Distance: 22 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2660 ft
This ride is expertly covered in Jim Moore’s 75 Classic Rides Oregon (see the “Oregon” section in Rides by Region).
This is the only ride in Bestrides.org that isn’t primarily about the riding. Oh, the riding is fine—pleasant miles along a pretty river followed by a sweet climb through a pretty forest. But the jewel in the crown is Sweet Creek Trail and its many waterfalls. So bring walking shoes.
(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)
This is another ride where the Mapmyride elevation profile seems to have lost its mind. I remember a nearly flat leg along the river, then a fairly steady, moderate climb along the creek. Moore’s profile backs me up.
Begin in the tiny town of Mapleton, which is a short row of shops at the intersection of Highways 126 and 36. Ride up Hwy 126 a stone’s throw and turn R onto Sweet Creek Road. Ride the aforesaid pleasant 4.5 miles along the Siuslaw River. This isn’t wilderness—the river is dotted with fairly elaborate vacation homes. Turn L onto what appears to be a new road but is in fact the continuation of Sweet Creek Rd., and leave all signs of civilization behind. Ride to the end of the pavement, climbing steadily through standard Oregon woods. Turn around and ride back. The road surface coarsens near the turn-around point, so the first stretch of the descent is jarring. The rest of the descent is smooth.
But before you ride back: you’ve really come to hike the short, spectacularly beautiful stretch of Sweet Creek along the last leg of the ride. This is one of the sweetest little hikes I’ve ever done. In thirty minutes of easy walking you’ll walk past several falls and cascades of peerless beauty. Take your camera. If you really hate hiking on a ride (and I do), the first 1/4 mile of trail will yield some of the trail’s best views.
Moore’s instructions for finding the trailhead left me confused. There are in fact three trailheads along the creek: in the order in which you’ll encounter them, they’re Homestead, Sweet Creek Falls, and Wagon Road, all signed. You want the first one, because you want to encounter the falls walking upstream. Hike until the trail turns L, climbs, and leaves the creek at an impassible falls, then hike back. If you start at Sweet Water Falls TH and hike upstream, you’ll miss the prettiest water. Here’s a map to guide you.
When you get back to your car, don’t leave without checking out Mapleton. It’s my favorite teeny town in Oregon. It has about six shops, and many are worth a visit. All Mapletonians seem delighted you’re there. The general store is a classic—it has one of everything, and sells real food and ice cream. A few doors down is a store specializing in vinyl records (remember them?) from the 60’s and 70’s, and the memorabilia that goes with them. Talking to the owner may well be the high point of your ride.
Shortening the ride: You really can’t. You could skip the flat miles along the river, but you wouldn’t be saving any work.
Adding miles: If you’re up for riding dirt, you can keep riding up Sweet Creek Road and after many miles come out on the Smith River at a point midway through our Gardiner to Eugene ride (I think there’s even a mileage marker that says Reedsport X miles ahead before our turn-around point), and I’m sure it would be a great adventure. I haven’t done it.
Highway 36 north of Mapleton looked nice, though I didn’t ride it, and it goes nowhere in particular so it shouldn’t be trafficky.
Moore begins his route with 14 miles of riding on Hwy 126, from Florence to Mapleton. I wouldn’t ride this road on a bet. It’s classic flat, high-traffic, high-speed highway. To cap it off, if you begin in Florence you’ll end the ride with 14 miles of riding back to Florence into the teeth of a strong headwind if weather conditions are normal.