Distance: 55 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2650 ft
The land surrounding the Marble Mountains Wilderness Area may be the richest cycling region on the West Coast. Almost every small road is pretty, interesting, mostly car-free, well-paved, not killer steep, and paved, at least in the main. Loops are easy to construct. The only drawback is there aren’t many communities up there, so you have to plan overnight stops carefully, unless you’re self-supporting. The area is represented in Bestrides by two rides, Forks of Salmon and this one, but they’re the tip of a very rich iceberg—see Adding Miles to see the big picture.
This ride is representative of the area: smooth-surfaced, lightly trafficked, very pretty, and surprisingly easy. It’s one of the easiest 55-mile rides I know. It accompanies the Scott River for its entire length, so it’s gently downhill going out and gently uphill returning, but the difference is negligible—I rode out the 40-mile version (see below) in 2 hrs and back in 1.5 hrs. The only noticeable hill is the last mile or so descending into Scott Bar, our turn-around spot, so if you’re really into mellow you can skip that, leaving you with nothing but constant gentle rollers, just enough to vary the riding experience without ever making it laborious or tedious. You climb 2650 ft in 55 miles, which is less than half our sport’s norm for a climbing ride (100 ft per mile). You could almost leave the granny gear at home.
Begin in the town of Fort Jones, a pleasant little burg with several simple but worthwhile places to eat. Ride out on Scott River Rd. through Scott Valley, a typical hay-farming region. The road is mostly straight and flat, but it’s a pretty agricultural area, and if you aren’t familiar with Oregon-style hay farming you’ll marvel at the giant walking sprinkler systems. The Marble Mountains serve as backdrop. But honestly it’s just as interesting from a car seat, so if you want to drive to the start of the good riding, drive 7 mi. to the intersection of Scott River Rd and Quartz Valley Rd and start there. There’s a perfect dirt turn-out for parking.
Immediately after Quartz Valley Rd the river canyon begins, at first broad and almost unnoticeable, with the river hardly moving, but soon the canyon deepens and narrows and the water comes to life. For several miles, you’re riding on the very lip of the river, with constant fine views of boulder-strewn rapids and deep pools perfect for swimming. This is my favorite leg of the route.
All too soon the road leaves the river and climbs gently until the river is far below you, then drops back down to rejoin the river at Scott Bar, a community of a few houses, a post office, a ranger station, and an interesting historical marker 100 ft past the town proper—don’t turn around without checking it out. Ride back to your car, marveling at how little work you’re doing despite the fact that the river is constantly climbing alongside you.
This road is no one’s principal driving route. The only significant community along it is Happy Camp, and Happy Campers when they want to go to the big city drive south on Hwy 3 to get to Arcata/Eureka. I did the ride on a lovely Friday morning in August and saw 14 cars (once out of the busy Scott Valley). Why the county keeps the road’s surface in such pristine condition I don’t know. I saw deer, turkeys, herons, and a fox.
Shortening the route: Skip the first 7 miles, as discussed. Then, turn around any time—the miles are pretty equally rewarding.
Adding miles: As I said in the beginning, the cycling riches nearby are extensive. If you like riding in pretty valleys, you can take Quartz Valley Rd south and wander around until you get to Etna. You can continue on Scott Valley Rd to Happy Camp. From there you can ride northwest on Greyback Rd into Oregon and eventually to Cave Junction, or you can take the afore-mentioned Hwy 3 south and ride to Arcata, or branch off Hwy 3 to Forks of Salmon and pick up either half of our Forks of Salmon ride to either Etna or Callahan. Just past Scott Bar you meet Hwy 96, and you can ride it east along the Klamath River all the way to Hwy 5. It’s 32 miles of pleasant but not grand riding amidst rather stark terrain, slightly uphill all the way. I’d call it the least exciting of the roads discussed here, the most developed, the biggest, the busiest, and the easiest. From Seiad Valley you can ride Seiad Creek Road, reported to be an excellent ride until it turns to dirt.
There is a very big, multi-day loop that consists of Etna to Scott River Rd, SCR to Hwy 96, 96 west and south to our Salmon River Rd ride to the leg of our Forks of Salmon ride from Forks of Salmon back to Etna. Obviously, much of the route is prime, since it encompasses three of Bestrides’ routes. But the long leg on Hwy 96, while generally pleasantly scenic, is not great riding—shoulder riding on a big, wide highway with much traffic and car-friendly profile (straight, with long unchanging pitches). It’s a good route for a touring mentality, but not for Bestrides.
Afterthoughts: The Marble Mountains seem to burn every summer. Check smoke conditions before planning a trip to the area.