Gravel riding photos by Aaron Rogosin
“Why exactly are we going to Yachats?” asks my cycling buddy Jenn,
when she agrees on a weekend junket to the Coast.
“For gravel,” I say, and she raises an eyebrow.
After exploring all four corners of Oregon via mountain and road bike, I have always wanted to be excited about riding on the Oregon Coast. But with a dearth of mountain bike single-track and a curvy, no-shoulder, traffic-riddled Highway 101, I’ve been forever reluctant to spin by the sea.
Now, however, I’ve got a new passion for peddling in the salt air, sea spray and sandy beaches: gravel.
Cyclists are gravitating to gravel paths to escape the hustle and bustle of cities without going too deep into the wild. It’s about solace and scenery, a great workout and — did I mention the paucity of cars?
Gem of the Oregon Coast
Tucked in among the most spectacular rocky headlands in the Beaver State, Yachats is a tiny and tranquil destination with small cafes, quiet beaches and, for our purposes, one of the premier backcountry bike routes in the West — the Oregon Coast Gravel Epic. Nestled in the Siuslaw National Forest between the Alsea and Yachats rivers, the Gravel Epic is the route of an annual race put on here in September by Eugene-based dark:30 Sports.
Alan Cline at dark:30 Sports points out that gravel riding combines the three main components of cycling — road riding, mountain biking and cyclo-cross — with a higher level of adventure and exploration. dark:30 picked Yachats because of the well-established backcountry bike route.
Thus was our seaside mission: Ride gravel at Yachats.
Yachats by David Cobb
The Gravel Grinder
On a perfect sunny, windless Friday afternoon, we rolled into Yachats, checked into the Overleaf Lodge & Spa, then strolled the Historic 804 Trail past sparkling sandy coves, breaking surf and rocky tide pools rich with aggregating sea anemones and ochre sea stars. We fueled up on locally caught grilled salmon and Oregon pinot noir at Luna Sea Fish House and Village Fishmonger, a true locals’ spot with nary a tourist.
The next morning, the sky was quintessential coastal: fog, oozing moisture, with teaser holes of blue. The Green Salmon Coffee and Tea House is the go-to spot for a cup of organic fair-trade joe and a scone.
To get to the trailhead, we followed the handy cue sheet on the Oregon Triple Crown website, which took us to the start near Waldport. Once at the trailhead, we set off spinning up and down foothills of the Siuslaw among the towering Sitka spruce, western hemlock and western red cedar. Oregon grape, salal, vine maple and sword ferns carpeted the understory in a thousand shades of green. By midmorning the fog had burned off, as we spun through swaths of trees, sun and greenery. The route climbed gravel that crunched under our tires, touched a few stretches of flat pavement and descended smooth gravel, with seldom a washboard.
Jenn and I rode cyclo-cross bikes, the perfect gravel steeds. But you can cruise on a touring bike, a road bike with wide tires or a mountain bike. (Here’s a tip: For rain, fog, dew and other assorted forms of Pacific Northwest precipitation, add a set of fenders.)
Don’t expect to go race pace on these pebbly tracks: a reasonable expectation on gravel is 10 miles/hour. But that’s part of the beauty: It’s a slow, steady uphill grind with a smooth glide downhill, much like ski mountaineering an Oregon volcano.
On our way home, with a light drizzle, we waved down a friendly local in a pickup for, as Jenn said, “confirmation, not directions” that we were indeed on Forest Road 5360.
dark:30 Sports has an excellent map and cue sheet for the Abomination Route — 71 miles and 8,677 vertical feet of ascent — as well as the 33-mile Son of Abomination Route. Find the same routes on the Hike, Bike and Paddle Trails Map for the Central Oregon Coast — a must-have guide for weekend exploration. The forest roads along the route are well marked.
Après ride, we shelved the bikes in favor of small-town cruising. We stretched our tired legs by walking forest trails in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. Because of a big swell that weekend, surf exploded on the jagged rocky coves and caves dubbed Devils Churn, Cooks Chasm and Thor’s Well. Boiling waves rammed into the basalt headlands and detonated into fountains of sea spray, frothy foam and giant waterspouts.
We replenished our energy with more fresh catch, Willamette Valley vino and live acoustic music at the historic Drift Inn, before sauntering back to the spa for a soak.
The following day, we stopped at a farmers market, scoped migrating gray whales from Devils Punchbowl and surfed waves on a stand-up paddleboard on the Yaquina River. Two designated flat-water kayak, canoe and SUP routes are worth exploring: the marshy estuaries of the Beaver Creek and Alsea River water trails.
We found a shorter gravel loop between Beaver Creek and Alsea River, near the Drift Creek Wilderness, for next trip. Now I have a reason to take my beloved bike back to the Oregon Coast: more gravel.
For more gravel rides around the state, visit RideOregonRide.