Distance: 29-mile loop
Elevation gain: 2670 ft
This ride may not be for everyone. It’s a rough and tough little loop with one hard climb, pavement that is consistently poor, a descent so steep you have to brake constantly, and 15 miles of shoulder riding. It’s more work than the elevation numbers suggest, because most of the 2670 ft of gain is in one 3-mile climb, and the lone descent is so jarring that it beats you up. Still, it has its merits. The back road half is often beautifully wooded, the isolation is remarkable (on my last ride, a lovely midday in August, I saw one human being of any sort from the beginning of Shotgun Creek Road to Brush Creek Road), and even the shoulder riding is through lovely scenery. At points the road is so narrow and the solitude so extreme that you’re as close to trail hiking as you can get on a road bike. So it’s a ride where it’s less about the riding and more about being in this extraordinary place. It’s a good ride for a gravel bike, because the fat tires will smooth out the road surface and the disc brakes will make the descent less stressful.
Navigation is in one sense easy, because there are few ways to go wrong, but in another sense challenging because there’s no cell service (so no Googlemaps) and several unmarked forks, and many of the roads are unnamed or confusingly named on maps. So I’m going to be particularly specific about directions. Of all the maps I’ve seen, RidewithGPS is by far the clearest as to road names, and I’ll be referring to it in my ride directions.
The Shotgun Creek area is a hotbed of OHV recreation. You’ll see signs and staging areas from the beginning of Shotgun Creek Rd. all the way to the Seely Creek Rd. summit, including signs reading “Watch for OHV traffic on the road.” I have done this ride twice and never seen an OHV, perhaps because the area is closed to OHV’s during times of high fire danger. If you’re doing this ride any time but late summer, I’d find out if the OHV’s are active first. There’s a ranger station in Marcola that can tell you.
I continue to wonder if the ride would be better in the other direction. RidewithGPS says the big climb is even steeper this way, but there would be two benefits: you’d be experiencing the best of the woods at a slower speed, so you could appreciate them more; and you’d have the swimming hole at the Rec Area nearly at the end of the ride, when you could use it.
Park in the small village of Marcola, your one and only place to provision on the ride. This gives you about 5 miles of nearly flat riding before the road turns up. There is a nice parking lot at the Marcola Community Market, visible from the main road. There is almost nowhere to park between Marcola and Shotgun Creek Rd. because Marcola Rd. is on a levee with a drop-off on both sides. You can park at the Shotgun Creek Rd. turn-off if you’re trying to minimize miles.
Ride north on Marcola Rd., a manicured and fairly busy two-lane road with typically charming Oregon farm-country scenery—what I call PPO (Perfectly Pleasant Oregon) riding. Check out the Earnest covered bridge, on your immediate R on wonderfully named Paschelke Rd (the bridge is misspelled and mislocated on the Lane County Bicycle Map).
In 3 miles, turn L on clearly marked Shotgun Creek Rd. Along with the road sign there’s a huge billboard advertising BLM’s Shotgun Creek Recreational Site, which we’ll encounter shortly. That’s the last road sign you will see on the ride until Brush Creek Rd, but you get other kinds of help. You are going to encounter three forks. Keep R at all of them. The first fork is at 1 mile down SCR, at Mile 4.1 on the route, and is unsigned, but there is a billboard map of the area’s OHV rail system there, and it clearly marks your location and identifies the first two forks as Dollar Rd. and Crooked Creek Road but it doesn’t map fork #3.
Between Fork #1 and Fork #2 you pass the afore-mentioned Shotgun Creek Recreational Site, a surprisingly developed complex with campgrounds, changing rooms, a swimming area, a creekside trail, and user fees. It would be a nice place to swim if you were doing the ride counter-clockwise.
The second fork comes around Mile 6. It’s unsigned, but signs identify the Crooked Creek Staging Area, which is a hint. The third fork is .2 miles later and is unsigned, period. It’s a fork between Shotgun Creek Rd. to the L and Seely (or Seeley—different maps spell it different ways) Creek Rd. to the R. SCR is clearly the dominant road, but don’t take it anyway. Go R, onto much smaller Seely Creek Rd. Once you make that R, your options are over—just stay on the only pavement until it dead-ends at Brush Creek Rd. at Mile 16. You should be alone until then. Somewhere along there Seely Creek Rd. changes its name to Horse Rock Ridge Rd., but you won’t care because it’s all unsigned.
Back to the turn off Marcola Rd onto Shotgun Creek Rd.: SCR is at first flat, then a very easy pitch along Shotgun Creek. Enjoy these riparian miles—they’re the second-best part of the ride. The woods are lovely, draped in magnificent moss.
The pitch continues to steepen to about 5% until an obvious spot where the road tips up. The next mile is bloody (10-13%). When you pass the gravel pit on the L, the steep stuff is over, and it’s nearly 2 miles of a more reasonable 4-5% to the summit. Right after the pit, watch for a couple of oh-so-brief glimpses of the vista on your right through the brush that’s blocking your view.
The road continues to get narrower and narrower until it’s little more than a track. After the obvious summit, drop 4 miles down to W. Brush Creek Rd. This descent, as mentioned, is straight, steep, jarring, and often wet, so it’s something I survive rather than enjoy. At first the surrounding woods are fairly tame, because you’re too high and it’s too dry, but after a mile or so the ecology gets wetter (there’s a strip of flourishing moss running down the center of the road),the ground cover fills in, and the forest around you turns to something special. This is why you’ve come, why you did that climb. It’s Fanghorn—huge, ancient trees dripping with moss. The silence and solitude add to the atmo. I love it. There are other Bestrides rides with wonderful Oregonian woods, but none where the road is so minimal, where you’re so engulfed. Don’t hurry through these miles. You might even (heaven forbid!) stop, walk fifty feet into the woods, and sit there for a minute or two.
At around Mile 14 the descent bottoms out, you see a couple of houses, and the road swings L and onto W. Brush Creek Rd., which feels like a freeway after Seely Creek Rd: two lanes, shoulders, center-line, road signs. WBCR dead-ends at Brush Creek Rd., an even bigger and more manicured two-lane highway that is surprisingly trafficky given that it goes from Springfield to Crawfordsville.
Turn R on Brush Creek Rd and ride 15 miles of shoulder back to Marcola. It’s about as good as shoulder riding gets. The shoulder itself is usually wide enough and glassy, and the scenery is mostly dense, pretty woods, with little sign of human habitation except dirt driveways. You begin with a 4-mile climb that begins around 2% and gradually intensifies to 5%, then a similar descent down the back side. Somewhere in there (probably at the summit/county line), the road changes its name to Marcola Rd. It’s all downhill back to your car. As you approach Marcola, you can give yourself a sweet respite from Marcola Rd. by going L on Paschelke, through the Earnest covered bridge, then R on Wendling, which ends in Marcola. I didn’t map it that way, but I recommend it.
Shortening the route: Start at the Marcola Rd/Shotgun Creek Rd. intersection. For an effortless ride, turn around when Seely Creek Rd. goes from 5% to 12%.
Adding miles: Shotgun Creek Rd. is in the midst of almost limitless PPO riding. You can ride Brush Creek Rd. north to Crawfordsville, take Courtney Creek Rd. west to Brownsville, then take Northern Dr. back to Crawfordsville. Every back road near Marcola is worth riding: Paschelke, Wendling, Old Mohawk, Sunderman, Hill (only slightly hilly despite the name), McKenzie View, and Camp Creek Rd. Any of it could be in Bestrides if it wasn’t in Oregon, where there’s just too much of this sweet stuff.