Monday, February 13, 2023

Big Tanoak Loop

Distance: 22.7 miles

Climbing:  3304'

Difficulty:  Moderate

Start:  Salyer, CA

The ride starts on South Fork Road, 4.4 miles east of Willow Creek, or 1.1 miles west of Salyer.  There is a turnout on Highway 299 for river access where you can park. 

The ride starts straight off climbing up South Fork Road which is paved. You could do the loop either way, but this route is clockwise so you can get to the world's largest tanoak fastest, choosing an out-and-back, or continuing the loop. One you turn off South Fork Road to 6N12, it is all gravel despite the symbology of the map. The climb is steep in sections requiring mountain bike gearing or low gravel bike gearing. I had a 1x with 36x50. Typical 40x42 gravel gearing would be a grunt, especially on a few short 15% sections. A mountain bike would fun for the descents. There are some options for added distance such as heading out-and-back on the 5N02 to Hennessey Peak or riding out South Fork Road. There are a few terrific long-distance views along the route and some beautiful old growth Douglas-fir forest sections too. I noticed a few flowing streams along the route and one small pond where you could filter water. Otherwise, bring plenty of water during the summer.

The highlight of the ride is the world's largest tanoak. The tanoak was the new National Champion in 1991. At the time, the circumference was 22.5 feet (at 4.5 feet above ground), vertical height was 92 feet and average diameter crown spread was 82 feet.  You'll find the tree by following the ridewithgps route down the 6N31 to where the route stops.  Here there is a trail post and trail up above the road.


Sunday, September 18, 2022

Southern Oregon Coast Gravel Routes

I've started a collection of Southern Oregon gravel routes.  I'll add more as I explore and ride routes.  There are hundreds of miles of USFS backroads and very few cyclists.  This has become my favorite gravel destination.  The road gradients are very climbable and there are lots of places to camp.  I've created seven routes so far.

Check my Ride with GPS collection for the routes.

Southern Oregon Collection

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Smith River Collection

The Smith River in Del Norte County, California has a vast network of gravel roads and mountain bike trails.  The Smith River Guide produced by the Six Rivers National Forest is an excellent resource and includes an overview map as well as descriptions of all the mountain bike trails.  One major note- the guide shows a permanent road block on the 17N05 road, which was repaired the fall of 2020.  This is an important road to access the Bear Basin Lookout from Highway 199 or to complete various gravel loops.  Some of the scenic drives in the guide make good gravel exploration rides.  

There are many reasons to visit the Smith River including:

Amazing forests of old growth trees and rare plants to view along your ride

Great swimming spots in crystal clear water after a hot ride

Scenic vistas at fire lookouts make great cycling destinations

Multiple campgrounds making great base camps or bikepacking stops

I started a Smith River Collection of routes on ridewithgps.  This is a new format for me.  Instead of describing each ride here as a separate blog post, the rides are grouped by zone and described in ridewithgps.  I'm focusing on gravel and mountain bike routes in the Smith River Collection. 

Monday, December 07, 2020

Smith River Lighthouse to Lookouts Bikepacking Route

Distance:  144 miles

Climbing: 25,540'

Difficulty: Epic

    The Smith River in Del Norte County, California is a hidden gem located in the extreme northwest corner of the state on the California-Oregon border.  The route travels through state and national parks as well as two national forests including Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Redwood National Park, Smith River National Recreation Area of the Six Rivers National Forest, and a small portion of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.  Beginning at Battery Point lighthouse on the coast, the route heads straight out of Crescent City to an ancient coast redwood forest.  Within 4 miles the route turns to gravel as it winds through a grove of giant redwoods in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.  The forest habitats along the route have a high variety of conifer species and unique plants due to diverse topography, geology, and climate.

  • The route crosses all three forks of the Smith River, which is known for its crystal clear water, amazing swimming holes, and abundant native fish and wildlife. The Smith River was added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 1981.  It is an undammed and free-flowing river.
  • There are many camping options including a backcountry camp, developed campgrounds, dispersed camping, and the Bear Basin Butte USFS rental lookout
  • Two existing forestry fire lookouts provide spectacular views
  • The route utilizes a network of USFS gravel roads that are generally well maintained with several route options.  The route avoids major highways and is limited to less than 1 mile of highway travel.
  • There is year-round water throughout a majority of the route
  • Elevation ranges from sea level to just over 5,000 feet. Recommend riding from June to October due to potential for snow at higher elevations. Prime time is July to September to take advantage of warm temperatures and swimming opportunities
  • Summers are dry and warm with temperatures ranging from 80-100 F. The rainy season from October to April has an average annual rainfall of 90 plus inches
  • The route is climbing intensive with several extended climbs. Recommend ample mountain bike gearing and minimum 2” tires for the singletrack and some rough gravel sections.
  • Recommend 3-5 days, but your YMMV

Friday, July 17, 2020

Ft Bragg- Sherwood Road

Distance:  41.8 miles
Climbing:  5626’
Difficulty:  Hard
Start:  Fort Bragg, CA

On a recent bike tour, I left Highway 1 and cut over to Highway 101 on dirt.  I had just come down through the Lost Coast on my bikepacking bike so I was eager to leave the busy traffic and pavement of Highway 1.  This route was a real surprise.  The first time I tried to ride it, I was stopped by mud in the spring.  This time the road was dry and easy to navigate.  After climbing the first few miles on pavement, you are challenged by some seriously steep gravel grades. Once on the ridge you will be constantly climbing and descending along the ridge towards Willits.  Over the 41.8 miles you will gain 5626 feet.  There is very little signage along the road but most forks are gated and the main road was pretty obvious.

At milepost 6, I was chased by a loose dog at the last house after leaving Ft. Bragg.  It was pretty persistent until I stood my ground.  Judging by the looks of the property, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a regular occurrence.

Once you leave Ft. Bragg, you will be high up on the ridge away from water sources, except for a wonderful year-round spring at milepost 26.  Bring plenty of water during the summer.

The road surface is native dirt with a few ruts.  A gravel bike or mountain bike would be best especially if you are touring with a load.  I road a Salsa Cutthroat in bikepacking mode with a 32 x 46 low gear.  This was a perfect setup, although I did hike a couple of steep sections.

You are traveling through private timberland so expect to see logging trucks during the summer.  There are no public campgrounds or other facilities along the way.

RidewithGPS link Here

Monday, July 06, 2020

Lost Coast Tour

Update: July 6, 2020

I toured this route again on a two day overnighter that included a dirt route from Ft. Bragg to Willits. If you’re interested in that route check out the Sherwood Road post.  This time I was on a proper bikepacking bike, a Salsa Cutthroat, which left no doubt that a mountain-style bikepacking bike is the best choice.  You could complete the route on a loaded gravel bike or touring bike but fit the largest tires possible and make sure to have mountain style gearing.  I was running a 32x46 low gear and only walked a couple of sections. I was able to bomb the steep dirt sections with confidence on 29x2.2 tires and disc brakes.   I’m leaving my original post below intact because it is still accurate, except for a few changes I noted:

  • There is no water at Tolkan campground.  The water system is broken and appears to be permanently decommissioned.  I chose to ride on to Wailaki campground.  Here there is water but you have to filter it from the creek.  
  • Bring a water filter.  I found really nice springs on Kings Peak road after crossing Bear Creek.  There is also a spring on Usal Road between Wailaki Campground and Usal Beach Campground.  
  • Below is the route starting in Eureka at Herrick Avenue on the south side of Eureka.

Original 2011 post describing the route starting in Ferndale.

Cumulative Distance: 93.65 miles
Cumulative Climbing: 14,768 feet
Difficulty: Epic
Type: Mixed, 37 miles of dirt roads
Start: Ferndale

The Lost Coast Tour is an alternative to touring down Highway 101, the Avenue of the Giants, and Highway 1 between Eureka and Fort Bragg. The tour can be included in your coastal tour or completed as a fun short tour that can be made into a loop or a point to point. I completed the ride in the summer of 2011 as a counter clockwise loop from Eureka to Usal and returning via Leggett and Highway 101.

The Lost Coast is shrouded in mystery, myth, and adventure. This post provides a reasonable way to complete the tour including recommended equipment, distances, and stops. I'm sure a maniac could complete it in one day, but I recommend at least 3 days. I believe any experienced cyclist can complete the tour if you are patient and pace yourself.

Here are my recommendations for equipment. I'm sure you could complete the ride on most any bike, but some would be better than others. I would not recommend a road racing bike with narrow tires and overloaded rear rack. A mountain bike or touring bike with ample gearing and wide tires is mandatory. I completed the ride on a loaded steel touring bike with a triple crankset, mountain bike cassette, 650B x 42mm Grand Bois Hetre cushy tires, 40 pounds of gear, 4 water bottles, and spare parts. At times I wished I had ridden my 29er and gone for a superlight off-road setup. There were times when I really wanted to bomb the gravel road descents, but had to carefully pick my lines and control my speed to avoid crashing or pinch flatting.

  • Make sure your bike is in great mechanical condition.

  • Choose reliability over speed.

  • Have extra water carrying capacity such as multiple bike bottles or a hydration pack. Water stops are critical strategic points. Don't pass one up without filling up. It's a good idea to bring a water treatment system such as a filter.

  • Bring extra food. There are only two stores and they are located early in the ride.

  • Don't rely on a cell phone for safety. I had poor cell coverage for most of the ride.

  • Let someone know your route and stick to it.

  • Bring enough clothes to cope with extremes in temperature. I experienced cold 47 degree drizzle to temperatures in the 90s.Don't do this ride in the winter. The Usal road is not maintained during the winter and would be impassable because of the sticky clay surface.

The following are some route recommendations and directions. I won't be overly-detailed, so the ride will still have some adventure left for the rider who chooses to follow these directions. The best advice I read was from John Zilly’s book “Wild Pigs: The Mountain Bike Adventure Guide to the Pacific Coast,” where he describes this same route. If you are used to 100 mile days on a road tour, expect only 30 mile days on the Lost Coast.

DAY 0- Eureka to Ferndale Distance: 16.65 miles
Climbing: 694 feet

The real starting point for the Lost Coast is Ferndale. The ride from Eureka to Ferndale can be easily accomplished by riding down 101, taking the Ferndale exit and following the signs to Ferndale. However, if you want to avoid riding on the Highway as much as possible, follow this description.

0- Start, Herrick Avenue Exit, Highway 101
3.8- Exit 698 for Tompkins Hill Rd toward College of the Redwoods
4.3- Right towards College of the Redwoods
6.9- Right on Hookton Road, turn right and continue over Highway on overpass
7.2- Continue straight on Eel River Drive, don't get on the Highway
9.8- Loleta, Straight or turn left on Loleta Drive to the Loleta Cheese Factory or Loleta Bakery
11.6- Right on Fernbridge Drive towards Fernbridge
12.2- Right on CA-211 towards Ferndale
16.0- Turn right onto Van Ness Ave towards the Fairgrounds, or straight into town for supplies
16.5- left onto 5th street
16.65- Arrive at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds

The camping at the fairgrounds is simple and cheap, but there are warm showers and lots of good restaurant options downtown. Plus, this is the best place to start since it is only 3/4 of a mile from the start of the route.


DAY 1- Ferndale to A.W. Way Campground
Distance: 35 miles
Climbing: 4520 feet

The day starts off with a climb up the Wildcat/Mattole Road. The road is narrow, but there is little traffic and the drivers are polite. If this steep paved climb makes you doubt your fitness, you have not seen anything yet. You should consider turning around because the dirt roads in the King Range are much more challenging. There are two big climbs on the route within the first 20 miles. The first climb tops out at 1909 feet at the 7.2 mile mark. The descent into Capetown will challenge your brakes and descending skills. If you have weak brakes now, consider turning around or adjusting them. The dirt roads in the King Range are much steeper. The next climb isn’t as long, but there are a series of tough switch backs and uneven pavement that will test your bike handling and climbing skills. You get to bomb down the 18 plus percent “Wall” on the way down to the ocean. This is a nice treat if you are used to climbing the Wall during the Tour of the Unknown Coast.

After a nice tailwind along the ocean you head inland climbing towards Petrolia. At mile 29.6, stop at the Petrolia store for supplies. They have a small market with basic supplies, but can also make great deli sandwiches. You are in store for more climbing before you reach A.W. Way. At mile point 30.6 you will turn left after crossing the Mattole River. An alternative camp site is located down Lighthouse Road on the ocean at the Mattole Campground

As you head east along the Mattole River you will be challenged by the last significant climb of the day, the “Dump Hill” at mile point 33. There are a couple of tough switchbacks that will have you fighting your bike. From here it is an easy ride into A.W. Way Campground at mile point 36. The campground has recently been upgraded with a brand new bathroom and hot showers! Pushing on to the Honeydew Creek campground is a mistake. A.W. Way has a nice swimming hole and there are several river-front camping sites to pick from. In contrast, Honeydew Creek is smaller, less private, and has no potable water. There are no showers or flush toilets like A. W. Way.

Day 2- A. W. Way Campground to Wailaki Campground
Distance: 30.5 miles
Climbing: 4921 feet

Today you will get your first taste of gravel road touring. The ride to Honeydew Store at mile marker 8.1 is fairly uneventful with a couple of small climbs. Stock up on water and supplies at the Honeydew store before heading into the wild. The real challenge begins just after the 10 mile mark on Wilder Ridge Road. The road starts to climb and switchback at perhaps the steepest grade so far. A 0.4 mile gravel switchback section challenges you to keep you front wheel from washing out and your rear wheel from loosing traction. After 11.6 miles, the slope becomes more gradual, but the climb continues all the way to Kings Peak Road at mile point 15.8.

Now the real challenge begins on a steep gravel descent to Bear Creek. Your brakes and handling will be challenged as you try to avoid washing out on the tight switchbacks. I once turned back here afraid of what I was in for. Be happy that you don’t have to climb this beast of a road. The only car I saw on this whole dirt section was a Toyota Landcruiser. As I passed them I saw a curious look in their eyes as I bombed down the rutted road on a touring bike. The rough road will challenge you as you steadily climb above Bear Creek and cross several small creek fords. Pass up Horse Mountain Campground for Tolkan, where there is potable water (Update, June 2020, water system broken). This is a great base camp if you want to ride the Paradise Royale mountain bike trail.

From here the climbing continues until you reach Shelter Cove Road at mile point 28.1. If you are short on supplies, it is a tough decision to ride all the way down the descent to Shelter Cove. It’s a little over 3 miles, but it means a tough ride back out. Turn left on Shelter Cove Road and head out Chemise Mountain Road to Wailaki Campground. The nice smooth pavement, shade, and gentle topography are a welcomed change. Wailaki is an important stopping point with nice camp sites along the South Fork of Bear Creek. This is a great place to rehydrate and rest before conquering the ride to Usal. If you choose to push on like I did, expect to spend a long day in the saddle, even though it’s only 22 miles to Usal Beach Campground. It took me nearly 4 hours at a meager pace of 6 miles per hour.

Day 3- Wailaki Campground to Usal Beach Campground
Distance: 23 miles
Climbing: 4025 feet

I had heard rumors about the Usal Road being the worst road on this whole ride. I also heard stories of vehicles getting stuck on the unmaintained road during the winter. The Usal Road lived up to its reputation, but it is totally rideable during the summer. The road varies from hard packed clay to loose gravel. Along the way you will have to pick good lines between ruts left from 4x4s and the small erosion gullies left from winter weather. The road is not maintained in the winter, but it didn’t appear like it was maintained during the summer either. If you are a mountain biker, this will seem like a normal fire road or logging road ride. Riding 23 miles on an unloaded mtb would be less of a challenge. But, it is demanding if you are trying to control a loaded touring bike. During this ride I saw only one SUV and two motorcycles. You will be out of cell phone range and away from help, so ride cautiously!

Chemise Mountain road sounds like a barren and hot ride. However, both Chemise Mountain Road and the Usal Road are covered by a nice canopy of second growth Douglas-fir and tanoak the majority of the way, which provides lots of shade.

At mile point 0.95 you will be greeted by a steep gravel descent. After this white knuckle experience you will love the paved rolling terrain for a couple of miles as you pass the community of Whale Gulch. The real peace and isolation starts when you ride up the narrow and twisting Usal Road 4.5 miles into the ride. There are few landmarks along the way as you seem to continuously climb on the narrow dirt road. After 19 miles of climbing and ups and downs you will bomb down to the Usal Beach Campground, part of the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park

This simple campground features private camp sites up Usal Creek, along the beach, or within a small prairie. There is no potable water here, but water may be available in Usal Creek if you have water treatment options.

Day 4- Usal Beach Campground to Highway 1 and Beyond

If you choose to push on or spend the night, you have 5.5 miles and 1300 feet of climbing to reach Highway 1. Fort Bragg is an additional 28 miles further.
Here are some more resources:

  • BLM King Range Information HERE

  • Sinkyone Wilderness Information HERE

  • Asana Cycling Surly Big Dummy Tour has a fun description of the ride and some video of the adventure

  • John Zilly's "Wild Pigs: The Mountain Bike Adventure Guide to the Pacific Coast" published in 1995 details the route. I used this for my adventure. The only real changes are there are a couple sections of road that have been paved since 1995. It details mountain bike rides all along the west coast and is available at Amazon

  • Amy L's Northern California Bike Loop Advice Blog where she road the Usal road from south to north and then headed east towards Redway.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Somes Bar Gravel Loops

Distance:  20-50+
Elevation:  3,669’-7,000’+
Difficulty: Hard
Start:  Somes Bar, California

The Klamath National Forest near Somes Bar, CA, has miles and miles of backroads to explore as well as great campgrounds.  The Klamath and Salmon Rivers are a bonus for a great cool down after a long bike ride.  Plus there are remote backcountry campsites perfect for bikepacking or backpacking adventures.  Shown below are two loops that start and end in Somes Bar at the Somes Bar Outpost.  These are just two examples of the potential riding the area has to offer.  You could ride them in any direction, skipping, or adding the lookouts along the way.  I haven’t provided a ton of turn by turn directions so you can choose your own adventure.  I do recommend a gravel bike or a mountain bike with good climbing gears.  There are springs and streams along the way so bring your water filter.  Summer temps can reach into the 90s.

Offield Mountain Lookout (site) Loop

This 20 mile loop includes a few miles of Highway 96.  It can be completed clockwise or counterclockwise.  If you do it clockwise you will do the highway segment first, climb up gravel road 12N52, and descend on paved Camp Three road.  If you do it counterclockwise, the climbing is easier on the pavement, you descent gravel, but have to ride the highway back.  There are pros and cons to each way.  The Offield Mountain Lookout is an optional out and back (1.5 miles each way) with a steep grade up to the old lookout site. There is no longer a lookout at the location, just a rock monument.  There are however great views on the way up to the site. It makes a good picnic stop halfway through the ride.

Ukonom Lookout Loop

This 53 mile loop is tough with over 7,000 feet of climbing.  It would make a great overnight bikepacking trip.  There is a nice campground with picnic tables at Stanshaw Campground on the edge of the Marble Mountain Wilderness.  You could camp there and then hike into the wilderness from the trailhead located a the campground.  We did discover a slide at about road point 40, but you can safely walk across the creek.  The lookout is a permanent structure that is staffed during fire season.  It is a 4 mile one-way ride out to the lookout with a steep final climb.