Forget Logging, Let’s Pedal – Oakridge, A Mountain Biking Paradise

Heckletooth Mountain descent

I recently spent four days mountain biking in the outdoor playground of Oakridge, Oregon. All I can say is: Visit. This. Place.

Riders out there, bring your mountain bike. If you or your family are into other sports, there’s fun to be had in a kayak, with a bird spotting scope, and by lacing up hiking shoes. It’s time to play outside.

Oakridge is a small town on the west side of the Cascade Mountains. Founded as a rough and tumble logging town with more taverns than churches, it wasn’t always a place that attracted adrenaline-loving yuppies like me.

Old habits meet new activities on a connector fire road.

Old habits meet new activities on a connector fire road.

These days, it’s different. You’re as likely to see a cycling jersey as a plaid work shirt.

With a vision many rural communities in the west can learn from, Oakridge is leveraging its natural assets via tourism. It now hosts big events like Mountain Bike Oregon, races like Trans-Cascadia, or great fun for groups of friends coming in to ride. It’s not a one-stop solution, but the town is definitely attracting cash to revitalize the local economy.

The climb to Heckletooth Mountain might just pop an artery, but what a place for lunch.

The climb to Heckletooth Mountain might just pop an artery, but what a place for lunch.

Access is a key component – Oakridge lies at the center of five major trailheads with enticing ridges rising in all directions. The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) just labeled it a Gold-Level mountain biking destination, just one of six in the country. The town is the hub in a spoke system radiating outward with hundreds of miles of trails.

These trails saunter along alpine ridges speckled with wildflowers, slip through old-growth forest and wind along green, moss-lined green river trails. Pedal from a cheap rental in town or camp at the dozens of great National Forest Service campgrounds; either way, life is good. Five friends and I rode until we dropped and barely dinged the shiny surface of this pedaling paradise.

Gabe enjoying wildflowers (and fast downhill, of course) on Alpine Trails.

Gabe enjoying wildflowers (and fast downhill) on Alpine Trail.

The badass trails are the major draw. What also impressed me is the vision and creativity the people of Oakridge are employing to make it a destination, not just a place Oregonians ride. They aren’t just order takers like a cotton candy vendor at a busy fair. It’s a place where you can tell they appreciate having you around.

Take the Mercantile, for instance. This cool bike shop rents and sells fancy downhill bikes, but also stocks plaid workshirts. There’s a huge trail map on the wall and the employees happily pointed out which trails were clear of snow and which had tons of downed trees.

You know there's some fun about to happen when the rigs are loaded and lined up like this!

You know there’s some fun about to happen when the rigs are loaded and lined up like this!

Then there’s the We Speak pins that people around town wear, touting their local-only knowledge. “I Speak Camping,” says Heather’s pin, and another guy knows wildflowers. Instead of grouchy order takers, the town seems to exude hey, we’re glad you’re here!

Oakridge isn’t a secret. We met multiple parties from out of town, including one down from British Columbia (a destination itself). Still, with so many trails dedicated to non-motorized vehicles, there’s lots of room to play!

If you’re planning a summer or fall mountain biking trip, put Oakridge on your list. Forget the crowds in Moab and the lifts of Whistler and head to this Oregon gem. I’m definitely going back soon.

Climbing a fire road to a trailhead with views over the trees.

Greg takes a moment to enjoy the views over Larison Creek.

Resources for your trip

For general info, check out this solid Travel Oregon video  or visit OakridgeChamber.com.

Trails to Ride

In our four days in town, we explored five different trail systems. The only thing more tired than my legs was my jaw from all the grinning!

Based on my experience and beta from friends who know the area well, I can recommend the following trails for anyone heading to Oakridge. Ride Oregon Ride has good info too.

Updated fall 2017: After additional time in Oakridge, I added other favorite rides. The town only continues to grow the riding in the area, so it’s even better now!

Alpine – the famous (for good reason) shredfest. Get ready for alpine wildflowers with views of the valley followed by fast single track snaking through forest.

Evan topping out on a big climb to the stellar views on Alpine Trail.

Evan topping out on a big climb to the stellar views on Alpine Trail.

ATCA (Alpine-Tire Mountain-Cloverpatch-Alpine) – even shuttling this, you’ll pedal 5,000′ of elevation in less than 30 miles. IT’S WORTH IT! The huge trees on Tire and fine, fine descending on Tire will make that climb out of Cloverpatch totally worth it.

Larison Rock – fast fast fasssst rip right into Oakridge. Watch out on the marble-slick corners on this one – it’s easy to overcook those and launch off your bike.

Little Bunchgrass into Heckletooth Mountain – you’ll weave through huge trees high on a ridge, test your skills on some steep rocky sections, and then climb (and climb some more) to the top of Heckletooth. The descent is a steep, furious ripper on switchbacks that’ll test your skills. Enough said – this is my favorite ride of the trip. (I might have said that after every ride…)

Dead Mountain – great views of the valley plus machine-built jumping and radness up top into a fast single track. Easy to pedal right back into town too, which is always nice.

Jason from Bermstyle.com takes in the valley view from Dead Mountain.

Eula or Hardesty – accessed via the same fire road, these two are SO good. Eula is so-steep-there’s-no-stopping in places and you’ll drop 3k’ in a few grin-inducing miles. Hardesty is a favorite of mine and is zippy, twisty fun through cut logs and over roots. Don’t miss it!

Lawler – an Oakridge classic that was rebuilt recently. Classic Oakridge singletrack up top followed by the new part down low – machine-built, ripping fun.

Middle Fork Willamette River – this one has echoes of the McKenzie River Trail, a famous destination in Oregon for biking. I’d ride the West Fork any day for the remoteness and lack of hikers gaping at the oncoming bikes. Beautiful riding.

Jim splashes through a creek on the Middle Fork trail.

Jim splashes through a creek on the Middle Fork trail.

Larison Creek – a 10 mile fire road climb followed by some of the most beautiful, mossy, technical creekside riding I’ve done.

Gabe zips through the emerald palace of Larison Creek.

Gabe zips through the emerald palace of Larison Creek.

Salmon Creek Falls Trail – accessed right from town, it’s a smooth beginner trail on the north side, classic technical river trail on the south. The climb out of the south will test any rider’s fitness!

Gabe on Salmon Creek Trail.

Gabe on Salmon Creek Trail.

Places to Check Out

  1. The Willamette Valley Mercantile – bike shop and all-around knowledge center for anything you need.
  2. Local 180 Brew Pub – a top nanobrewery and watering hole for mountain bikers. Live music and friendly staff.
  3. Oregon Adventures – don’t feel like pedaling to the top or need a local guide? We didn’t need their services, but multiple friends have recommended this company for those looking to shuttle Oakridge or not get lost in the wilderness arguing with your map about which direction is west. They arrange a 17k in a Day shuttle with close to 20,000’ of descending on the best trails in Oakridge.

Local Mountain Biking Events and Races

  1. Mountain Bike Oregon – this event put Oakridge on the map. Join hundreds of mountain bikers for food, riding, and tales of valor after three days shredding the best trails in Oakridge.
  2. Trans-Cascadia – friends of mine created this enduro race series. Test your mettle against some amazing riders.
Ricky wisely chooses to walk, not ride, mossy logs on Larison Creek

Ricky wisely chooses to walk, not ride, mossy logs on Larison Creek.

2 replies
  1. Jen
    Jen says:

    It was after learning about the story of Oakridge that I became so passionate about local tourism. Once logging dwindled, the town and its residents suffered. They commuted to Eugene to scoop ice cream.

    And then they embraced mountain biking. And look what’s happened. What a wonderful story.

    I have yet to go…can I run on these trails?? I didn’t expect it to be so mountainous. I’ve been dying to check out Oakridge for a long time. Glad you had the chance to visit!

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      I love that! So many communities could model their plans after Oakridge. (A few are.) You could run the trails for SURE. The river trails are fantastic and not as steep, and if you’re training for Hard Rock, you could run the harder ones!

      Reply

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