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The Ride: Exploring Columbia County backroads outside of Scappoose

Posted by on January 27th, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Columbia County backroads-6

There are many miles of logging roads waiting
to be ridden just north of the Scappoose-Vernonia Hwy.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

When the sun comes out around here in January, folks that enjoy bicycling take full advantage. This past weekend was a real gem weather-wise, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who grabbed the opportunity for some two-wheeled adventure. What I found were some off-the-beaten-path backroads that I enjoyed so much I’ve decided to share them here on the Front Page.

Wanting to do my first century of 2014, I ventured over to RidewithGPS.com (a site — based right here in Portland! — that I could not live without these days) to map out one of my oldies but goodies — the Portland-Vernonia-Scappoose loop. This is a fantastic loop that I highly recommend.

About 60 miles in, just a few miles north of Vernonia Lake on Nehalem Highway, the route begins heading back to Portland. It’s at the junction of the Nehalem and Scappoose-Vernonia highways that I decided to try something new.

After riding quiet Washington County farm roads and the carfree Banks-Vernonia Trail for several hours, the thought of riding 20 miles on the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway didn’t appeal to me. It’s not a terrible place to ride, but there isn’t much shoulder and knowing that the area is full of great backroads makes staying on the pavement seem rather boring by comparison. Some of you might have ridden (or heard of) the Crown-Zellerbach Trail that runs alongside the highway (we wrote about it back in May). That’s a nice ride, but I wanted to find something new. The sun was shining, I had confidence in my bike, my GPS device, and my legs, so I figured I’d leave my pre-determined route and do some exploring.

The best part of my day started after my GPS device beeped: “Off-course”.

Just a half-mile or so on the Scappoose-Vernonia Hwy (east of the Nehalem Hwy junction), I turned north onto Pittsburg Road. The name comes from a nearby, unincorporated town that was named after Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by a settler named Peter Brous in 1879. The road itself is a mix of hard-packed dirt and some gravel that climbs about 1,100 feet in just over six miles.

Columbia County backroads-4

Off the highway, I rode in peace, without constantly glancing over my shoulder. Backroads are my favorite roads. I love the solitude and the added challenge of riding my “road” bike (a Cielo Sportif Classic with 28 mm tires) through the varying types of dirt (hard-pack, loose, dry wet, flat, off-camber) and rocks (small loose gravel to the embedded rocks as seen in the photo below).

Columbia County backroads-5

Near the summit, Pittsburg Road took me right to the southern tip of the Forest Grove District State Forest and Baker Point (an old fire lookout) at an elevation of about 1,800 feet. From there, the views toward the south were fantastic. I continued east along the ridge for a few more miles. Then, just before dropping into a valley that would loop me back (south) to Scappoose, I was rewarded with grand views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams.

Columbia County backroads

View looking southwest toward Vernonia from summit of Pittsburg Road near Baker Point.

Columbia County backroads-7

Descending into the Clatskanie River valley.

As I headed south I left Pittsburg Road and found my way into a valley and onto Wilark Road. Suddenly the Clatskanie River tumbled nearby and I wound my way between clear-cuts, creeks, ponds, and forested groves. Wilark eventually turns into Alder Creek Road, which I then followed a few more miles south. It was at about mile 74 that the road became paved, right at the small rural community of Spitzenberg.

Columbia County backroads-8

Wilark Road next to Alder Creek.

At this point — with about 14 miles of dirt/gravel backroads behind me — I could choose whether to take the highway or the Crown Zellerbach Trail back to Scappoose. Getting short on time, I opted for the highway. It was only six miles to Scappoose and it’s all downhill, so sharing the road wasn’t too bad.

It wasn’t until I met back up with the C-Z Trail that it dawned on me what a nice loop this would make. Combine this Pittsburg-Wilark-Alder Creek logging road route with the C-Z Trail and you’ve got a fun adventure that is nearly 100% off the highway. RidewithGPS.com says the loop would be 43 miles with about 4,300 feet of climbing. There are plenty of places to park in Scappoose near the start of the C-Z Trail, or for those of you who are up for it, it’s about 25 miles on Highway 30 from Portland. Here’s the loop in map form:

This whole area, on both sides of Scappoose-Vernonia Hwy, is full of great dirt roads that are perfect for cycling on. I can’t wait for the longer and warmer days of summer to really get to know them better.

Note: The logging roads in this area are open to public recreational use under the management and ownership of private timber companies. Follow the rules posted on signs along the way. I would also recommend riding this on weekends when there aren’t active logging operations.

For more info, check out these routes on RidewithGPS
Vernonia-Scappoose Century
Crown Zellerbach Trail-Baker Point Loop

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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Jeff Smith
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Jeff Smith

Nice write-up, Jonathan. The photos are particularly helpful in getting an idea about what you’d need to be ready for, surface-wise. To a cyclist here’s a thousand gradations of unpaved…

Any guess on how difficult/easy this route would be to follow without GPS? – maybe just a USGS map (or other better map…?). Any road signing up there?

There’s some great quiet paved roads up this way, too – the ride from Mist to Clatskanie, Apiary Rd., Meissner, and more – these maps show mostly paved roads:

http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/index.cfm?c=36638&a=316792

Alan Love
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Alan Love

Oh Jonathan, what gadget were you using? Long story short, would a GPS/Android equipped cellphone with a full battery charge do the trick?

Jim Labbe
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Jim Labbe

Wow. I want to try this. Thanks for doing the recon.

Dave
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Dave

What paper maps will show these roads? Will current Pittmon or similar maps be accurate?

Scott Batchelar
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Scott Batchelar

Jonathan, thanks for this – looking at this map I think you may have ridden right by my families ancestral property on the 1st leg of your ride.

If you rode along a ridge top with a large draw on your right that would have been right by our old property.

Thanks!

Scott Batchelar
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Scott Batchelar

Just checked the Ride with GPS routes – our property is along Pebble Creek Road just north of Stub Stewart looking at your map you would have been looking down on it from about mile 10-15.

Thanks for the great memory jogger buddy!

Ryan Francesconi
Guest

There are so many good dirt roads out there!

Mike Quigley
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Mike Quigley

Beware of rednecks.

JL Jones
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JL Jones

Thanks for this! I’ve often looked at some of these unpaved roads on Google Maps, always trying to get a close enough and tree-free satellite view to tell if they were rideable. I’ll be trying this route this weekend!

Joe Partridge
Guest

Nice write-up Jonathan! Way to spread the gravel love.

redhippie
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redhippie

Mike Quigley
Beware of rednecks.
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I second this. There is a lot going on up in those woods. Shooting, 4-wheeling, logging, hunting (in and out of season), firewood gathering, mushroom gathering, growing, etc. etc. I would just make sure you are visible, respectful and use a dose of wisdom.

Dan
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Dan

thanks for the inspiration, Jonathan – looking forward to exploring this area in 2014. I see a lot of potential for good long rides/centuries from my home in North Portland.

Dan Morrison
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Dan Morrison

That Cielo is a beautiful bike for a beautiful ride.

Sandy
Guest

Jonathon,
You have discovered off road cycling nirvana. We have enjoyed these roads and more from Inn out here. If people want to explore these roads but are not sure if the legs will get them back to Portland, we have a European style Inn that is bicycle friendly. We are cyclists are selves and can help others enjoy the rural cycling adventures in Columbia County.
Thank you for sharing your adventure.

grimm
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grimm

Thanks for sharing Jonathan, will have to check them out this spring.

matt f
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matt f

Thanks Jonathan. Love it.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Rode this route today as a counter clockwise loop on cross bikes. We used a handheld GPS for navigation and still got off route – lots of roads out there. Overall, a very good route and worth coming back. Next time ride out from town?