Tour de Fronds

Distance: 75 miles one way
Elevation gain: 4311 ft

This is one of the Oregon rides that is expertly covered in Jim Moore’s 75 Classic Rides Oregon (see the “Oregon” section in Rides by Region).

A Best of the Best ride

The corner of Oregon that’s a loose rectangle with Grants Pass, Brookings, Florence, and Eugene at the corners is a magical place.  The woods are lush, dense, and virginal, like something out of Green Mansions, the roads are narrow and deserted, and you can ride for miles without seeing a human, a house, a fence, or a road sign. There’s endless great riding to be done here.

A great route through the heart of it is the ride from Glendale to Powers. It’s logistically daunting, because it starts in a very small town and ends in a smaller one in the precise middle of nowhere—later I’ll discuss ways of avoiding the problem.  It used to be run as an organized ride called the Tour de Fronds (one of the great century names—say it out loud), but the Tour route has changed (see details in Adding Miles).

I don’t think I’ve ever been so isolated on a road bike as on this ride.  The first time I rode it, in the first 50 miles I saw two vehicles, three humans, and one (unhelpful) road sign.  It’s less deserted and less unmarked now, but still, bring a good map and a compass, and bring everything you might need, because it might be hours before a car comes by.  There’s a Forest Service ranger station in Powers that will sell you an excellent map of the area for $10, if you’re riding from that end.

Even with the relative lack of signage along the route, it’s hard to get lost because there are so few roads out there.  In fact, in these 75 miles you have to negotiate exactly four turns (or an amazing one single turn if you take my alternate route).  My route instructions refer to road numbers from the Benchmark road atlas of Oregon, and I encourage you to get it or some map source of equivalent detail (don’t use mapmyride or RidewithGPS—they overwhelm with needless detail).  Despite all this the road surface is good, and perhaps because of all this the ride is one of my fondest cycling memories.

Despite its length and its wildness, this isn’t a hard ride, except for one killer hill.

(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.)

(These two maps differ somewhat.  I’m actually not sure which is right.  Follow my verbal instructions and you’ll be fine.)

Head west out of Glendale, a jumble of enormous lumber mills with a small town attached, on Reuben Rd.  If you drive into downtown Glendale, you missed it.  Reuben becomes Cow Creek Rd. once it leaves town.  The riding is good as soon as you clear the last mill.  The landscape on this side of Arrastra Saddle, your mid-ride summit (and a name I can find only on the Tour de Fronds website—not on any map), isn’t lush.  Rainfall is scarcer here, so you won’t see any fronds, and sometimes it borders on stark, but it’s always rewarding.  In a few miles the road turns absurdly and delightfully twisty (you pass a sign that reads “sharp curves next 29 miles”) and the landscape turns at times to clear-cut and at times to forest fire residue.  I find it eerily moving.  Soon you return to riparian woods as you ride along Cow Creek.

The fork. Stay to the right if you want my route.

The fork: Dutch Henry to the L, our route to the R

Now your first navigational challenge looms.  At 12 miles Cow Creek Rd. makes a wide turn to the R and a very small road goes straight.  This second road could easily be mistaken for a dirt road or a driveway (see photo).  Some sources call it Dutch Henry Road and Benchmark labels it 32-7-19.3—I’m not making this up—but it’s unsigned at the junction.  The only way you know you’re in the right place is a) there are no other roads forking off Cow Creek Rd. to the L, and b) between the two tines of the fork there’s a sign pointing down the main road and reading “Riddle 26 mi, I-5 29 mi, Roseburg 49 mi” (the unhelpful sign I mentioned above), so at least you know which branch is the main road.   You can go either way.  My route stays on Cow Creek Rd. (to the R).  If you take the L fork, you’ll run back into my route at the Arrastra Saddle summit, and you’ll avoid some of the climbing.  I’ve never been that way, but the old Tour de Fronds alternative route used it, so it’s rideable.

Assuming you continue on Cow Creek Rd., at 15 miles you come to a RR crossing, a prominent steel bridge across Cow Creek, and an immediate T.  Incredibly, there is no road sign (there is a sign for people coming from the other direction, which only tells you where you’ve just come from).  The L turn is actually the continuation of Cow Creek Rd, and you want it.  Go L, and take the almost immediate L across another bridge over the same creek and onto (totally unsigned, of course) W. Fork Cow Creek Road.

Powers South Road

Powers South Road

Down W. Fork Cow Creek Road a few miles is a small, unsigned (surprise!), nameless, and uninspiring looking little road, marked 32-9-17 in Benchmark and BLM Rd. 32-9-35 in Mapmyride, that goes off to the L at a sharp angle (about 8 o’clock) and drops substantially.  Take it.  At this intersection I stopped one of the two vehicles I met on this road and asked, “Can you get to Powers on this road?”  The driver looked at me like I was nuts and said, “Well, I guess you CAN….”  you’ll know you’re on the right road if you drop straight down to a creek, cross it, and climb steeply for 8.5 miles at a consistent 8%—one of the hardest climbs I’ve ever done.  All the hard climbing in the route is right here, in this one hill.

After the Y

NF 3348

Go R at the intersection (turn #3) when the climbing is over (which is Arrastra Saddle, and is also where Dutch Henry Rd. comes in on our L) and your navigation is complete—just stay on the new road, NF 3348, until you get to Powers.   You’re on the rainy side of the divide now, so the flora is absolute rainforest stunning from here to the end of the ride (fronds at last),  and much of the way you’re following the creeks and rivers so you have the visual pleasures of a charming stream.  As pretty a ride as I’ve ever seen.

IMG_8169The rest of the ride is all flat or downhill save for 1 short climb.  Descent for 4 splendid miles from the summit.  Then comes the last short climb.  Then the road levels out and follows a sleepy, charming stream through alder forest, for several miles.  Then a sweet 3-mile descent takes you to a stop sign, where you go R and follow the road to Powers.  The road surface between the summit and the stop sign has frequent major imperfections, but you’re saved by three things: 1) the imperfections are spaced far apart—perhaps one every 1/4 mile—and the pavement between them is smooth; 2) they’re almost always fore-and-aft cracks where the downhill half of the road has sunk, so you ride along rather than across them; and 3) someone has thoughtfully marked them with white paint so you can see them coming.  Keep scouting ahead and you can pick a line through them easily.

About halfway down the descent, you pass Coquille Falls on your R, marked by a very small dirt turn-out, a Forest Service sign, and a tiny wooden sign with “Coquille Falls” carved in it.  I’m told it’s about 1/2 mile to a spectacular falls, but I haven’t done it yet.

IMG_8203After the stop sign, you’re on Powers South Rd. (NF 33), and the character of the ride changes.  You go from zero traffic to light traffic, the road is wider and straighter (though still delightful), you pass frequent campgrounds along the Coquille River, and the flora is less foresty and more riparian (alders and maples instead of conifers).  It’s gentle rising and falling, mostly falling, all the way to Powers.  About 1/2 mile down NF 33, right after the bridge/sharp turn, there’s a Forest Service kiosk on the R which has a nice map for getting your bearings, and a bathroom.

The eponymous fronds

The eponymous fronds

If you like organized rides or feel uncomfortable riding through relatively deserted back country alone, the new Tour de Fronds runs several routes of various lengths, from short to 117 miles, all beginning and ending in Powers.  Many of the routes are loops, and many of them involve dirt and gravel roads.  The Tour people are wonderful and the small-town hospitality is a delight, so if you like supported rides I encourage you to put this on your to-do list.

Shortening the route/Avoiding the shuttle: There is excellent out-and-back riding at either end of our route.  You can ride Cow Creek Rd. as an out-and-back, discussed below.   Even better, you can ride from Powers as an out-and-back.  The two obvious turn-around points are Eden Valley, 31 miles out, and the Arrastra Saddle summit, 36 miles out.  Riding from Powers gives you all the route’s best scenery and skips (most of) the severe climbing—riding to Eden Valley is about 2800-3500 ft of gain and involves you in one moderate 3-mile climb.

Adding miles: Again, this is one of those areas where you can point the bike in any direction and find great roads.

The Bear Camp ride described in Adding Miles under the Gold Beach Century in our list runs parallel to the Tour de Fronds route a stone’s throw to the south.

At the Glendale end you can continue on Cow Creek Rd. past the West Fork turn-off and ride until the riding gets poor, then turn around.  This is all very good stuff and plenty of it, though often dry and hot—avoid it on hot summer middays.  It follows Cow Creek downstream on the way out, so it’s an almost imperceptible descent, which of course will be a slight climb coming back, and I don’t think there’s a hill in the entire road.  It eventually comes out in Riddle on Hwy 5, but miles before that it changes from a tranquil, lovely, meandering back road into cycling hell—big, busy, straight, commercial—so expect to turn around about mile 34.

The road from Powers north to Hwy 42—the Powers Highway or #542—is surprisingly good, a constantly varied roller coaster through pretty farming country.

NF 33 continues south of where we joined it for many miles past our route’s turn-off.  It’s officially the Rogue-Coquille Scenic Highway, and you can ride it to Agness and all the way to Gold Beach.  The road is lined with campgrounds, which usually means vacation traffic, and it’s popular with motorcycles, but in my experience the road is next to vehicle-free anyway.   The road to Agness involves 11+ miles of gravel and a major climb up to a summit and down the back side—the Tour de Fronds runs a loop route to Agness and back if you want support (thanks to Slim and Sandy of the Tour de Fronds for this info).

5 thoughts on “Tour de Fronds

  1. corvetti

    This was one of our all-time favs – for logistical reasons, we did a shorter “out & back” version, but it was still amazing. It looked like a fire had been through recently on the first ~5 miles of the road, but the recovering landscape was still starkly beautiful. Then you move into a forested valley, tracing along a river on your right. Great gradual ups & downs. We stopped at one of the bends in the river and went for a mid-ride swim. Awesome road.

  2. y2kxmaskids

    The supported ride for this route happens annually on the 3rd weekend in June. The past three years, a dedicated group of volunteers has worked hard to make the Tour de Fronds (I’m glad you like the name!) a well-supported and enjoyable ride.

    The rides begin and end in Powers, Oregon with many ride options of varying lengths and elevation changes.

    New this year is a metric century that visits the Rogue River and the Old Agness Store.

    We would love to see you in June if you can make it.

    I’m working on the 2016 website update right now.

    Volunteer webmaster and resident of Powers

    1. Jack Rawlins

      Sounds great, Tanya. The TdF would be a good way to explore some isolated country in the safety of a group and with SAG backup.

  3. Donna

    This year’s Tour de Fronds is scheduled for
    June 17, 2017.
    Check out our website for specific details on the rides this year.
    Hope to see you all in June for the Tour de Fronds!

  4. Hunter Ellis

    I rode this route in reverse on an oregon tour. One of the most memorable rides of my life.


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