I just got back from an amazing road trip, mountain biking, camping, kayaking and beer drinking across Oregon and Washington. I had a great time at all of our stops, both those I’ve visited before and those that were new to me. I’ll be recapping our whole trip over the next couple weeks. Our first stop was Oakridge, Oregon.
Oakridge, Oregon is a small town nestled in the heart of the Cascades and parallels the Willamette River, about an hour east of Eugene on Highway 58. Oakridge had been a busy logging town, but since the down turn in the logging industry, it had struggled, with many businesses closing and families moving away. Oakridge is a beautiful place, with trails for hiking, camping spots along Salmon Creek, rafting and fishing opportunities on local rivers and streams, and, more recently, trails for mountain biking. Oakridge has become a popular destination for mountain bikers – only 2.5 hours from Portland and a “quick” ~7 hours from the Bay Area and Tahoe. (Greyson and I stopped by the local brewery for dinner and literally everyone eating on the patio was visiting from California.)
Mountain biking and other outdoor adventures are helping to bring some much needed money and business to Oakridge. However, it’s a much more complicated story than “mountain biking saves dying logging town!” – check out this interesting article from NPR:
For decades after World War II, the small town of Oakridge in the southern Cascade mountains of Oregon was a booming lumber town. But by the early 1990s, the lumber industry had collapsed, and Oakridge has struggled ever since, losing families and businesses. Now, residents like Randy Dreiling are trying to reinvent the place as a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Dreiling owns Oregon Adventures, which offers mountain bike tours. Some 350 miles of trails have earned Oakridge the self-proclaimed title of “Mountain Biking Capital of the Northwest. Mountain biking is just a piece of the pie. It’s not the end all be all, but it’s what we got. And it’s been good to us,” he says. “Anybody that’s being honest to themselves can see the amount of people mountain biking is bringing to town — more and more every year.”
Greyson found us an awesome campsite, Salmon Creek Falls Campground, about five miles outside of town. We snagged one of the last few first-come, first-serve campsites and set up the tent. This campground has some amazing spots right along the river, but I’m guessing you have to get there early on a weekday to get one of them.
While there are a ton of trails in the Oakridge area, mostly built and maintained by GOATS (Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewards), we had decided to shuttle the Alpine Trail, booking a shuttle with Oregon Adventures, a local shuttle and tour company. They describe the Alpine Trail as
Oh glorious Alpine! Known as the Crown Jewel, this is one wicked trail. A combination of every pleasure known to mountain biking, you can’t not love Alpine.
I pre-booked the shuttle for 8:45 am the next day, so we decided to head in from our campsite for an early dinner and to scope out where we’d be meeting up. We (surprise, surprise) ended up at the only brewery in town, the Brewers Union Local 180. The brewery only has cask ale (or as they claim, the only “real ale” in Oregon) which undergoes a secondary fermentation in a wooden cask. These ales are much less carbonated that a typical IPA (it reminded me of a beer on nitro), and both of the ones we tried were tasty. This was by far the most popular restaurant in town, filled with tourists and locals alike. It was a long wait for food and beer, but both were worth it. We even met a group of people we’d be riding the shuttle with (and the Oregon Adventures owner!) at the brewery that night.
We met bright and early at the Oregon Adventures parking lot to drop off bikes with the shuttle van, and carpool to the bottom of the trail, a few miles from headquarters. We reconvened with the ten or so other riders, loaded into the shuttle and were off on the ~30 minute ride. The shuttle driver was very helpful, pointing out road crossings and landmarks that we’d use on the ride back, and soon arrived at our destination. While shuttling the Alpine Trail means a mostly downhill ride, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any climbing. In fact, you start off the trail with a ~350 foot climb that feels steeper than it actually is on cold legs.
After less than a mile of climbing, you come to a flat, grassy field with a narrow trail cut out and beautiful views. I remember commenting to Greyson about how it was hard to ride in such a narrow trail, and that I kept bumping my wheel on the edges. Little did I know that this was just a preview of the majority of the trail width to come!
The day was cool and cloudy, which was nice but I had a real problem with my sunglasses fogging up for most of the day! After the meadow, we rode into the trees and the first of the many downhills. At this point, we stopped to put on kneepads. This was the first of many stops – we definitely did not break any speed records on this trail. One of the coolest things about this trail was that it had some of everything – awesomely sticky Oregon dirt, miles of fast, flowy sections, rocky and rooty drops, long climbs, steep exposure, loose rocky sections, epic views and closed in forest canopies.
I’m used to the wider trails of the Sierra, so the narrow, more overgrown trails took some getting used to, and I definitely walked some sections of narrow trail that had steep exposure. Luckily, the Alpine Trail seemed to be about 85% fun flow on good dirt, with a smaller percentage of steep climbs, loose rocks, and only a few sections that I needed to walk.
According to my Garmin, we climbed about 1,224 feet over the 13.8 miles (the shuttle cut off some climbing and mileage from the full, official Alpine Trail.) The trail was very well marked and easy to follow. We got a little confused at about 12.5 miles in, where there was a junction. The MTB Project app told us to go right to stay on the Alpine Trail, but we were pretty sure we needed to go left to get back to our car. One of the things our shuttle driver told us at the beginning was “when in doubt, go left.” We went left and followed an obviously newer trail (I think called A.T.A.C., but I’m not 100% sure) that did bring us back to our cars.
We quickly loaded up and headed straight for pizza and beer. The pizza wasn’t amazing, but we were hungry so that didn’t matter all too much. After buying some cans of local beer, we went back to the campsite and spent some time lounging in my birthday ENO hammock for national hammock day.
Salmon Creek Falls campground is next to (no surprise) a creek and a small waterfall. Just upstream from the waterfall was a great, but cold swimming hole. We tentatively waded in, and, once my feet and legs were numb, the water felt great!
We stayed two nights in Oakridge and I wish we could have stayed longer to explore more trails! The town was beautiful, the people were friendly, the beer was good and the mountain biking was phenomenal. That’s all I can really ask in a destination. I loved camping at Salmon Creek Falls, and there are a number of motels in downtown Oakridge. The Alpine Trail was worth traveling for, and it’s a trail I’d love to do again with a little more confidence now that I know what it’s like.
Location: Oakridge, Oregon (shuttle with Oregon Adventures)
Mileage: 13.8 miles
Elevation gain: ~1,200 feet