: Wood River Valley by James Stolen

Cycling the Klamath Countryside

November 7, 2018

Anyone who has pedaled down the backroads of Oregon knows a special feeling that can’t always be described in words. It’s that moment when the scenery unfolds as you switch gears downhill, when the countryside looks as if it’s hugging the sky. Or it’s when you roll into a small town where the pace is relaxed and everyone seems to be wearing a smile. Suddenly you forget your troubles and truly live in the now.

You’ll find moments like these when cycling through rural Klamath County in Southern Oregon. Here, where the sun shines 300 days a year, the paved roads weave through farmlands and high-desert landscapes, over mountain passes and between historic communities. Soak up the sunshine, get to know a Bike Friendly Business and explore this less-ridden part of Oregon. Here are a few of our favorite routes.

Westside Loop spans 47 miles through Klamath County countryside. (Photo credit: Brian Gailey)
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Westside Loop
47 miles
Moderate

Also known as the Fort Klamath Loop, this scenic ride is favored by locals for its low car traffic and spacious road shoulders. Thanks to the landscape’s wide-open spaces, long-distance visibility is good too. (And there’s plenty of stunning scenery to see.)

The route starts at the Pelican Guard House rest area, where Westside Road begins off Highway 140. It continues north through forest land for 17 miles, skirting the west side of the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, home to 15,000 acres of freshwater marsh and habitat for fish and waterfowl — including more than a million migrating birds in winter. Several pull-offs are located throughout the ride, such as the Crystal Springs rest area, which has vaulted toilets. Once you wheel into the Wood River Valley, notice the grazing animals and deserted roads. It’s just you and your thoughts out here. Grab a snack, sandwich or some sleep at Joe’s Motel in Fort Klamath, the official halfway point, before finishing the loop. For more route details, visit Ride with GPS.

Keno Access Loop
88 miles
Extremely difficult

Satisfy your cravings for the wilderness with this breathtaking and challenging ride. Relish in the peaceful quiet of Southern Oregon’s lesser-known forests and get ready for some intense and rewarding climbs. The leg mileage is worth the journey.

The route begins in Klamath Falls along Lake Ewauna and dips south before heading north towards the Fremont–Winema National Forest. This area is best known for its mountain lakes, the result of volcanic flows thousands of years ago. As the path transitions into the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest, the elevation changes too; the ride’s highest point comes around the Pederson Trailhead. More scenic views await after the national forests, as the route curbs Howard Prairie Lake and then the Klamath River Recreation Site. Soon enough comes Keno Access Road, a long, false-flat climb (but do not underestimate this section). Prevailing winds may give slight crosswind between Keno and Klamath Falls — which means a celebration is due in town. For more route details, visit Ride with GPS.

Merrill Loop is a 61-mile scenic tour of the Poe Valley, best suited for riders at an intermediate level.

Merrill Loop
61 miles
Moderate

Consider this your self-guided tour of the scenic Poe Valley and Klamath Basin. Take farm roads through the rural countryside, loosely following the base of the Stukel Mountain and the rolling hills that surround it. Because of distance and winds, this is categorized as intermediate level.

The ride begins at Veterans Park in Klamath Falls and weaves through the city for two miles before rolling onto the OC&E Line State Trail, a converted rails-to-trails project. After five miles, the route shoots south towards the towns of Pine Grove and Henley, eventually crossing the famed Lost River (which actually starts and ends in California). The ride skirts the east side of Stukel Mountain, with the 6,525-foot-tall peak looming overhead. By now riders have probably felt the strong headwinds, especially at peak elevation. South of the mountain, an unique riding  experience occurs: cycling along the state line on Route 161. Stay the course to the town of Merrill, where it’s recommended to grab a cold drink, before heading back onto Lower Klamath Road. For more route details, visit Ride with GPS.

Keno Access Loop stretches 88 miles and is considered a challenging ride.
OC&E Line State Trail is a 109-mile converted rails-to-trails project popular with Klamath Falls locals.

Bonanza Loop
45 miles
Moderate

When thoughts of quiet country roads persist, take this dreamy ride through rural Klamath County. You’ll be treated to serene views of farmland, pastures and charming communities. You might even be lucky enough to spot a few cars (or tractors) in Poe Valley.

The ride begins at the trailhead for the OC&E Line State Trail in Klamath Falls. The urban section is popular with locals, so be prepared to share the space with joggers, skaters or other bicyclists. As the trail gets more remote and passes through farmland, Mt. Shasta is seen prominently in the distance. Soon enough the ride approaches the Olene Gap (aka “The Gap”), a naturally formed opening in the mountains, where Route 140 and the Lost River slip through. After Olene, the route follows Poe Valley Road to the town of Bonanza, where lunch and cold drinks can be found at Longhorn Saloon. Refueled, cross the river once more and head southwest until you reach Route 140 again. A couple sections of the highway can get busy, so stay aware of traffic and hug the shoulder. For more route details, visit Ride with GPS.


When you go: For all your bike rentals, repairs and recommendations, visit Zach’s Bikes at 831 Main Street in Klamath Falls. (Phone number: 541-851-9200)

About The
Author

Sachie Yorck
Sachie Yorck is Travel Oregon’s Content & Publishing Coordinator. Depending on the day, she could be record-hunting in downtown Portland, hiking on a muddy forest path or soaking in one of Oregon's many natural hot springs.

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