The Route (13 miles)
Difficulty Rating 4/5
This ride is physically and technically challenging. You’ll be doing a lot of “hike a bike” and descending. Falling is probable. For directions and map details, follow the self-guided Ride with GPS route.
Riding a fat bike at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area provides opportunity for all skill levels. On the Oregon Coast, you can find an enjoyable, flat pleasure cruise or a strenuous, freestyle off-road adventure with ever-changing ground conditions and steep terrain. If you are looking for the latter, this ride is for you.
Exploring the different elements of the John Dellenback Dunes merges the best of the outdoor sport world: the playfulness of a skate park, the adventure of mountain biking and the fluidity of skiing.
I put together a group of friends from Portland for a weekend away from it all at Oregon’s South Coast. We packed up our cars and headed south for a weekend of riding, camping and exploring a whole different part of Oregon.
Our journey began at William M. Tugman State Park, enjoying an easy morning, sipping coffee at our tranquil Eel Lake campsite. After fueling up on cast-iron eggs and enough cowboy coffee to power a lawnmower, we were ready to embark into the unknown.
We jumped onto the sandy trail and climbed toward the top. Looking over the edge, we could see an expanse that looked like we fell into the set of the “Dune” — this very landscape inspired Frank Herbert while writing his 1965 epic science fiction novel. Luckily, there are no giant alien worms to devour fat bikes, and the openness of the landscape creates limitless routes to ride.
At that point, there was only one way to go: up. The sand was hard, but the hills were steep enough that pushing our bikes was the only option.
As we crested the first large spine the excitement was palpable. We could now see all the bowls, ridges, and sculpted features that we would be riding on. Dropping in on the first descent felt like I’d never ridden a bike before. The front wheel washed and drifted while the back swung around making me feel like I was on a snowboard.
Eventually I got the hang of letting the front slide a bit — it helped to think of the front tire as more like a ski than a wheel.
The playfulness of riding at John Dellenback was contagious. We rode aimlessly, laughing about each little fun feature we could find. Before we knew it, we were challenging each other to take on steeper routes and more technical features.
Having accepted a fair share of “double-dog dares” in my lifetime, I knew this could only lead to one thing: crashing. Fortunately, similar to a good powder day on the mountain, crashing on sand is pretty harmless (with the exception of sand in your mouth). Just remember to wear your helmet.
The time seemed to evaporate as we wandered up, down, and all around the dunes with no clear destination in mind. It was physically challenging, endlessly playful, and mixed with a few harmless spills over the bars. Once we had our fill, we rolled down to Lakeside and found Up The Creek Tavern, where we enjoyed a couple of draught beers and bragged about our tales from the day while nursing our abrasions and flesh wounds.
Don’t have a fat bike? Not to fear, South Coast Bicycles has you covered. They
are 40 miles south of John Dellenbeck Dunes, so plan ahead.