Esplanade closure begins February 1st

The Ride: Mountain biking on the Wilson River Trail

Posted by on January 26th, 2015 at 12:17 pm

Wilson River Trail MTB ride-12

(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Just off Highway 6 in the Tillamook State Forest about 45 miles west of Portland lies some of the region’s best singletrack. And I’m still wondering why it took me 11 years to finally discover it.

Wilson River Trail MTB ride-4

A forested wonderland with all the singletrack your legs can handle.

The Wilson River Trail is a gem. Just 45 miles west of Portland (under an hour by car), the trail winds, climbs, and drops along ridges and valleys in the heavily forested Coast Range. I rode it for the first time on Saturday not really knowing what to expect. It turned out to be equal parts fun and challenging. Mix in the absolutely stunning landscape and views and I think this trail should to be at the top of everyone’s list.

Wilson River Trail MTB ride-1

Wilson River Trail MTB ride-2


Wilson River Trail MTB ride-6

Wilson River Trail MTB ride-3

Wilson River Trail MTB ride-7

Wilson River Trail MTB ride-8

Wilson River Trail MTB ride-9

Hardtails are fine for this trail. This is Scott Bradway’s Kona Kula 29r.
Wilson River Trail MTB ride-10

Even with recent rains, there was little to no mud.
Wilson River Trail MTB ride-14

Wilson River Trail MTB ride-11

Wilson River Trail MTB ride-13

Given how nice the trail is (even with all the rain we’ve been having), I would have expected to hear more about it among the mountain biking circles in Portland. But after tackling over 20 miles of it, I have a feeling why it might not be as popular as other places: the climbing.

On Saturday, our group parked at the Elk Creek Campground and road out to the parking lot at Jones Creek (both places are right off Highway 6) and back. In those 22 miles (11 each way), our total elevation gained was over 5,000+ feet and the ride took us about 3.5 hours. That’s a lot of climbing anyway you slice it, especially when you realize it’s all on singletrack.

Check out the route on RideWithGPS.

At the end of the day I was soggy, smiley, bloody, sore, muddy, and exhausted… all the things I’ve missed about mountain biking.

If you love rock-strewn creek crossings, smooth flowing singletrack, and the challenges and rewards of serious climbing — all in one of the most beautiful places in the state — I highly recommend doing this ride. (NOTE: Due to the climbing and relative difficulty of the trail, I do not recommend this to beginner/novice riders.)

Check out our route on Browse more posts like this.

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Adam January 26, 2015 at 12:32 pm


    Would you mind adding that this isn’t a mountain biking exclusive trail. It is also a hiking trail, so people riding bikes should be on the lookout for other users. Thanks.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 26, 2015 at 12:40 pm

      Hi Adam,

      I’ll think about it; but I’m not sure that’s necessary. I think most mountain bike riders always assume a trail is shared with hikers unless they’re in a place made specifically for biking (like Stub Steward or, to lesser extent, Sandy Ridge). Personally I always expect other trail users and ring my bell often as I ride downhill (whether I see anyone or not).

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  • MNBikeLuv January 26, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    Awesome! Have to hit this next time I’m in PDX.

    BTW, those are some of the most “Midwest Lookin” trails I’ve see in the west. Though, to be honest 4,000+ of climbing in 22 miles is high, its not insane. My local trail system is just over 3,000+ feet of elevation in 25 miles and MN has none of the elevation potential that western Oregon does.

    These photos do illustrate nicely the lack of connection to facts that the opponents of mountain biking in Forest Park have. In a different world, these photos could be taken in Forest Park, not nearly an hour away.

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    • Alex January 26, 2015 at 4:02 pm

      Yea – but there is a climb on the WRT that is about 1500ft in under 2 miles. It isn’t fun. Also, I would recommend checking out other trails in the area when you are in town instead of doing the WRT – there are so many better options. WRT is great in the winter, but if it is nice out…

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    • oliver January 27, 2015 at 9:44 am

      “. In a different world, these photos could be taken in Forest Park,”

      sure, but there’s the elk to think of…

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  • Caesar January 26, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    Stunning photography. Can’t wait for my MTB to arrive.

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  • Dmitriy Zasyatkin January 26, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Great write up! We did the full(ish) OAB on Sunday – 33 miles and 6.5K climbing, since the last 4 miles after the Wolf Creek Road crossing are overgrown and officially closed. The western side is more rugged but well worth the extra miles.

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  • Patrick Barber January 26, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    Jeez, Jonathan… DON’T TELL!

    In all seriousness, though, I have been interested in trying this trail when the Gales Creek area trails are too wet. I’ve only hiked it in the summer. Would you say that mountain bikes are a necessity, or would a cross bike or gravel bike do OK? Which is to say, are there a lot of rocks and roots on the trails, or are they relatively smooth? 22 miles in 3.5 hours sounds pretty smooth to me, but I am not the strongest rider. Is it more like Sandy Ridge or more like Forest Park?

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    • Ryan January 26, 2015 at 2:47 pm

      some of it would be ok on a cross bike, but due to the extended climbs and steep grades you will be walking unless you have enough gears. There are many roots and sudden obstacles, sometimes rocks, but overall smooth. I’d say it’s more of a gearing issue than anything else. It’s not like sandy or forest park. If you aren’t a strong rider, frankly I don’t think you will enjoy it very much. The part than Jonathan rode is much smoother than the outer section – don’t attempt that part on a cx bike.

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      • Patrick Barber January 26, 2015 at 2:52 pm

        Thanks! I will bring my mountain bike then. I knew the Wilson Creek trail was a good one in the winter but I figured the reason I hadn’t heard much about it was because it was less technical than the Gales Creek/Storey Burn area stuff.

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  • booger January 26, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    This was the first trail I rode in the pdx area and is still one of my favourites (I love long climbs). I never would have guessed that it (or any other local trails) would be ridable in the Winter. I’ve always hung up the mtb when the rains hit, but now I now better. I’ll probably hit this trail up this weekend. Thanks for the heads up!

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  • Aaron January 26, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    I should ride this one more than I do. It’s such a fun trail and has quite a lot of variety over it’s 20ish miles.

    Jonathon – You should highlight more singletrack on BikePortland. There are endless miles of great trails within 1 – 1.5 hours of Portland.

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  • davemess January 26, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    “But after tackling over 20 miles of it, I have a feeling why it might not be as popular as other places: the climbing.”
    Wait people don’t want to climb on single track?

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  • jeff January 27, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    there’s a brutal climb north of the Kings Mtn. trail, but other than that its a pretty good ride, besides the motorbike noise just up from the forestry center…

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  • pdx2wheeler January 28, 2015 at 12:55 am

    The river is pretty amazing on the Wilson River Trail at certain spots. Take the time to enjoy it. During the summer I ride West along the trail and eventually stop at Footbridge. Best swimming hole in town!

    Also, try the 8.5 mile Brown’s Camp loop:

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  • wayne.naillon June 22, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    Thank you for writing about the Wilson River Trail. It is a treasure for mtn bikers in NW Oregon. Jonathan, you did a SOLV clean up event in the Tillamook State Forest with what was then PUMP mtn bike club after you had just started the blog bikeportland. That is when I met you. Glad you got out and rode the WRT. Wayne Naillon, Trail Steward for The Tillamook State Forest for what is now NWTA

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  • Grady Bennett July 4, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    Thanks to all those who work to build, clear and maintain the trails that we mtn bikers get to ride. Thanks also to those who write about the trails so those of us who visit know the best rides to hit and how to go about making them epic. I’m from MT and rode the WRT from Elk Creek to Keenig Creek in 2014 not knowing the Keenig Creek area was badly overgrown and actually closed. I still had a great time and couldn’t wait to do it again this year. Just finished it today and all 21 miles are clear and awesome. It’s just a great ride with a little bit of everything. If you want a good solid ride that alternates between good climbs and sweet flowing downs, then you’ll enjoy this one. 21 miles with 4,000 up and 4,000 down is a really good day on my bike.

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  • Emily Menard January 15, 2018 at 4:43 am

    Thank you so much for writing about Wilson River Trail. I went there several times. It was a really fantastic experience.

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