The rough hewn Oregon coast is beautiful year round, but its rough waters take on a fierceness as summer turns to autumn. The wide sand beaches and basalt rock features that jut up from the sea are set against the verdant backdrop of the Oregon Coast Range. Despite the ferocity of the fall and winter storms that pound this part of the Pacific, there are occasional stretches of sunshine and while the weather may be hard to predict, the gravel and forest road riding is always fantastic.
Words and Images by Clive Pursehouse
Along this northern part of Oregon’s rocky coast, once you leave the beach and usually just a handful of residential beach-town streets maximum, the gradient ticks up fast and the Coast Range begins. The Coast Range runs from the Columbia River at the Oregon-Washington border south for about 200 miles to the middle fork of the Coquille River. Compared to the Cascade range that runs down the middle of the state, the average elevation here only hits about 1,500 feet. The northern stretch of the Coast Range though is some of the most prolific timber producing forest in the world, home to hemlock, western red cedar, Sitka spruce and douglas fir trees. While one may not be the biggest fan of the logging industry and the eye sore producing practice of clear cutting, the only reason a great many forest roads exist for our riding is due to the timber industry.
I departed Tolvana Park five minutes south of the seaside town of Cannon Beach, which along with Astoria to the north played host to the unruly and hair-raising adventure of Mikey, Chunk, Mouth and Data as well as a few hangers on, but we remember them better as The Goonies. In about a hundred meters you cross the 101 and hit the foothills to the Coast Range and a network of forest roads.
When I hit the entrance to the forest road my heart dropped a little to see the permit required signage from the land manager Greenwood Resources, but it took me about thirty seconds to secure a free permit on my phone, and then I was off. The cool autumn temperatures seemed to rise quickly but that was just the result of riding hard to get over the gradients, north of 15 percent, by far the steepest of the day, just in the first couple hundred meters or so of the ride. Once you get away from the 101 you may not see another human being in a day riding Oregon’s Coast Range. Elk, on the other hand, can be plentiful. (While they may be goofy looking animals, they will come after you, so give them a wide berth.) I passed a duo of empty handed hunters with rifles resting on their shoulders. They seemed to ignore my good morning greeting but they were wearing cute matching outfits and that was the last human contact until I returned to the beach a couple hours later.
The road I entered the forest on merged into a gravel boulevard known as the Tolvana Mainline, which seems to be an arterial of sorts (along with Warren Way) through this section of timberland. The fact is there are miles upon miles of roads out here, and some great rides can be found via Ride with GPS (or hit me up on the ‘gram) but venturing out without some form of GPS is a fool’s errand. The Greenwood Resources plot is over 150,000 acres where a poorly timed flat or washing out in a corner could mean no one finds you for a very long time. This tract of forest frankly would have been a better hiding place for Francis, Jake and Mama Fratelli.
The riding around Cannon Beach includes a number of great 15 to 25 mile loops, usually integrating Warren Way or the Tolvana Mainline routes to start the ride. You can go much bigger of course, either exploring further east into the mountains or riding just north outside of the tourist town of Seaside. Riding with a partner is strongly advised given the remote nature of the riding and just how little traffic these gravel roads actually see, not to mention the cougars. The Coast Range is home to close to a thousand big cats (they say), and while you often hear that they are more afraid of us than we are of them, that doesn’t make me feel much better about the prospects of meeting one.
The roads out here feature plenty of undulating climbing and descending into switchback after switchback, each prettier than the last, lined with moss draped trees so thick that you can only see a few feet into the forest which could easily obscure a misunderstood John Rambo or Sasquatch. Aside from a small stretch of really chunky rock section that climbs up above a stretch of clear cut where you can see forever, the gravel here is wildly rideable. There is grass growing up in much of the road but you can take the descents fairly fast, even the unfamiliar ones, and there’s very little danger of spinning out on the climbs. At one point I rounded a corner with tremendous views of the Pacific, the beach and iconic Haystack Rock. From here I’m rewarded for all that early climbing: the next 10 miles are mostly downhill with maybe a couple bumps.