Cycle Oregon Applegate Lake Dan Shryock cycle tourism writer Southern Oregon Ashland Jacksonville

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Discoveries on the way to Oregon’s Applegate Lake

McKee Bridge stands as a reminder of the region’s history.
Photo by Dan Shryock

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 edition of Cycle California! Magazine.


By Dan Shryock

I pulled the book from my office bookcase. It had been a while since I’d flipped through the pages and I was curious what I might find.

The book, “75 Classic Rides Oregon: the Best Road Biking Routes,” led me to a remote corner of the state. South of the quaint gold rush town of Jacksonville is Applegate Lake, a picturesque reservoir only a couple miles from the California state line. I’ve been writing about Southern Oregon for more than 15 years, yet I’ve never heard a mention of this place. It was time to take a look.

Our riding group of five set out from Jacksonville’s Doc Griffin Park with no firsthand experience on these roads. We only had author Jim Moore’s cue sheet with turn-by-turn instructions and his description: “Some rides create memories that don’t fade – a challenging climb, an exhilarating descent, a stretch of streamside splendor, an incomparable view – and this ride has all of them, in that order.”

He was right. We started our 52-mile tour with an uphill grind immediately after leaving town, 6-plus miles up nearly 1,500 feet on Sterling Creek Road to top out at a 3,000-foot elevation. Moore also promised an exhilarating descent and that quickly followed with a 10-mile glide.

We pulled up for a stop sign and some water near the bottom and saw we had arrived at the gold mining ghost town of Buncom. It was the first of our discoveries; a quick look around, a right turn on Little Applegate Road and we were back on our way.

The Route

Looking at a map, this route looks like a lasso. There’s a main rope, of sorts – Upper Applegate Lake Road – that stretches from the reservoir north to a loop at the top. Sterling Creek and Little Applegate roads represent one side of the loop. On the other side is Highway 238, the return route to Jacksonville.

Sterling Creek Road provides the biggest challenge and the best downhill run. The ride south along Upper Applegate Road is a winding country road dotted with towering pine trees, occasional deer grazing in fields and with occasional vehicle traffic. There’s a gradual climb (14 miles and 800 feet of elevation gain) until you reach the Applegate Dam. The water there will look so refreshing you may be tempted to ride off the end of the fishing pier.

Push on for another mile or so, turn left and drop down to the water’s edge.  Find a small store, fresh drinking water, and flush toilets at Hart-Tish Park and campgrounds. This makes a good turn-around point. Or, proceed a few miles to the southern tip of the lake. Put in some extra pedal strokes and you can cross into California.

The return to Jacksonville retraces Upper Applegate Road north and on to Highway 238. This is a busy road that links Jacksonville with the Applegate Valley wine industry. Still, the shoulders provide sufficient safety and comfort … in most places. Thoughts, however, will be on a seven-mile climb that gains about 600 feet. And while the numbers may not sound daunting, remember this all starts at mile marker 42. You may find yourself repeating professional cyclist Jens Voigt’s signature phrase:

“Shut Up, Legs!”

Once you summit the hill, it’s a fast drop into Jacksonville and an easy ride through the small, historic downtown before returning to Doc Griffin Park.

Hart-Tish Park provides a good rest stop at Applegate Lake in Southern Oregon.
Photo by Dan Shryock


Stopping Along the Way

McKee Bridge - This tour is incomplete without a rest stop at McKee Bridge, a historic covered bridge at the 21- and 36-mile marks on Upper Applegate Road. The bridge and adjacent picnic ground make a great place to get off the bike for a few minutes. There’s also water on tap and shelter from rain or excessive sun in the picnic area.

Hart-Tish Park and Applegate Lake – This is good to see even if you intend to ride the length of the lake. The very small store is lightly stocked but you should be able to find something to drink beyond water from a nearby spigot. This is a perfect place to sit, gaze across the water, rest the legs and get ready for the 24-mile ride back to Jacksonville.

Buncom – There’s not much to see here but it’s good to take a moment at the stop sign and think about what once was. Gold miners and loggers used to call this home after hard days working in and around the Little Applegate River and Sterling Creek. Buncom was viable from the 1850s through the turn of the century until the mines played out, the post office closed in 1916 and the town was abandoned.

Welcome to Wine Country

With bikes back on the car rack, the only decision left is where to go to recover. There’s no shortage of food-and-drink options in downtown Jacksonville and several wineries are located to the west on Highway 238. We went in the other direction, however, stopping at DANCIN Vineyards just east of Jacksonville. There we sat down at a patio table and enjoyed appetizers and excellent pinot noir with owners Dan and Cindy Marca.

As we enjoyed our wine and relived the ride, I realized how unique this day had been. How would we ever have learned about the once bustling town of Buncom without taking this ride? Would Applegate Lake have been a destination otherwise? While everyone at the table was Oregonians, we all saw countryside we’d never seen before. And, we almost rode to California.

Etc. …

Getting to Jacksonville – The city of Jacksonville is a popular day trip for theater-goers at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in nearby Ashland. It’s also home of the Britt Festival, a long-running summer concert series. Jacksonville clings to its gold rush history and that’s reflected in the well maintained historic buildings along East California Street.

Jacksonville is easy to reach from Interstate 5. It’s less than seven miles from Exit 33 in Medford and 17 miles from Exit 24 north of Ashland.

About the book – “75 Classic Rides Oregon: the Best Road Biking Routes” by Jim Moore was published in 2012 by Mountaineers Books. The book includes descriptions, maps and cue sheets that can be downloaded to print or accessed on a mobile device. Read more about the book at

Resources – For more information about food, lodging and other things to do in Jacksonville and Southern Oregon, consider these websites.

Jacksonville -
Ashland -
Travel Medford -
Travel Southern Oregon -
Southern Oregon Wineries -

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