McMenamins Grand Lodge as a base camp for biking adventures around Forest Grove

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Grand Lodge’s main entrance makes for
a classy way to start a ride.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Just a quick trip on the MAX blue line west of Portland (about 25 miles) lies Forest Grove, a small town rich in history that just so happens to make a great launching pad for cycling adventures.

I’m out here thanks to McMenamins Grand Lodge, a hotel and resort looking to establish its bike-friendly credentials. McMenamins invited me here to spend a few nights and ride and photograph local roads and backroads. I eagerly accepted for two simple reasons: I was happy to hear that McMenamins, owners and operators of 56 establishments throughout Oregon and Washington, wanted to be more bike-friendly; and I really like riding bikes — especially in new (to me) places.

McMenamins and Forest Grove are a perfect match. One has a rich history and the other specializes in highlighting it. Forest Grove was incorporated in 1872, making it the first city in Washington County (thanks Wikipedia). It’s nestled at the western-most edge of urban development and there’s no civilization (except farms) between it and the Oregon Coast.

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History (and, have you ever heard of Dilley?).

While there are some intimidating high-speed highways out here, all it takes is a turn or two and the roar of speeding cars gives way to the singing of birds, the rustling of creeks, and the slow pace of life farmers in these parts have enjoyed for nearly 150 years.

In all four directions from Grand Lodge, people who love riding bikes will find something satisfying: To the southeast you have Bald Peak and the Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway; to the north lies Oregon’s marquee rail-trail – the Banks-Vernonia; head south and you’re in world-class wine country; and point your handlebars west and you can find as many gravel and dirt logging roads as you can handle.

McMenamins’ Grand Lodge is a great place to call home while you explore the area. They are slowly getting hip to the bike-friendly thing. There’s nothing here that really screams “We love bikes!” but it really doesn’t take much to be welcoming of guests with two-wheeled vehicles (and they’re just at the start of their bike-oriented efforts). There’s a very relaxing vibe around the Lodge (I saw a lunch party openly taking hits from a pipe with not a worry at all and it’s almost expected that you walk around with a glass of your favorite alcoholic beverage), so bringing your bike in your room is no big deal and you won’t be judged if you walk around salty, sweaty, and spandexed to the hilt (not that I do that of course).

My first day here I wasted no time seeking out what makes this area so special. I found a route that took me southeast of Grand Lodge. Just a few pedal strokes off Tualatin Valley Highway I came across wetlands, ponds, produce stands, and the calm and quiet I feel is a requisite of any ride I do these days. Then a few turns later I found another huge reason to love this area: big views of Mt. Hood and the Cascade Range.

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And in case you haven’t noticed, I have a soft-spot for farms. Maybe it’s my longing for that age of innocence I feel our country has lost. Maybe it’s my respect for the hard work it takes to make one successful, or the land’s connection to its history and my appreciation that it’s still land — and not parking lots or strip malls.

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Leaving the farms and valleys behind, my ride yesterday took me up — nearly straight up. Bald Peak is a leg-busting 1,000 foot climb in just 2.4 miles. But the reward is many-fold: You get the adrenaline rush and sense of accomplishment, a stellar view, and then an exhilarating dive down the other side.

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Looking back at Bald Peak Road (this photo was really just an excuse to rest).
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Looking west toward Gaston on Laurelwood Road.

One of the unexpected discoveries I’ve had out here are the tiny sleepy towns I never knew existed. Places like Laurelwood and Dilley, where people have lived for well over a century, shielded from the fast pace of modern life. This time of year the valleys are covered with clover, a crop farmers plant to enrich their soil in between harvests.

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Downtown Laurelwood.
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Clover on SW Spring Hill Road.
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Winter wheat, waiting for its eventual harvest in July (so says my farmer friend Dan Morgan).

Have I mentioned how incredibly green and lush everything is out here? It’s remarkable. So green that even a boring field made me pull over.

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Forest Grove is a pretty cool place. They even have the largest American flag I’ve ever ridden under.

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There are so many riding possibilities from Forest Grove. I’m grateful to the McMenamins folks for offering up their Grand Lodge so I can explore some of them. Stay tuned. Today I tackled something a bit more challenging — a 50-mile loop on rocky and steep logging roads. I’ll share more about that adventure soon. But first I’m headed to the soaking pool — with a drink in my hand of course.

McMenamins Grand Lodge
Forest Grove – Bald Peak loop from the lodge on RideWithGPS

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7 years ago

Oh this all sounds very nice, anybody out there care to fund my next “staycation” in Forest Grove?

Scott Batchelar
7 years ago

As a former Washington County resident (Hillsboro & Aloha) It truly does my old 70’s Bikey Heart good to see a story like this.

Washington County is an awesome area to ride a set of Bike Wheels and in my youth I took great advantage of all the bike fun around, Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Gaston, Vernonia, (Yes, I know that it’s in Columbia County) some of my favorite areas to ride over there is the area west of Hillsboro by Roy, Banks and Cornelius and there areas by Bald Peak and Cooper Mountain.

Thanks Jonathan and McMenamin’s Grand Lodge for a great story!

7 years ago

The Max Blue Line ends in Hillsboro, and the Grand Lodge is about 5 miles west of the last stop. The way the article is written makes it seem like you can hop off the Max in Forest Grove. Taking TV highway is the straightest way there, but it isn’t the most pleasant ride.

Chris Anderson
7 years ago

It’d be great to see ride photos / route tips for the MAX to Forest Grove leg of the ride.

Todd Boulanger
7 years ago

its better now that there are bike lanes almost all the way.

Andyc of Linnton
Andyc of Linnton
7 years ago

I think there’s a bus you can transfer to at the Hillsboro town center that takes you all the way to Forest Grove. I’d check to investigate further.

Curtis Roth
Curtis Roth
7 years ago

It’s refreshing to thheare area lauded for cycling.

7 years ago

A much nicer route is to take Connell/Hornecker heading North from the MAX station, then pickup Cornelius-Schefflin and meander into Forest Grove the bikeway. It’s almost 10 miles but much less traffic than Hwy 8 and you’ll get to start enjoying the scenery right away. Here’s a map:

Todd Boulanger
7 years ago

Dear McMenamins,

Yes the Grand Lodge is a fabulous lodging facility and a great location for exploring the region by bike…but your on site bike amenities really need a lot of help…the racks at {most if not all] McMenamins are stuck in the 80s.
I have travelled by bike to many of your facilities for touring on several regional camping trips, stayed in rooms (and in tent), refueled and visited for meetings and musical events.

I would strongly recommend:
1) for short term parking – up grade the quality your bike racks and increase the number of spaces;
2) add covered/ secure parking room for overnight stays;
3) add a repair stand and pump; and
4) add an area for seasonal camping (I loved camping outside during your annual music concert a few years back at the Lodge).

And feel free to contact me (I am a McMenamins member, so you have my email already):

Todd Boulanger
VP of Operations

7 years ago
Reply to  Todd Boulanger

Excellent list!! I especially endorse #2. Give me a secure and covered place for my bike overnight.

matt picio
7 years ago

Nitpick – Forest Grove does not have the giant US flag – that’s in Cornelius, which, while easily forgotten by many, is its own city.

Ray Ogilvie
Ray Ogilvie
7 years ago
Reply to  matt picio

Sorry Matt, the big flag is in Forest Grove.

Patrick Barber
7 years ago

Since moving to Portland in 2005 we’ve used the McMenamins Edgefield for weekend overnighters, and once as a luxury stop on the way back from camping at Ainsworth. Like the Grand Lodge, the Edgefield is not overtly “bike friendly”, but it’s got well placed bike racks and a very human-scale environment, and a nice soaking pool too!

Patrick Barber
7 years ago

PS those red and yellow blooms in your Laurelwood photo are called Kniphofia and they are killing it right now!

Peter R
7 years ago

Now you’re in my daily stomping grounds. PDX city life is all fine and good for some, but give me country roads and farms any day.