On the eastern edge of Oregon’s Coast Range sits the scenic Tualatin Valley, home to green pastures, amber hay fields and hillsides covered in orderly rows of award-winning wine grapes. The Tualatin Valley has long been a destination for those touring its many wineries, but today also offers adventure in its bike-touring opportunities. Cyclists are discovering a wealth of exciting riding possibilities — everything from long paved paths and inviting backroads to singletrack courses and challenging gravel routes winding their way through green forests dappled in sunlight.
Of its many different riding options, perhaps the most popular is the Banks-Vernonia State Trail. Part of an Oregon Scenic Bikeway, this paved path winds 21 miles along farms and through the forest as it connects the small towns of Banks to the south and welcoming Vernonia to the north. It’s the centerpiece of a 2- to 3-day cycling trip itinerary we’ve put together to showcase the charms of the Tualatin Valley, as well as Columbia County.
Begin your trip by “staging” in the town of Vernonia. Steeped in history tied to the forest industry, Vernonia will be your base for exploring the Banks-Vernonia Trail on day one and the Crown Zellerbach gravel ride on day two, before heading south to Forest Grove to explore two routes around scenic Henry Hagg Lake on day three. Reserve one night of lodging in Vernonia and one night in Forest Grove.
Day 1: Banks-Vernonia Trail
Your first day of riding in the Tualatin Valley offers a choice of two out-and-back rides along the popular Banks-Vernonia Trail and Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway. Looking for some additional mileage? Arrive early in Vernonia and opt for the longer distance of 74 miles round-trip to Forest Grove and back.
Vernonia to Banks – 42 miles round-trip
From Vernonia, take Jefferson Ave. south to Anderson Park, where you’ll find the Banks-Vernonia Trailhead leading west. Follow this paved rails-to-trails route with an easy 2 to 5 percent grade south for 21 miles. Give a silent thanks that railroad lines avoided steep hills — although there are a couple short, steep pitches where the trail drops down to the highway and then back up into the forest again. Along the way you’ll cruise over tall trestles, through sunlight-dappled corridors and along sweeping moss-lined curves, to the main trailhead in Banks. Here you’ll find public restrooms, water, Banks Bicycle Repair & Rental, a number of local restaurants, and a nearby gas station with a selection of snacks and chilled drinks.
Vernonia to Forest Grove – 74 miles round-trip
For those who want a bit more of an adventure plus some additional mileage, you can extend the Banks-Vernonia Trail from Banks to the town of Forest Grove. Upon arriving in Banks, proceed south on Hwy 47, which is the beginning of the southern portion of the Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway. Forest Grove is only 7 miles south of Banks as the crow flies, but your route today will meander through 17 miles and a dozen turns as it showcases the small farms and varied agriculture of the area. After you’ve rolled past hazelnut orchards, rows and rows of ripening raspberries, fields of tall corn and towering Oregon white oaks, you’ll arrive in Forest Grove, a quiet college town boasting a large selection of restaurants perfect for refueling for your ride back to Vernonia. For a detailed cue sheet for this portion of the ride, visit Oregon Parks & Recreation.
Vernonia Pioneer Museum
Located in a historic Craftsman-style home, the impressive artifacts and displays of the Vernonia Pioneer Museum showcase the region’s Native American inhabitants, the daily lives of early pioneers and settlers, the natural and cultural history of the area, and the logging industry that shaped the economic fortunes of countless families in the early to mid-20th century. Open Saturday and Sunday, 1-4 p.m. 511 E Bridge Street Vernonia
Located just off Hwy 47 in the heart of Vernonia, Shay Park houses Shay Locomotive #102. Built in 1912 and retired in 1953, this powerful locomotive was a workhorse throughout Oregon and Washington for 41 years as it hauled the trees and lumber that helped build the Northwest. Also found at the park is a small veterans memorial, a large piece of petrified wood and an old steam engine from the late 1800s, which was discovered in the nearby woods.
Where to Stay
The bike-friendly town of Vernonia offers cyclists many fine options for lodging and dining, making it the perfect hub for exploring a 42- to 74-mile round-trip ride of the Banks-Vernonia Trail/Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway, tackling some gravel on the Crown Zellerbach Trail, or spinning along one of the many forested roads in the area.
- The Carpenter’s Guest House, 487 Arkansas Ave., Vernonia – 541-961-8601
- Vernonia Springs (yurts and glamping), 54658 Hwy 47 S., Vernonia – 503-320-0988
- Coastal Mountain Sports Haus (includes breakfast, dinner), 66845 Nehalem Hwy N., Vernonia – 503-429-6940
L.L. Stub Stewart State Park
The popular L.L. Stub Stewart State Park is located on the way to Vernonia along the Banks-Vernonia Trail in Buxton. It features 78 full hookup sites in two drive-in campgrounds (Dairy Creek Camp West and Dairy Creek Camp East), 12 walk-in sites at Dairy Creek Camp West, 23 primitive walk-in sites in the Brooke Creek Hike-In Camp, and three double-room cabins and 12 single-room cabins at the Mountain Dale Cabin Village.
Day 2: Crown Zellerbach Trail
Stretching from the outskirts of Vernonia to Scappoose, the Crown Zellerbach Trail offers a bit of a different experience from the paved Banks-Vernonia Trail. A tad rough around the edges, this former logging road offers mountain-bike and gravel riders a nearly 22-mile out-and-back route over hard-packed and gravel doubletrack as it steadily but moderately climbs and descends its way through the forest. Though somewhat remote for much of its length, you won’t be alone, as alert riders will often be rewarded with a sighting of a large barred owl or two — the distinctive birds are often spotted here. And as you’re riding, it’s fun to imagine the fully loaded log trucks that once chugged along this road.
The Crown Zellerbach Trail, or CZ Trail as it is often called, parallels the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway for much of its length. As a result, it touches or crosses the highway at a number of points, usually with an informal trailhead and small parking area.
Here’s how to connect with the CZ Trail from nearby Scaponia Park. From Anderson Park in Vernonia, drive north on Hwy 47 for 5.1 miles to the signed turn onto the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway. Turn right here and travel south for 5.3 miles to Scaponia Park, on your right. Park here, pay the $5 parking fee, and then ride your bike south on the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway for approximately 0.2 miles to two adjacent trailheads on your left, with the second one being marked with a sign for the CZ Trail. (Note: The first trailhead is combined with Hawkins Road, which climbs a hill behind a large metal gate. Do not take this road.) Take the first trailhead, cross a small wooden bridge heading southeast, and gain the CZ Trail. You’ll climb a steady, moderate grade for about 3 miles before crossing under the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway, at which point you’ll crest and begin a long 11-mile descent to Scappoose, where you can find food and drinks for your return ride.
After you finish your ride today, you’ll be leaving Vernonia and driving south to Forest Grove for your second night’s stay. As a result, make arrangements to leave all your travel bags, belongings, cycling gear, etc. at your Vernonia lodging before your ride today, instead of leaving it all in your car at the CZ trailhead, and then pick it up after your ride and before continuing your trip to Forest Grove.
- Fernhill Wetlands: Just south of Forest Grove you’ll find this year-round destination for local birders. The Fernhill Wetlands Loop Hike is a mostly flat 2.3-mile scenic trail. 97117, 1399 SW Fern Hill Rd, Forest Grove
- Killin Wetlands Nature Park: West of Banks; a peat-soil marsh home to birds of all kinds. 46280 NW Cedar Canyon Rd, Banks
- Forest Grove Farmers Market: Wednesdays, 4-8 p.m., May through October. 2420 19th, Forest Grove
- Theatre in the Grove: Local performing arts theatre in Forest Grove. 2028 Pacific Ave., Forest Grove
- Ridgewalker Brewing: 34 taps of home-brewed beers. 1921 21st, Forest Grove
- SakeOne: Explore the world of sake at the only American-operated sake brewery. 820 Elm St., Forest Grove
- Waltz Brewing: Come and enjoy a collection of locally brewed beers, including Kolsch, But No Cigar, Sunshine Daydream and Van Damme, That’s Good. 1900 A St., Forest Grove
Where to Stay
Day 3: Henry Hagg Lake
Making its way around scenic lake, the 13.6-mile Henry Hagg Lake Loop Trail is popular with beginner and expert mountain bikers alike. Its winding singletrack sends riders along banked curves, through a thousand feet of climbing, and down plenty of free-rolling downhills as it travels through a shady deciduous forest along the lake’s shoreline. You’ll touch on the lake’s edge multiple times, with a different viewing angle each time to offer perspective on this popular destination. Some argue that this trail is best ridden clockwise, while others will strongly disagree, saying counter-clockwise offers the most fun and variety. We’ll leave it up to you to decide.
Cyclists choosing to road-ride around Henry Hagg Lake are rewarded with a 10.3-mile loop offering a wide shoulder, a little less than 780 feet of elevation gain, and a scenic view of the lake that’s always just off your shoulder. If you want to add some miles to make this more of a full excursion, begin your ride at McMenamin’s Grand Lodge in Forest Grove and make your way south toward Henry Hagg Lake on Maple Street to where it joins with SW Fern Hill Road. Follow this south to SW Spring Hill Road and turn right, continuing west to Old Highway 47, which then leads southwest to the lake. Make a loop of the lake and return to Forest Grove, and you’ll end up with about 30 miles for the day.
Driving Directions: From Forest Grove, drive south on the Tualatin Valley Hwy/Hwy 47 for approximately 4.2 miles to SW Scoggins Valley Road. Turn west here and follow SW Scoggins Valley Road for a little over 4 miles to Henry Hagg County Park. Turn south/left onto SW Herr Road and park in the large parking area to your right. Mountain bikers can access the Henry Hagg Lake Loop Trail at the nearby boat ramp, located at the south end of SW Herr Road. Road cyclists can return back to SW Scoggins Valley Road, which joins with SW West Shore Drive to make a full circuit of the lake.
Note: A daily parking or annual pass must be displayed in your vehicle at all times while in the park, and daily parking passes are sold year-round at the fee booth found at the park entrance, the park office and The Lake Stop store on the way to the lake (8015 SW Old Highway 47, Gaston). The park is open from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. Overnight camping is not available. For information, call 503-846-8715 or 503-359-5732.
Where to Eat
- All In Pub & Eatery: Hearty American fare with pub drinks and live music. 733 Bridge Street, Vernonia
- The Black Iron Grill: Burgers, wraps, salads and more, with plenty of outdoor seating. 831 Bridge Street, Vernonia
- Blue House Café: Mediterranean fare. 919 Bridge Street, Vernonia
- La Cabaña Restaurant: Your favorite Mexican dishes, served with fresh ingredients and cold drinks. 854 Bridge Street, Vernonia
- Mariolino’s Pizza: Burgers and Italian fare for lunch and dinner. 721 Madison Ave., Vernonia
- Hop Cycle Brewing Company: Across the street from the Banks trailhead; great beers, soups, salads, local cheeses and sausages. 13965 NW Main Street, Banks
- Main Street Pizza Co.: A way’s south on Highway 47; all your favorite pizzas, sandwiches, salads and beverages. 12350 Main Street, Banks
- The Trailhead Café: Close to the Banks Trailhead; great breakfast fare, burgers, panini, soups, coffee and more. 13847 Main Street, Banks
- Bites: Fresh Asian-fusion fare with local ingredients. 2014 Main Street, Forest Grove
- Maggie’s Buns: Known for its gooey cinnamon rolls and build-your-own breakfast and lunch burritos. 2007 21st, Forest Grove
- The Ironwork Grill at McMenamin’s Grand Lodge: A wide selection of menu items with indoor and outdoor seating in a relaxing, eclectic setting. 3505 Pacific Ave., Forest Grove
- Kama’aina: Your favorite Hawaiian comfort food. 1910 Main Street A, Forest Grove
- Pac Thai: A casual setting offering spicy curries, stir-fry dishes, soups, salads and more, all with vegan and gluten-free options. 1923 Pacific Ave., Forest Grove
- Scottie’s Drive-In: Burgers, fries and shakes at a classic drive-in. 1702 Pacific Ave., Forest Grove
- Yellow Llama: Traditional home-style Peruvian fare. 2036 Main Street B, Forest Grove
- Midget’s Island Grill: Fresh island fare, including teriyaki chicken, spicy beef, kalua pork and more. 1914 21st, Forest Grove
- Taqueria Corona: Fuel your ride with your choice of tasty tacos. 2009 Main Street, Forest Grove
- F G Sushi: Cozy Japanese eatery offers sushi, noodle dishes and fresh Japanese fare in a casual setting. 1905 Birch Street, Forest Grove
- Mandarin China Restaurant: A wide variety of authentic Chinese dishes in a relaxed setting. 2338 Pacific Ave., Forest Grove
Bike Rental/Repair Options
Banks Bicycle Repair & Rental
- 14175 NW Sellers Rd.. Banks, OR 97106
- Located at the Banks-Vernonia Trailhead
- Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; closed on Mondays. Note that hours of operation can vary.
Olson’s Bikes (Sales and service only – no rentals)
- 1904 Elm St. One, Forest Grove, OR 97116
- Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.