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Trails, backroads and the charms of Vernonia

Posted by on May 20th, 2013 at 5:01 pm

(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

One of the best things about bicycling in Portland isn’t even in Portland. It’s a small town called Vernonia. Situated a perfect day’s ride from Portland (about 50 miles, or less if you take MAX to HIllsboro), Vernonia is nestled in the woods at the end of about 20 miles of the smoothly paved Banks-Vernonia Trail.

This past weekend I packed up a few panniers and joined some friends for an overnight bike ride out to Vernonia. On the way out we rode through some great new trails and rural backroads through Washington County; and on the way back, we opted for logging roads and dirt trails that led us to Scappoose. Even under grey and wet skies all day Saturday, it was fantastic riding.

But what made this weekend so great wasn’t just the pedaling and the good company, it was the town of Vernonia itself. From the easy and comfortable camping at Anderson Park, to the hospitality of locals we experienced at Black Bear Coffee and the Cedar Side Inn.

(Before sharing more photos and thoughts, I want to give credit for the route to two guys: Our fearless leader Carl Larson; who organized the weekend as a bachelor party for a mutual friend; and Ed Groth, whose knowledge of the backroads proved invaluable.)

We started our ride from southeast Portland and headed to northwest. I took it as a good omen that we passed by the Brewcycle on our way out of town…

Vernonia Overnighter

Our route was to take NW Saltzman Rd (in Forest Park) up and over the hill; but instead of riding on the shoulder of Hwy 30, we opted to take Leif Erikson instead…

Vernonia Overnighter

Once up and over Forest Park, we bombed down into Washington County via Springville Road. But again, instead of taking narrow roads that can sometimes be nerve-wracking with a large group, we took a left turn onto a dirt road between a subdivision and a farm en route to the paved trail at Kaiser Woods Park…

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

Our friend Timo is getting married this summer. This adventure was undertaken in his honor.
Vernonia Overnighter

The paved trails that criss-cross Washington County are great, and more of them are popping up all the time. However, the crossings and connectivity are still very bad in some places. In the photo below, we’re riding the sidewalk of NW Kaiser Rd trying to find the continuation of the path…

Vernonia Overnighter

And here’s the bridge on a new section of the Rock Creek Trail near Allenbach Acres Park…

Vernonia Overnighter

One section of the trail took us alongside a driving range and there were golf balls all strewn about…

Vernonia Overnighter

Pretty soon we were beyond urban development and into gorgeous farmlands and quiet backroads…

Vernonia Overnighter

This barn was built in 1921…

Vernonia Overnighter

When it was time for lunch, King Torta in North Plains was just what we needed…

Vernonia Overnighter

Back on the road, the rain kept falling but it was never a downpour…

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

This is the St. Francis Catholic School on NW Harrington Rd…

Vernonia Overnighter

When we finally reached the Banks-Vernonia Trail, it was smooth and stress-free sailing all the way to camp…

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

After we set up our tents, we walked a few blocks into town and had dinner at Black Bear. It was late, but the waitress had her chef re-open the kitchen just to serve us. That was very nice. Then after dinner, we walked across the street for some dancing, karaoke, and toasting of our soon-to-be-married friend at the Cedar Side Inn…

Vernonia Overnighter

The next morning we awoke to this idyllic scene at Anderson Park…

Vernonia Overnighter

The next morning we set out for Portland; but instead of heading back south toward Washington County, we went north on Nehalem Hwy (47)…

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

If you’re going to get a flat, Vernonia Lake City Park isn’t a bad place to do it…

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

Just before Nehalem Hwy split into Scappoose-Vernonia Hwy, we left the paved road for Columbia Forest Road. This is a gravel and dirt road owned by a private timber company. Motorized access is prohibited, but it’s open to biking…

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

It sure beats the highway…

Vernonia Overnighter

Despite puddles and a few bumps and rocks, the Columbia Forest Road was in great shape…

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

After about 7-8 miles, the Columbia Forest Road turns into the Crown Zellerbach Trail. What a gem! It was so exciting to ride this for the first time…

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

Vernonia Overnighter

(This was just a very short section.)
Vernonia Overnighter

The CZ Trail ended right at Highway 30 in Scappoose. From there it was a straight shot south back to Portland. Riding on the shoulder of Highway 30 isn’t too bad, but in sections I think there was more gravel than on some of the logging roads! It would be great if Multnomah County would sweep the bike lane every once in a while…

Vernonia Overnighter

This was really a fantastic loop that I’d recommend to anyone who’s looking for a little off-highway adventure. Check out a map of the route via RidewithGPS.com.

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steph routh
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steph routh

Hey, who’s that cute guy changing the flat? 🙂

James
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James

Great post and pictures! I always stop into cafe side of Black Bear for some Dead Man’s Reach from Raven’s Brew. Exellent choice for the ride back : )

Jim Lee
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Jim Lee

Anything but “smoothly paved” in my experience!

A huge double-bumper tree root hiding in shadow generated my first ever trip in an ambulance, all the way to St. V.

If it were not for Medicare, Oregon Parks would have had a $10k plus claim against them.

And if it were not for my excellent double-shell Briko helmet, I would have been dead.

Yes, Vernonia is very cool. We need a decent trail–one not built by Oregon Parks with nearly invisible chains across it–to get there safely.

Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

I would say our little overnight trip left ~$1k in the town of Vernonia (IGA, meals, lodging, etc.). Thanks Carl for putting it together…except for the first day of rain…a Sunday and Monday trip would have been fab!

Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

…oh and for those thinking of riding the Columbia Forest Road, be aware that there are many gates to cross…a pair at end road crossing…and without a key you need to be able to lift your bike up and around the ends of many or strip your bike of panniers. Two wheel trailers and extracycles would be difficult.

Jeff bernards
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Jeff bernards

I’ve been visiting Vernonia since 1976. I knew alot of the towns color back in the day. Another great campsite is the City owned one only accesable by bike or walking, it’s right on the “lake” in Vernonia. If you go July/August I bring my crawydad trap and catch dinner. bring some herbs and rice it’s pretty awesome. I tried to make this a regular ride with a local bike touring company, but they weren’t sold on the Vernonia experience. The museum is awesome, a not to be missed experience into Vernonias past. The Human Hair wreath, a collection from generations of early settlers. The Mideast restaurant is awesome too. If you have visiting realtives/friends take them to Vernonia, it’s worth it, even if you drive.
Live from Sidi Ifni, Morocco
Jeff

Linda
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Linda

It looked to me like you had both road bikes and either hybrids or mountain bikes on this trip. If someone wanted to attempt it on a road bike would they need different tires because of some of the offroad terrain? If so, what would you recommend? The ride looks awesome and I don’t know how you got some of the photos you got but they are great too!

Redhippie
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Redhippie

Thanks for great story. I recent rode from St. Johns to Scappose to Vernonia to Banks and back and found it to be an excellent ride. On a sunday morning I think I was passed by only twenty or so cars from Scappose to Vernonia and felt the route was fairly safe.

Dan Packard
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Dan Packard

Neat route and getaway!

Thom
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Thom

Looks like fun. I did much of this route about a month ago, ran in to Ed and others at the Black Bear during a breakfast stop- I believe they were doing Berkie Brevet?

This looks like a better route to take the wife on than mine.

Brock Ditus
Guest

I’ve done parts of the CZ Trail before, but I remember I needed to haul my bike down some inconvenient ravines where old bridges used to exist. How was that aspect this time around for all of you? Other than the difficult crossings I loved this ride when I was there in 2010. Thanks for bringing some publicity to this little gem of a route!

Lynne
Guest

Birkenfeld Store doesn’t open until 11am at the earliest; more cafe than store now. Also a store in Olney, and water/restrooms at the Elk Refuge near Jewell. Beautiful ride. Don’t go OVER the hill in Astoria to get to the area around the bridge – ride around at water level.

PorterStout
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PorterStout

Awesome ride, story and photos, and I was all set to ask for a posting of the route on Google, and you did me one better, on Ride. Well done!

Alain
Guest
Alain

Thanks for posting the map! I like the route, and will have to try such a tour this summer. I’m wondering if there is a way to avoid Hwy 30 entirely? Could there be a way to drop down to Skyline, then Germantown and across the St Johns bridge? Curious to know if anyone has ideas about such a route?

Gasper Johnson
Guest

cycling is DOPE!

RWL1776
Guest

Back around 2004, there were discussions between Vernonia and PUMP for a MTB skills park to be planned and built next to Vernonia Lake, in this large area to the west of that lake. I wonder what happened…..here’s a link to the area: http://goo.gl/maps/uhVtj
The idea was kids could visit the park with their parents, practice at the skills park, then ride the linear trail to Stub Stewart State Park and practice those new skills at the MTB trails that have since been built.
Ric Balfour was talking to them, but he has since moved to New Zealand.

bikesalot
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bikesalot

In addition to the Elk Preserve stop, there is also a rest room at the fish hatchery on the Astoria side, near where the climbing starts to cross the mountain. This out and back is a standard every August, camping at Big Eddy County Park – about half way to Ft Stevens from Portland.

jered
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jered

Funny I rode from the Hatfield Max stop out to Astoria on saturday. It was an amazing 100 miles, the Banks Vernonia trail is a great way to get going on that ride. Super relaxing and easy ride, nothing too bad as far as hills go, after Vernonia rt 47 is very quiet and 202 is scary quiet. I maybe saw 10 cars on 202 + i saw a fox trotting down the middle of the road and a couple deer. An amazing area right in our backyard!!

Haywood
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Haywood

In case you didn’t know, Vernonia was immortalized in a movie called “Redneck Revenge”. It was since renamed “The Vernonia Incident”. And I’ve ridden that whole route on 700 X 25s.