A Mountain-Biking

Oakridge’s natural beauty and well-maintained trails draw outdoor enthusiasts

Bike race
Above, riders round the corner as they emerge from the one-lane Office Bridge in Westfir. Opposite page, mountain bikers compete in the Cascade Cream Puff.
Photos by Daniel Sharp

Five hundred miles of ups and downs, twists and turns, and exhilarating fun await mountain bikers in the Oakridge area. Those miles of trail in the Cascade Mountains have made the Oakridge/ Westfir area a mecca for mountain bikers. Travel Oregon has given the rural community the moniker “Mountain Bike Capital of the Northwest.”

There’s the 6.5-mile Moon Point Loop, the 21-mile Waldo Lake Loop, the 5.6-mile Flat Creek/Dead Mountain Trail and the Upper Alpine and Lower Alpine trails, to name a few. All offer climbs, but plenty of downhill. Scenery ranges from forest and tall timber to meadows and wildflowers.

The Oakridge trails are part of the Oregon Timber Trail—a 670-mile backcountry mountain biking system that travels the length of Oregon, from the
southern border with California to the Columbia River Gorge to the north, with many east and west options.

Many Oakridge trails were established and used by wildlife, Native Americans, hunters, loggers, watchmen to reach fire lookouts and ranchers to move their cattle to high-elevation summer pastures. During the past 25 years, those trails have been renovated and maintained by the mountain bike community, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.

“Oakridge didn’t go out and look for mountain bikers,” Mayor Kathy Holston says. “The mountain bikers found Oakridge. The area has all these legacy
trails that mountain bikers took to. It’s a perfect place to ride for most of the year. We have some great trails—from easy to moderate to the top end of difficult. It’s become a destination for mountain bikers as they’ve come from all over the world to ride here.”

Once in Oakridge or in nearby Westfir, riders can pedal from town to reach trailheads and the trail system, load their bikes on a vehicle or arrange for a shuttle to reach other trailheads, all within 50 miles.

“It’s pretty fantastic that you can bike from town,” says Michelle Emmons McPharlin, who has ridden her mountain bike on these trails the past 10 years. “You can ride into a wilderness experience from town or it’s only 20 to 30 minutes by vehicle to more backcountry trails. It’s world class cycling on a legacy trail system.”

Mountain biking in the area got its first major recognition in 1996 with the Cascade Cream Puff. Organized by mountain biker Scott Taylor, it attracted
about 40 riders for the 100-mile ride the first year. This year’s 24th annual event August 3 is expected to attract around 150 riders, as it has in recent years.

In addition to the 100-mile route, a 50-mile Fritter route and a 25-mile Doughnut Hole course are offered. All three events start and finish in Westfir Portal Park.

“The Cream Puff started to make people more aware that this area was a mecca for outdoor recreation, in particular mountain biking,” says Michelle, who is race director for the event.

While many riders are from the West Coast, the event also draws bikers from Canada, Australia, England and other distant locations.

“It’s known as America’s toughest mountain bike race,” Michelle says. “I think there is some validity to that, considering the elevation changes.”

The 100-mile course—which is two 50-mile loops—includes 12,815 feet of climbing, 12,828 feet of descending and a high point of 4,775 feet above sea level.

“It’s an epic ride with classic views, vistas, mountains, meadows, flowers, forests,” Michelle says.

BikersOther events are the Sasquatch Duro in May, Roam Ladies in June, Mountain Bike Oregon in July and the Oakridge Triple Summit Challenge in September.

Preparing the trails is almost a year round activity because trees, branches or landslides may cover a trail at any time.

The mountain bike community and U.S. Forest Service invest hundreds of hours annually to clear the trails, with help from members of the Greater
Oakridge Area Trail Stewardship, the Disciples of Dirt, the Alpine Trail Group Association and the Scorpions.

“We have some great trails, and the mountain bikers are willing to help maintain them,” Kathy says.

The Oakridge/Westfir communities may have been hesitant initially to welcome mountain bikers to an area where logging had been the main industry, Kathy says, but as logging decreased, the area needed to redefine itself to be more than a small dot on Highway 58. Recreation—especially mountain biking—has provided that new, positive identity.

“If logging was not going to be king here, the question was, ‘What can we do?’” Kathy says. “Recreation gradually became a strong part of our economy. People started coming here to recreate, and recreation brought us dollars.”

While mountain biking has become a recreational gem for the area, camping, hiking, fly fishing, kayaking and paddle boarding also attract visitors.

“We’ve been marketed as a diamond in the rough for outdoor recreation,” Kathy says.

The community has become supportive of mountain biking, with many locals volunteering at the organized events.

Richard Veatch, a longtime mountain biker, says the area provides riders with “freedom and escape.”