Back in May, I hopped a short flight to Portland, Oregon, and met up with my friend Theo Birkner for a 72-hour mountain bike adventure in Oregon. In just three days, we managed to ride three different regions, each with its own landscape, climate, and riding style.
We left exhausted, but extremely satisfied.
If you’re interested in building your own dream tour, here’s what I’d recommend:
72-Hour Mountain Bike Adventure in Oregon Guide
Unless you are driving to Oregon, chances are you’ll arrive and depart from Portland. While it’s a beautiful city known for its micro-brewed beers and cutting-edge hipster culture, we barely took notice as we headed south immediately upon arrival. After our mountain bike, we stuck around Portland for an extra day to attend the 7 Bikes for 7 Wonders of Oregon event but I’ll start my guide in the city, as it’s the obvious jumping off point for the entire state.
I always recommend people skip the city in favour of adventure, but Portland creates a rare exception. While I won’t spend much time making activity suggestions or trying to convince you spend some of your valuable 72-hours within the city, I will admit I really enjoyed the recovery day I spent in the city, exploring the endless breweries and taking advantage of some tax-free shopping. If you have spare time, Portland is well worth exploring.
- Where we stayed: Ace Hotel Portland
- Where we ate: Stumptown Coffee Roasters; Mother’s Bistro
- Where we drank: Basecamp Brewing Company; Deschutes Brewery Portland
Day 1: Oakridge, Oregon
Located 240 km (150 miles) south of Portland, Oakridge is located smack dab in the centre of the Willamette National Forest. Once a prosperous forestry town, Oakridge fell on hard times as the industry slowed down to the point it almost became a ghost town. Community-wide investment in mountain biking put the town back on the map and the majority of businesses, whether it’s the local brew pub or guest house, caters directly to the fat-tire crowd. The atmosphere in town was not unlike British Columbia’s Kootenay region: laid-back and authentic to its core. This wasn’t a major mountain biking destination; however, the number of high-end bikes passing by on the street revealed it as a hard-core bike destination.
- Where we stayed: Oakridge Lodge and Guest House
- Where we ate: Oakridge Lodge and Guest House (ridiculously good breakfast); Brewers Union
- What we did: Oregon Adventures’ 17K in a Day
Summary: The 17K in a Day ride, guided by Oregon Adventures, is insane. The numbers alone from this shuttle fest are ambitious: 17000 feet descending, 3500 feet ascending, 52 miles riding. Perspective, beyond saying it’s a truly epic day, is difficult. To descend that much at the Whistler Bike Park, for example, it would require riding three peak-to-creek runs and two laps of A-Line. Nobody rides that much.
Our day kick-started at 8:00 Am with an hour-long shuttle to the top of Alpine, Oakridge’s signature trail. Measuring in at 13.5 miles (23 km) it’s a seriously long haul back to the waiting shuttle. The trail descended through insane Old Growth cedar forests and rolling sub-alpine meadows, while mixing in just enough climbing to keep the blood flowing along with the adrenalin. The ground was hardpack loamy soils, so riding was fast and tire traction was perfect. It wasn’t unlike riding in the Canadian Rockies, except these trails were definitely gravity oriented. We next shuttled to two trails that sit on opposite sides of the same forest service access road: Lawler and Hardesty. Although the lightening-fast singletrack on Hardesty might have been my favourite trail of the entire day, I was struggling. My arms and brake fingers ached, but it was my burning quads and calves that begged for a rest. I was going to bonk. I began to worry I’d have to bail out of this incredible ride. Thankfully a solid lunch break – and three litres of fluids – brought my body back to life for the afternoon session. We still had three trails to ride! We ticked them off one by one, beginning with Larison Rock and then Heckletooth, before finishing the day on Dead Mountain. It was a suitable name place to end because we were exhausted!
We rode the 17K in a day with the IMBA trail crew. With the exception of Heckletooth, they’d already ridden these trails but they’d done it without a shuttle. What we accomplished in a single 8-hr ride had taken them an entire week. If you’re pressed for time, book the bus!
All in, this was likely the best all-out mountain biking day of my life.
Day 2: Bend, Oregon
Located 160 km northeast of Oakridge (and about 240 km southeast of Portland), Bend was the second stop of our mountain bike adventure. The city sits on the eastern slopes of the Cascades, where the Ponderosa Pine forests transition to high desert. Just like Oakridge, Bend started out as a forestry town but it’s best known as the outdoor sports hub in Oregon. We came for the mountain biking, but excellent hiking, fishing, skiing, white water rafting and rock climbing opportunities exist in the nearby landscape.
- Where we stayed: Bend Suites
- Where we ate: McMenamins Old St Francis School; BackPorch Coffee Roasters
- What we did: Cog Wild Day Ride
Summary: In an odd twist of events, our adventure in Bend began at the Emergency Room. Typically, that’s where gone-wrong adventures end; however, we awoke to find a tick deeply embedded in Theo’s chest. We weren’t getting it out with a pair of borrowed hotel-room tweezers, so we headed down for some professional help. I almost left this part out, as I would hate to discourage anyone from visiting Oregon, but ticks are an issue in the springtime throughout much of western Canada and the USA. It pays to play smart to avoid them. We didn’t follow any of this advice, but here’s what we should have done:
- Worn long sleeves and pants if possible
- Worn DEET spray on exposed skin and covered the outside of our clothing with it
- Done a thorough personal check after being outside
- Showered and changed clothing within 2hrs of finishing outdoor activity
Once we finally arrived at Cog Wild, we quickly suited up and loaded the bikes for a quick shuttle up the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway. We finally hit the trails and soon found ourselves at the top of Tiddlywinks, an awesome flow trail with dirt jumps. We’d only been on the trail for a few minutes, but it was already obvious these trails wouldn’t be anything like Oakridge. These were dry and dusty. Tire traction wasn’t as good, but it didn’t matter because most corners had solid berms. As we began down Tyler’s Trail, our guide – and Cog Wild Owner Lev Stryker – warned us the trail was long, but he didn’t mention it was non-stop twists, turns, and free-flowing berms. We were breathless not just from the adrenalin, but also from the hooting and hollering this trail elicits from even the quietest rider.
By the end of the day, we linked together another 25 miles (45 km) of singletrack without loading into another shuttle. Back in the Cog Wild office, we cracked a couple of local Dechutes beer and pulled out a map. Riding 45 km is typically a big day; however, in Bend, it meant barely scratching the surface of the trail network surround the city. This place knows mountain biking.
Day 3: Hood River, Oregon
Located 220 km north of Bend (and only 100 km east of Portland), Hood River has a strong economy built from agriculture, tourism, and a high-tech industry. It’s also long been known for its sports recreation, including kiteboarding, windsurfing, SUP, kayaking, fishing, skiing, and, the reason for our visit, mountain biking.
- Where we stayed: Hood River Inn
- Where we ate: The Crazy Pepper Cantina; Doppio Coffee
- What we did: Rode Post Canyon Trails & Hiked Oneonta Gorge
Summary: Hood River was the one location where we didn’t have a planned ride. Ride Oregon Ride does a fantastic job with beta on trails throughout the state and we used it as a resource to discover the Post Canyon trails. Located just 20 minutes outside of town, Post Canyon turned out to be a massive trail network rather than a single trail like we expected. We were also surprised to find our first man-made stunts – think north shore ladders, jumps, and bridges – laced together on some of the black-rated trails, while high-speed flow sections and killer berms highlighted the blue trails. We could have spent an entire day in the zone, but we cut out early after only 12 miles (20 km) to leave ourselves time to hike the Oneonta Gorge on our way back to Portland.
Oneonta Gorge is located just steps away from Multnomah Falls but the experience couldn’t be more different. Oneonta Gorge isn’t for the faint of heart. There is no trail. Multnomah Falls, on the other hand, is a tourist bus stopping point; complete with concession stand, washrooms, and paved trails to it’s viewing platforms. Naturally, we opted to skip the crowds and check out Oneonta. Rather than a marked trail, hikers merely follow the river upstream. It’s possible to stay dry for about half the hike and few places are more than knee deep; however, one section does require either some skillful rock climbing or a chest-deep wade through the narrow canyon. The reward, aside from a refreshing wakeup from the cold water, is a lone waterfall few people visit at the end of the gorge.
72-Hour Mountain Bike Adventure in Oregon Summary
We were pressed for time, but managed some of my most memorable mountain biking in three different parts of Oregon in only three days. It was an ambitious route that often saw us passing on a second round of IPA’s because we had to hit the road, but it proved it’s possible to explore the state over a long weekend.
Travel Oregon, the state’s destination marketing organization, understands the importance of cycling and bike-related tourism more than most travel destinations. They’ve created new bike trails, highlight scenic bikeways, and are helping raise Oregon at the top of the mountain bike world. I was so happy for their support on this mountain bike adventure but I’m happy to admit that it won’t be long until I return.
After all, I have yet to ride the Mackenzie River trail let alone raced in the Oregon Outback…