Saturday, February 24, 2018

To and from the Oregon Coast by bicycle

Beach at Cape Lookout. Photo by April Wiza.

Chances are if you are bicycle touring through Portland, you’re either on your way to or from the Oregon Coast in order to ride the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route. If you are, you are in store for a great ride! Or maybe you’re heading to Astoria to start the Transamerica Bike Route or the Lewis and Clark Bike Route.

That’s quite an adventure as well! And since Portland has bus, plane, and train connections, the Hawthorne Hostel is a logical place to start or end a coastal bike tour.

The hitch, however, is that Portland isn’t on the coast, it’s about 75 miles (120 km) inland. There’s a bit more effort involved, but it’s not impossible. The directions below shall help you out!

First, I advise avoiding US 26. While it is indeed the most direct route between Portland and the Coast, it is also the busiest and has minimal shoulders in places. And it has three passes to summit on the Coast Range, while other routes usually have just one. I’d only use this route if speed was your utmost concern.

And some books advise using US 30 to the coast. Since it sticks to the Columbia River Valley there’s no climb over the Coast Range, but there are still two significant hills to get over. And there are high amounts of traffic for most of the way.

If you’re looking to get to Astoria, the northernmost town on the Oregon Coast Bicycle Route and the start of the Transamerica route, I advise this route (provided by Portland’s Bureau of Transportation) that starts at the MAX station in downtown Hillsboro (a suburban city about 12 miles west of downtown Portland):

Overview map of routes to the Oregon Coast (PBOT)

Overview map of routes to the Oregon Coast (PBOT)

Route approx. 100 miles (160km). More info, including detailed maps and a cue sheet, can be found on the PBOT website here.

Map 1: Hillsboro to Vernonia

Map 2: Vernonia to Astoria

The Hillsboro-Astoria route is pretty mellow. While it does summit the coast range at about an elevation of 1200 feet (365 m), it’s for the most part a gradual climb with only a couple steeper sections. And a good portion of the route between the towns of Banks and Vernonia use the Banks-Vernonia Trail, a former railbed. The rest of the route has barely any traffic, so you’ll have a quiet ride.

Services: This route is rural. You’ll find grocery stores in Hillsboro, Banks, and Vernonia. Between Vernonia and Astoria, there are two small stores: one in Birkenfeld (20 miles away) which is now only open limited hours on weekends, and one in Olney (another 30 miles down the road) which also has limited hours. Plan accordingly. There’s few spots to fill up water besides stores, so keep that in mind as well. (One spot to hydrate is Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area, if they are open.)

Camping: There are a few places to camp along the route. Stub Stewart State Park is on the Banks-Vernonia trail just before Vernonia. They offer “walk-in” camping sites for $6-10 (higher during summer). Anderson Park is located right in Vernonia. Big Eddy County Park is seven miles past Vernonia. Big Eddy is the last campground on the route, it’s 53 miles (85 km) until you reach the end of the route in Astoria. No camping in Astoria, nearest campground is Fort Stevens State Park, approx. 10 miles west. Or, if you cross the four mile long Astoria-Megler Bridge over the Columbia into Washington State, you can stay at Cape Disappointment State Park, about 18 miles from Astoria.

If you wanted to start further south, you can use this routes provided by our friends at Cycle Wild that start at the Hillsboro MAX station and head west to Tillamook and Cape Lookout State Park. Check out the full route on their Ride With GPS page.

This route is approx. 70 miles (115 km) long and can be done in a day if you wanted to. The summit of the Coast Range is approx. 1,600 ft (500 m) high, and is a gradual grade from either side. Grocery stores can be found in Forest Grove, Gales Creek, and Tillamook. The 45 miles between Gales Creek and Tillmaook have very few services, so be prepared. And this route intercepts the Oregon Coast Bicycle Route (US 101) in Tillamook, 58 miles from the Hillsboro MAX stop. The traffic is moderate to heavy on the route, with generally good shoulders.

Camping can be found at a few spots in the Tillamook State Forest at Gales Creek, Elk Creek, and Jones Creek. Most of these sites are only open in summer (May-Oct), but the walk-in sites are only $5 per night. And of course there’s camping at Cape Lookout State Park, a beautiful beach, and hands-down the nicest hiker-biker campground on the coast!

For a quieter way to the coast (Cape Lookout),this route provided by PBOT heads further south and uses the Nestucca River Road.

Three Capes via the Nestucca River: Hillsboro to Carlton (map 1)

Three Capes via the Nestucca River: Carlton to Beaver/ Hwy. 101 (map 2)

This route is approx. 85 miles (135 km) long. While the route is quieter, there’s more-and steeper-climbing. The summit of the Coast Range is approx. 2,000 ft (600 m). Services quite limited, after Carlton there’s not going to be anything until you reach the coast. There’s a handful of small campgrounds between Carlton and Beaver.

Want to ride the whole way from Portland? Lemme tell ya, you’re not missing much by getting on the MAX light rail and getting off in Hillsboro. The suburbs to the west of Portland are a tangle of busy roads, cul de sacs, subdivisions, and strip malls. Plus, you’ll have to get over the West Hills, a steep small mountain range just west of downtown. But maybe you’re a completist and insist on riding the whole way. If so, here’s a route (and another route) from the Portland Bureau of Transportation. This one goes over the West Hills through Washington Park, which is a bit of a climb. It ends at the Hillsboro MAX stop, where the other rides begin.

Here’s an alternate route that connects with the Hillsboro-Astoria route. Rather than head due west over the West Hills, it heads south first, meaning an easier, more gradual ascent. (Cue sheet here.)

Don’t want to ride to the coast? The Northwest Point bus travels between Portland Union Station, Seaside, and Astoria. The bus is approximately $20 and leaves twice a day at 9:10am and 6:00pm. Unboxed bikes can be loaded in the luggage hold for an additional $5. More information here. Tillamook County provides “The Wave” bus service between Portland Union Station and Tillamook. Twice daily trips (once on Sunday), $15 one way and bike rack on front of bus. (Reserving bike space is recommended.)

For more info on bicycling the Oregon Coast, the Oregon Dept. of Transportation has printed an Oregon Coast Bicycle Map. To view it, click here. (Note: PDF file, requires Adobe Acrobat. This file is an older version of the map as they have not updated the online content. But the info is still good.) And be sure you pick up a copy of Bicycling the Pacific Coast by Vicky Spring and Tom Kirkendall, the “bible” of bicycling the coast! Order online through Powells Books here. And Adventure Cycling Association has a map of their Pacific Coast Bicycle Route, ordering info can be found by clicking on the link.

Questions? Email us.

Cape Meares