There’s a certain sense of independent pride when you ride to the ride, as opposed as driving to the ride. In our point of view, taking transit to the ride definitely counts as riding to the ride. Here’s a chance to sample some of the quiet, rural areas surrounding Portland, without having to ride 80+ miles – first just hop on a train, and then hop on your bike to experience the small-college-town charm of Forest Grove as well as rolling farmland, a picturesque lake and even a few of the region’s ubiquitous wineries. It’s an entirely car-free adventure in the country.
Thanks to the Portland area’s wide-ranging MAX light rail system, you can catch a train (and easily bring your bike on board) near almost anywhere. The MAX Blue Line ends in Hillsboro, and that’s where this route starts and ends. A quick note: While you’ll spend most of your time on country roads, there is still a good number of vehicles sharing the road with you; you should be comfortable riding in traffic.
Once you disembark in downtown Hillsboro, you’ll the first six miles of warmup will take you past the historic Hillsboro Pioneer Cemetery, which dates back to 1860 and is where you can find memorials to a multitude of key pioneers in this area. You’ll also pass through the more rural burg of Cornelius, on your way to lovely Forest Grove.
As you approach town, you’ll pass near McMenamins Grand Lodge; if you’d like to plan your trip as an overnight adventure, you should check out this funky, sprawling estate-turned-beer-resort.
The leafy, somewhat sleepy town of Forest Grove is home to Pacific University, and the campus is a peaceful enclave. There’s also an authentic old downtown, and a growing stable of good places to get a bite and/or a drink. Try Waltz Brewing, a casual comfortable spot where your bike gear won’t raise any eyebrows, or Ridgewalker Brewing, which offers 34 taps and everything from home-brewed beer to cider and kombucha. For good food, consider Kama’aina, for Hawaiian plate lunch and more, or highly rated Cornerstone Pub & Grill, whose name pretty much sums it up.
Once you pedal out of the main downtown area, the scenery turns rural quite quickly; you’re breaking out into wine country. People easily get caught up in the products of these rolling hills, missing the fact that it’s a sublime place to ride a bike. If you feel like a picnic and/or tasting break with pleasing views, go ahead and stop in at Montinore Estate or Plum Hill Vineyards.
Just more than 11 miles in, you’ll start the “outer-lollipop” portion of the overall loop – a 10.5-mile roller-coaster ride around Henry Hagg Lake. Here is where you’ll have to do the most work climbing, but keep in mind that if it’s a lollipop, it has to come back to the same spot – which means you’ll get just as much downhill as you did up. A nice touch on this recently reworked road is a seven-foot-wide shoulder that feels almost like a separate lane just for you. As you circle the lake, you’ll alternate between open space and dappled forest canopy; everything feels fresh out here. There are ample opportunities to stop for views and a little education, including the C-Ramp Rec Area and the Sain Creek Rec Area – both promising picnic spots in their own right. (Oh, and the well-stocked Lake Stop Grocery convenience store comes right before the start of the lollipop, if you need any guilty-pleasure foods.)
After you’ve looped the lake, you can opt to retrace your route back to the start, or venture out into the town of Gaston as well as some new scenery on the way back; the longer route is only about 4 miles more. When you arrive in Gaston, you have two more dining choices: the Screamin’ Chicken Diner, where you can wrap yourself in comfort food, and the One Horse Tavern, the name of which just may be a commentary on the town’s size. There’s also Scoggins Creek Coffee, if that’s more your style.
After Gaston you’ll connect to Spring Hill Road, which is a bit of a bike highway – and you’ll understand why. It meanders seemingly at will through the fertile landscape, with gentle rises and graceful bends, amid a bounty of greenness.
As you prepare to re-enter civilization on the outskirts of Forest Grove, don’t pass up a stop at Fernhill Wetlands. This roughly 800-acre preserve is home to a bevy wildlife, including herons, hawks, eagles, beavers, otters and mink. Here you’ll find restrooms, picnic shelters and short trails with viewing stands. It’s worth strolling around, to let that “out in the country” sensation linger before you head back into the city.