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Pedaling the Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway


This article originally appeared in the print version of Northwest Travel & Life magazine
See a PDF of that article here


By Dan Shryock

 It’s dawn and Nila Butler slowly patrols the beach, searching the sand at water’s edge. She extinguishes her headlamp now that the slowly rising sun provides enough natural light. She reaches down to pick up a white rock and shines a small flashlight against its bottom side. A translucent glow illuminates the stone, confirming Nila’s expectation.

“That’s a good one,” she says, tossing the stone in a bucket held by traveling companion Johnny Blade.

Butler and Blade travel throughout the United States and whenever possible hit beaches in search of agates. This trip to Gold Beach, Oregon, is particularly successful.

“We’ve never seen a beach like this,” says Blade. “There are so many agates here. The trick is to pick only the very best.”

This is their first visit to Oregon’s south coast, known locally as the Wild Rivers Coast as a nod to the six rivers that flow from the Siskiyou Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

The South Oregon Coast is sometimes overlooked by travelers. The nearest interstate is at least 90 miles to the east. Motorists discover the area as they drive coastal Highway 101 between the California border and the Oregon coastal towns of Brookings, Gold Beach, Port Orford and Bandon.

Like the agate hunters, cyclists are discovering that the region’s most inviting features are not limited to the quaint towns and their shops. The wild nature of the coastline, with its public-access beaches, 13 state parks and recreation areas and an official state scenic bikeway, makes this a prime destination for an outdoor escape.

Our riding group encounters the agate hunters during a dawn beach walk before driving north to mile zero of the Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway in Port Orford. The bikeway, one of Oregon’s 16 officially designated scenic bikeways, starts and ends at Port Orford’s Battle Rock Wayside Park. This 61-mile cycling route includes an out-and-back stretch into the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and an excursion out to the westernmost point in Oregon―the Cape Blanco Lighthouse. Officially rated as moderately difficult, this route was designated a state scenic bikeway, in part, for its diversity.

The route, popular with both road cyclists and mountain bikers ready to ride on pavement, traces the Elk River east to Butler Bar Campground. As we pedal this section’s winding route, the river’s emerald waters grab our attention, compelling us to stop along the road to drink in the scenery. The views are simply too inviting.

“The Elk River is amazing,” says Alexandra Phillips, Oregon’s scenic bikeways coordinator. “In just a few miles you can take in an officially designated ‘wild and scenic river’ and then be right on the sand looking at the ocean. It’s not super challenging―it’s quite doable.”

The 38-mile out-and-back Elk River stretch leads us back across Highway 101 and over to Cape Blanco State Park at the northernmost leg of the bikeway. Here, the Cape Blanco Lighthouse has served as a coastal warning beacon since 1870. We join a tour and, despite a protest from my thigh muscles, climb the staircase to the top to take in the panoramic view and see the massive lens up-close. (Daily tours are available, except Tuesday, from April through October.)

 “The bikeway is anchored in the quite quirky town of Port Orford,” Phillips says.

From Cape Blanco, the route leads us back to Port Orford and its postcard-perfect beaches. On Phillips’ advice, we allow time to explore the town of a few thousand souls, where galleries, shops, a farmer’s market and a Main Street undergoing revitalization invite browsing at our own pace, a welcome diversion for the legs after a day of pedaling and lighthouse climbing.


Things to do near the bikeway

  • Jetboating the Rogue River: Besides the coastal scenery, the area’s main attraction is Jerry’s Rogue Jets and Mail Boat rides, which begin in May. Originating in Gold Beach, these shallow water excursions up the Rogue River―designated a Wild and Scenic River by federal decree―are part nature tour and part high-speed thrill ride through a pristine wilderness area. Bring a jacket and be prepared to get wet. The Mail Boat Route, one of three distances offered, is just that―a mail delivery 32 miles upriver to the tiny town of Agness, a practice started in 1895.

  • Samuel Boardman Scenic Corridor: Highway 101 follows a shoreline dotted with turnout vistas and hiking trails. Samuel Boardman Scenic Corridor, south of the bikeway, is a 13-mile stretch between Brookings and Gold Beach with some of the best coastal photo opportunities on the West Coast. Pick a spot, grab the camera and snap a selfie as the waves crash against the iconic Natural Bridges, Arch Rock or other sea stacks below you.


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