’s a distinct falling off in the scenic beauty—there are two signs reading “Narrow winding road 2 1/2 miles,” 2.5 miles apart, and the fall-off is around the second of the two.
The ride back may or may no be effortless. The prevailing breeze on the Oregon coast in the afternoon is on-shore, so expect a headwind all the way home from Minerva.
Shortening the route: Turn around whenever you want. The ride gets steeper and more wooded as you go.
Adding miles: The only good riding nearby that I know of is our Sweet Creek ride, a few miles down Hwy 162, but I don’t recommend riding to there because Hwy 162 is classic hectic big-road shoulder riding, with a headwind coming back to boot. A drive to the north, Yachats (“yuh-HOTS”) River Road is a short, mellow ride through a pretty, manicured landscape until its road surface turns ugly and the pitch gets very steep—you’ll know when. A drive to the south is our Gardiner to Eugene ride.