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A Wild and Scenic Ride Along the Rogue River

This article originally appeared in Cycle California Magazine

 

 

By Dan Shryock

There’s a remote stretch of road in Southern Oregon that at first glance seems innocuous. It’s not difficult; there are no steep climbs or adrenaline-laced descents, barely a bump for miles. There’s not even a center line painted on this asphalt. Yet this may be one of the most remote rides in this part of the state.

And, it’s iconic. Look down to the right. You’re following the famed Rogue River, the one that is officially labeled “wild and scenic” by the federal government. Movies are made here. Rafters travel from around the world to test these whitewater rapids. But, today, it’s eye candy during this 54-mile out-and-back ride with friends.

Our riding group found the ride in Jim Moore’s excellent 2012 book, “75 Classic Rides in Oregon.” What Moore discovered then still holds true today. The “Rogue River Ramble,” as he calls it, is an extremely satisfying route in three parts. There’s an opening eight-mile stretch with modest traffic, rural residential and an excellent food stop (more on that later). A second segment, that flat, straight stretch of almost four miles, showcases the river below as it works its way through the canyon toward the Pacific Ocean.

The third and most challenging stretch, 30 miles out and back, leads from the Grave Creek Bridge to the old mining town of Wolf Creek. Once across the bridge high above the Rogue, the climbing starts.

The Ride

Set out from Indian Mary Park, a small Josephine County spot along the river about 15 miles west of Grants Pass. Follow Galice Road west as it snakes beside the Rogue River toward Galice Resort. Take a good look at the resort as you go by. You likely will stop there on the way back.

(Serious hill hunters could watch for a left turn onto Bear Camp Road (also called Galice Access Road) just before the resort. Make a note for another day: The bold rider will discover 4,000 feet of climbing to Bear Camp Overlook over 20 miles of suspect road surfaces. Once there, however, it’s a long, paved downhill run to the Pacific Ocean.)

A few more miles past the resort,  the road surface distinctly changes. Yellow center lines disappear, and the asphalt starts to narrow. Cars and trucks have been passing with less frequency for a couple miles but now you feel it. You’re in the wilderness. There will be an occasional vehicle along the way, but you and its passengers are doing the same thing – enjoying this place in this moment.

Stop. Take a photo. Listen to the wilderness.

Before long, the river flows left but you head right over the Grave Creek Bridge as you start climbing higher in the trees. This stretch is “a paradise of twisting, climbing, dropping, and swooping through deep forest alongside the rushing water,” Moore writes.

There’s more than 3,100 feet of elevation gain on this route but there’s only one significant spike on the profile. As you push uphill, think about how much you will enjoy the return descent. You eventually will arrive in the small town of Wolf Creek, once a place where gold miners in the late 1800s would come for supplies. Look for the historic Wolf Creek Inn and restaurant. Ask about the inn’s past visitors, especially the ghosts who allegedly never checked out.

Of course, what goes up must come down. That means the ride back is more a scenic glide. Remember to watch for the Galice Resort on your left near the end of the ride. The restaurant serves satisfying food on a patio beside the river. Once you’re recovered and ready to finish the day, your waiting vehicle is a fast five miles away.

See a customized map for this route: bit.ly/2XRz3jO

The Rogue River

This is arguably the most famous river in a state where whitewater rafting and salmon fishing experiences are legendary. The rich and famous buy escape homes along the Rogue; they have done so for decades. While the river is called “wild and scenic,” that official designation is limited to two specific segments. One is near the top of the river as it starts from Crater Lake National Park and flows south and west to the town of Prospect. The second and best-known section is an 84-mile stretch on the Lower Rogue River that permitted outfitters and guides use with great care while leading fishing, kayaking and rafting trips. This extremely remote portion of the river is located west of the Grave Creek Bridge and not accessible to road cyclists.

How to Get Here

Take Interstate 5 into Oregon. Any town along the I-5 corridor makes a good base of operations. Consider Ashland with its theater, restaurants, and nightlife.

Start your ride day by driving west from Grants Pass, 40 miles north of Ashland. Consider traveling via the small town of Merlin to enjoy the scenery along the way until you reach Indian Mary Park. You may want to consider Galice Resort as a starting point. This change in plans would cut 10 miles from the ride, but you would know your day is done as you relax on the resort patio with some food and a cold drink.

Other Rides in the Region

It would be a shame to drive to Southern Oregon and not ride more than once. Here are some other ideas that previously appeared in Cycle California! Magazine:

– The Cascade Siskiyou Scenic Bikeway (from Ashland) - bit.ly/2JKKa9c

– Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway (from Port Orford) - bit.ly/32ujCl9

– The Applegate Trail (from Jacksonville) - bit.ly/2JXlEjy

Safety and Other Notes

– Southern Oregon is known for its hot summer afternoons. There’s no support – no food, water, anything – between Galice Resort and Wolf Creek so be sure to carry food and top off all fluid bottles.

– Traffic may be busy at times during your early miles. This area is a popular destination and river guides are busy shuttling rafts up and down the road. The traffic thins out with each mile. Eventually, you’re practically all alone.

Resources

Check these resources before you arrive.

– Lodging and Things to Do – www.southernoregon.org

– 75 Classic Rides Oregon: The Best Road Biking Routes – amzn.to/2K4xQ2D

– Galice Resort – www.galice.com

– Wolf Creek Inn – www.wolfcreekinn.com

– Wolf Creek Inn’s Haunted Stories – bit.ly/2XJVQ63

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