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Oregon Timber Trail: 670 miles of amazing adversity 

Photo courtesy Oregon Timber Trail Alliance 

This article originally appeared in Cycle California! Magazine

By Dan Shryock

Harry Dalgaard will never forget the moment he pushed his bike up the trail on Crescent Mountain  

“When you crest the Crescent trail, you get this absolutely stunning reward,” he saidI didn’t mind pushing my bike, a little hike-and-bikeIt was tough but when you get to the top of Crescent Mountain and see Mt. Hood, it’s well worth it. 

“Adversity rewards you with amazing things.” 

Those two words – adversity and amazing – were spoken often as Dalgaard and Gabriel Tiller described the Oregon Timber Trail, a linear network of trails over the Cascades from California to Washington StateDalgaard is a regional manager for Travel Oregon, the state’s tourism organization. Tiller is executive director of the Oregon Timber Trail Alliance. Together, with the help of many volunteers, they have woven a challenging system that should challenge anyone who rides it. 

Imagine the Pacific Crest Trail for bikepackers. Here are the brutal numbers. 

  • 670 miles 
  • 69,000 feet of elevation gain 
  • 20-30 days to complete the entire route. 

The route is divided into four tiers and 10 segments. Each offers its own set of challenges. Riders can camp or find huts along the way as they ride selected segments or take on the complete trail. 

More numbers: 

  • It’s 62 percent singletrack 
  • 18 percent gravel 
  • percent paved 
  • 11 percent doubletrack 

 Most of the trail crosses U.S. Forest Service land and leads riders over ground traveled for centuries.   

“A lot of the trails have a varied history,” Tiller said. “There are old hunting trails, Native American trade routes, pack-and-saddle supply routes for fire lookouts, and hiking trails from the ‘60s and ‘70s that turned into biking trails. 

Most of the trails already existed without any infrastructure work, Tiller said. His team linked what was already in place with abandoned trails that needed some rehabilitation. Its amazing what already existed in Oregon,” he said. 

Safety First 

While many mountain biking routes head into forests and loop back to civilization, the Oregon Timber Trail allows riders to travel along what Tiller called “a connection of experiences.” 

“This is camping with your bike,” he said. “It’s about the experience, the discovery of place.” 

The best experience, however, follows a lot of planning and research. Opportunities to resupply are few and far between in some segments. Water is hard to find in spots. The first 90 miles north from California, for example, are remote and without any services. 

Most importantly, Tiller said, be prepared for detours, difficulties, breakdowns, extreme weather, and general exhaustion. 

“Be humble,” he said. “Understand that on a long, backcountry adventure like the Oregon Timber Trail things rarely go as planned. You can't control too many of those things, but you can control your attitude, so shake it off and put a smile back on your face.” 

Riding from California north, here’s what you will experience. 

The Fremont Tier 

The trail starts with the Fremont Tier, 207 miles and 23,000 feet of climbing that can be covered in six to 10 days. It’s not easy. The physical and technical difficulties are high and the bikepacking challenge level is rated advanced. 

The trailhead is in the far northeastern corner of California, just a stone’s throw to Oregon and slightly west of the Nevada state line. Along the way Crane Mountain (8,200 feet) provides the highest elevation on the entire trail. Watch for the stunning Winter Rim trail, Tiller said, and the Summer Lake Hot Springs for a soak in warm mineral waters. 

There are six Forest Service cabins and lookouts that can be reserved if you want to get off the ground for the night. 

The Willamette Tier 

Next up is a 148-mile stretch that weaves its way up and into the Cascade Range. This tier, with its 13,000 feet of elevation gain, is also listed as an advanced challenge with high physical and technical difficulty. 

Circle the town of Oakridge on your map. This logging town is already ground zero for Oregon mountain biking. Set the bike aside for a couple days, find a soft bed and enjoy good food and the brewery. There’s also rafting and fishing available. 

The Deschutes Tier 

Here’s the comparatively easy portion of the trail. At a mere 113 miles and 8,000 feet of climbing, the Deschutes Tiecurls through the Cascade Lakes region before dropping out of the mountains into the town of Sisters. Cross town and then veer west and back up into the mountains. The experts say this is an intermediate challenge. 

If your bike needs repair or you need respite, Sisters is a good place to stop. 

The Hood Tier 

The hard work starts again with the advanced Hood Tier, 200 miles (26,000 feet) north to the city of Hood River and the end of your ride. These segments skirt the eastern slopes of the Cascades at the iconic Mt. Hood before descending to Hood River. 

Consider a reservation at Breitenbush Hot Springs Resort (www.breitenbush.com), and don’t forget to enjoy that view atop Crescent Mountain. 

For more information, visit www.oregontimbertrail.org 

 

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