Distance: 66 miles one way
Elevation gain: 3440 ft
This ride is expertly covered in Jim Moore’s 75 Classic Rides Oregon (see the “Oregon” section in Rides by Region).
For the first 63 miles, this is not a dramatic ride. It is instead a perfectly pleasant, easy meander through nearly-flat, charming farm country—little wilderness here, few deep, solitary woods. It’s on a numbered state highway, which is usually a no-no for Bestrides, but it’s a remarkably untrafficked one. I did this ride on a sort of recovery day, and I found it to be magically mellow. Rarely have I been so glad to be on a bike. After 63 miles, the road begins to roll, then enters the city of Astoria, and finally ascends steeply to a dramatic finale at the very summit of the city, the Astoria Column and its stunning vistas of the surrounding land and water.
(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.)
Begin in downtown Vernonia, a town whose name is so hard to remember that I’ve seen official Oregon state highway signs that call it “Veronica.” Ride east on the main street, which is also Hwy 47. Turn L immediately out of town to stay on Hwy 47 (towards Mist). The next 40 or so miles are effortless bucolic rolling. At the well-signed intersection in downtown Mist don’t take the R curve that would keep you on Hwy 47; go L onto Hwy 202 (sign reads “Astoria 47”). At around 38 miles comes the only noticeable climb in the route before the very end, a three-mile ascent that is enough of an effort to give you a nice change from all that level.
Do the unspectacular descent from the obvious summit and watch for Olney Cut-Off Rd. on your L. I don’t think it’s signed exactly that way, but with a map and the available signage you’ll know when you’re there. Now you have to make a choice. If you’re tired and you want the mellowness to continue, stay on Hwy 202 to Astoria. If you’ve got some legs left, take Olney Cut-Off and stay on it as it becomes Youngs River Rd. This back route (which is my Mapmyride map route and Moore’s route) is pretty and interesting, but it involves you in about 10 miles of demanding short rollers that will finish you off if you’re near the end of your energy. To make matters worse, the prevailing winds in the area are in your face and can be intense, so factor that into your decision.
Ride on Youngs River Rd. to its end and navigate two apparent but unsigned turns: 1) at the end of Youngs River Rd., your road takes a very sharp 90-degree L and the road becomes (apparently) Warrenton-Astoria Hwy. You don’t need to know this, since the road gives you little choice, but Moore tells you to take Warrenton-Astoria, so if you’re following his ride log it’s confusing. Warrenton-Astoria lasts about 1/10 mile, then intersects with a very large, busy highway you can’t miss. This is US 101 Business Route, and you can go in two directions, straight ahead and R. Go R (north) and Astoria is a short ride on a causeway across the bay. There is a lot of signage at the 101 intersection, but none of it is what you need to know, which is that Astoria is thataway—it’s so close you can see it. If you got confused and went straight (going west on US 101) you would make a 10-mile clockwise loop and come into Astoria from the west instead of the south.
Once in Astoria, find your way to the Astoria Column. It’s a quirky, amazing monument atop the highest point in town, and the views in all directions are delicious. Take some time to ponder the historical figures that cover the monument itself.
There are many routes to the Column through town, and they’re all killer steep. You will hurt. Do it anyway. There are signs everywhere pointing you to the Column, and anyone can direct you. Just keep going up.
Subtracting Miles: this ride isn’t hard (Moore rates it “challenging,” but I don’t know why). Still, it’s pretty long, so riding it as an out-and-back would be a very long day. If you haven’t got a shuttle and want to shorten it, there’s no obvious best leg. You can start anywhere along the route, ride to anywhere else, and turn around. The drama and the work is in the second half—the climb, the descent, the Column. The first half is uninterrupted mellow rambling. Including Vernonia in the route allows you to explore the Vernonia-Banks Trail (see Adding Miles below).
Adding Miles: Vernonia is the northern terminus of the Banks-Vernonia Trail, a paved rail-to-trail conversion. Normally I don’t like riding road bikes on paved trails, but I drove along this one to get to Vernonia and the woods looked utterly sublime. For the scenery alone, I’d give it a try.
Afterthoughts: despite the fact that you’re riding through inhabited country on nearly every mile of this ride, there are next to no formal places to resupply. I had to knock on a farmer’s door and ask for water. There is a county park at mile 48 with bathrooms and (I think) water, and the imaginary town of Birkenfeld has the Birkenfeld Country Store (self-titled “The Birk”), but it was inexplicably closed when I came through on a lovely June afternoon.