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What’s it like to ride around Tophill Trestle on the Banks-Vernonia Trail?

Posted by on May 5th, 2016 at 11:27 am

Climbing the Tophill Trestle detour switchbacks. (Photos: Ted Timmons)

Climbing the Tophill Trestle detour switchbacks.
(Photos: Ted Timmons)

Last week we shared the news that the State of Oregon is considering a new bridge on the Banks-Vernonia State Trail across Highway 47. The old Tophill Trestle is damaged and needs to come down and a new online survey is asking users of the popular path if they’d support a plan to replace it with a new bridge.

The path currently detours off the old railroad right-of-way at Tophill with two big hills and lots of tight switchbacks down a canyon with an uncomfortable crossing of Highway 47 between them. So, what’s it like to ride the current route (which is really a detour because the trestle bridge is out of commission)?

BikePortland contributor/reader/subscriber Ted Timmons was out there last weekend and shares this report:

I happened to be headed there a few days later for my first bike-camping trip to Stub Stewart State Park, so I thought I’d share video of what it looks and feels like to use the detour.


The rider in front of me with the trailer is Jeremy Kitchen. While we are in the strong and fearless category, you can see other riders around who are less comfortable or able to climb the switchbacks, or taking a rest before doing so.

Clearly a bridge wouldn’t be cheap- but given the popularity of the trail, I think it would be worthwhile.

Here are a few more of Ted’s photos:




This winding and tough section of the path (which the state actually encourages people on bikes to walk up and down!) would be dramatically easier and more enjoyable if a new bridge went in. Our graphic below shows the route Ted and Jeremy took (in blue) and the route the trains took 100 years ago (in yellow).

(Graphic: Google Maps/BikePortland)

(Graphic: Google Maps/BikePortland)

You can take the Tophill Trestle survey here. Stay tuned for updates once the results are in.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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33 thoughts on “What’s it like to ride around Tophill Trestle on the Banks-Vernonia Trail?”

  1. Avatar r-dat says:

    In light of all the other things the funds could go toward, how important is this? I’d say not very. Challenges of terrain, weather, routes etc., is what makes cycling a fun adventure. I’ve ridden this section many times and it strikes me as a memorable, fun, feature that adds character to the trail. If you remove all the character and challenge, what’s left? Put the money to create something new not take character from something that already exists.

    1. Avatar Austin says:

      I also think that the switchbacks are fun and challenges of terrain (especially hills) is where I find myself the most interested in a ride. However, I ride with folks that don’t even want to ride past that section because, for them it is terrible (and that is just as relevant and meaningful as my own feelings for that section). Add in that one of the coolest parts of Banks-Vernonia is the bridge that is already there, and… man, it would be so cool to have two bridges!

    2. The Banks-Vernonia trail is a heavily trafficked road. It needs to be treated as one, not as an adventure track. If people want adventure, there are many gravel roads that roughly parallel the B-V trail and give a much more dramatic ride than a railroad ROW.

  2. Avatar Mike Sanders says:

    Nice video, guys. A vudeo showing the whole trail between Banks and Vernonia northbound would be nice. (The road they’re crossing is OR-47, by the way; the trail actually takes crosswalks across it several times.) Rebuilding that bridge would make one of those crosswalks unnecessary.

  3. Avatar Al Dente says:

    This part of the path is so close to Stub Stewart and the hill that I believe is a bigger problem for biking in the area.

    Some signage for the switchbacks with a more encouraging tone, and some other minor improvements to “the detour” would be worth some money, but not new bridge type of money.

    If you park at this lot you will still have to go up a hill, if you park at Stub to ride to Vernonia you still have a hill.

  4. Avatar Bradwagon says:

    While it would be cool to be able to keep cruising over a bridge I agree with other comments that this is a memorable part of the trail and that spending could be more efficient in other ways. My wife and I rode Manning to Vernonia and back when she was 30 weeks pregnant. On top of that she is not what I would consider a very avid cyclist, although being young and of relative good health is an advantage. She didn’t have a problem with this area, just went slow.

  5. Avatar Chris I says:

    Even more difficult with off-leash dogs running around on the descent…

  6. Avatar PNP says:

    Ideally, it would be nice to have both options, so that the strong and fearless sorts who want the challenge can have it and those who just want to take a ride in a beautiful park can cross the bridge. I love riding up there, but I can’t ride those switchbacks. Going down always makes me feel as if I’m about to land on my face and as for going up, well, walking works. Some people will never go as far as Vernonia because of the steepness of the switchbacks, and they’ll miss a great part of the trail and Vernonia businesses will miss some revenue from those who stop for lunch, etc., in town. I think it’s worth building the bridge so that more people will get out and ride.

  7. Avatar Michael Wolfe says:

    A far more impactful project for roughly the same money would be to construct a bridge across Deep Creek to finish the Cazadero trail to Barton. The Deep Creek bridge would effectively be an extension of the springwater, would open up an easy route to the amazing riding in the clackamas river area, and replaces a dangerous on-road connection up Amissegger Road. This trestle would replace a couple switchbacks and a pretty easy crossing of OR 47.

    1. Avatar Charley says:


  8. Avatar RF says:

    If it was a highway, I’d see the point. Given that it is a 2 lane road with little traffic I can’t really see any justification at all for this idea. If they want to spend money – maybe they could put it towards salmonberry or some other project that isn’t off the ground at all. say, improving the vernonia end of the crown zellerbach for example.

    1. Avatar Curtis Knight says:

      uh… excuse me??? You obviously don’t drive OR 47 very often. It is a HIGHWAY with significant traffic, some of which flies through this section of road at breakneck speed (sports cars, muscle cars and motorcycles). I’ve had them try to pass me going down the hill (double yellow line)!

      Lots of people, myself included, commute from Vernonia to the valley and even quite a few that go the other direction. I pass the same cars every day going the opposite direction.

      1. Avatar Dan A says:

        Cars pass you with a double yellow line while you’re on your bike?

    2. Avatar Bob says:

      It is a state HWY with heavy traffic during commute hours and also with substantial log truck traffic all day.

  9. Reading these comments is a bit depressing to me.

    They speak to a huge problem IMO with bike advocacy in general in America. We are so used to fighting over budget crumbs and being disrespected in the halls of power that we don’t feel like cycling ever deserves excellence at every possible opportunity.

    I think whenever possible we should absolutely push for improvements that would make a path like the B-V go from good to great. There are always “other things” we could put funds toward… Let’s ask for those too!

    If we never spend the money to make what we have really excellent and world-class we’ll never see cycling reach its full potential in America.

    Just because you personally don’t see the need for something like this, keep in mind that for cycling to reach its potential we need it to be as fun and easy as possible for as many people as possible—- especially for people who aren’t fit and strong enough to enjoy a steep and twisting path.

    Stop being such cheap dates! Demand excellence at every opportunity. Other interest groups don’t settle for crumbs. People who want better cycling shouldn’t settle either.

    1. Adam H. Adam H. says:

      Thanks for this insight. This is exactly what I am doing when I’m calling for better infrastructure around town. It’s too bad that so many people just see it as “complaining”. 😉

    2. Avatar Michael Wolfe says:

      Sure, fine Jonathan. But if they build this and don’t build the Deep Creek bridge, or even delay it, I’m going to be extremely disappointed. I would have no problem riding with my 2 year old daughter on the whole B-V trail. I would love to take her bike camping to promontory park, but I am just not comfortable taking her on amissegger. Scarcity is a thing, and you have to respond to it.

      1. Hi Michael! How’ve you been?

        I hear you and this project you mention sounds amazing and very needed – maybe needed more than this Tophill Trestle thing.

        I just don’t get the advocacy strategy of diminishing another project because you personally want something else funded. IMO that leads to even less funding whereas if we boldly asked for lots of money for lots of great things we’d actually have less scarcity in the first place.

        I guess the way I see is this the attitude I described in my first comment is what leads to the scarcity we experience… And if we flip our attitude and demand greatness and many millions for what we want we’ll suddenly see more money/political will appearing out of thin air.

    3. Avatar Champs says:

      Jonathan: this is the remote midpoint of the B-V trail. Why isn’t the Multnomah Falls Trail more accessible above the Benson Bridge? Think about it.

  10. Avatar Noisette says:

    An excellent re-use of the old Sellwood bridge!

  11. Avatar Jason H says:

    That’s great if you’re confident and strong enough a rider they are no issue, they aren’t for me either, but for my 11year old daughter or 70 year old dad they are a significant challenge and out of character with the rest of the very mild flowing terrain on this trail. And I saw a teen age girl have quite a bad accident descending the N side switch backs a couple years ago when she lost control. Think she was encouraged to keep riding? So please check your biking ego before speaking of the importance of other users needs. FYI, the trailhead parking there will still need to be accessed from the switchbacks, so they wouldn’t be removed, just bypassed for through users. If you want to get knarly you’ll still be able to, but seriously I think the trails in Stubb Stewart are more your style.

  12. Avatar Champs says:

    A new trestle would be absolutely beautiful and maintain the gentle rail grade of the trail. It’s also impossible to imagine making this happen.

    Construction in the area is risky and the reward isn’t there. A trestle ain’t cheap and it’s already failed once. Hwy 47 is not Burnside on the Wildwood. Some people may have to be put off by a 4% grade with switchbacks.

    1. Avatar Jason H says:

      That’s disingenuous, the north side switchbacks may average 5%, but have a significant portion that hits close to a 13% max with two very tight corners as seen in the video. Also the “failure” you reference wasn’t an engineering fail, it was primarily from a car fire that spread to the trestle 30 years ago, and it’s been left to rot since. There isn’t overwhelming engineering challenge to building it.

      As for the money, the state is just asking if people are interested. As Jonathan mentioned if we don’t even stand up and say yeah, that sounds cool, we’ll always lose out on opportunities. They’re not soliciting where else to spend a pot of money, it’s either build THIS, or not, the money wouldn’t go to some other project.

      1. Avatar Champs says:

        If you’re fit enough to reach the trail’s remote midpoint and have the desire to continue, your condition is suitable to handle the mild nuisance of this short “portage” at the very least.

        I get it, it’s steep and uncharacteristic for an otherwise rail-grade trail, but sometimes you have to take the long way around.

    2. failed once, but it took what, 100 years?

  13. Avatar Michael Wolfe says:

    Sure, fine Jonathan. But if they build this and don’t build the Deep Creek bridge, or even delay it, I’m going to be extremely disappointed. I would have no problem riding with my 2 year old daughter on the whole B-V trail. I would love to take her bike camping to promontory park, but I am just not comfortable taking her on amissegger. Scarcity is a thing, and you can’t just race your hands and make it go away.

  14. Avatar Michael Wolfe says:

    Sure, fine Jonathan. But if they build this and don’t build the Deep Creek bridge, or even delay it, I’m going to be extremely disappointed. I would have no problem riding with my 2 year old daughter on the whole B-V trail. I would love to take her bike camping to promontory park, but I am just not comfortable taking her on amissegger. Scarcity is a thing, and you can’t just wave your hands and make it go away.

  15. Avatar Curtis Knight says:

    That crossing is in a really bad spot in the highway. low viability around the curves to the south. The bridge would make this section a whole lot safer. I understand the desire for the varied terrain, but let’s make it optional. I would prefer though that the project be done on donations (I will enthusiastically donate) rather than have it be part of the regular parks budget.

    personally I ride from Vernonia and I turn around before going down the hill. Occasionally I make the ride from Banks all the way to Vernonia. you get a better workout if you start in Banks. I’m 55, beer bellied, and for the most part I just want some exercise 2-3 times a week, I’m not looking for a challenge 🙂

    If the bridge goes in some day, I’ll very likely ride the all the way to banks more often. I might even make an occasional round trip (wait, that’s 42 miles… um… maybe not :)).

  16. Avatar cam says:

    Very impolite of cyclist not to announce himself when passing.

    Very irresponsible of owner of unleashed and uncolnrolled dog.

    My experiences in Wisconsin were that people were much more considerate there.

  17. Avatar wsbob says:

    I enjoyed the video. Never personally ridden the trail, but from what I’ve read about it, I think it’s generally a great recreational resource. Hopefully it’s the weirdness of the video lens that makes people passing each other from opposite directions look dangerous as it does. People seem to be riding very fast. Didn’t listen to the audio on the vid, so if the day and time it was taken was mentioned, I missed that. Too many people. Was this a weekend day, or a mid-week day?

    A route with less steep climb would address apprehension some people no doubt have biking the kind of grades shown in the vid…but a replacement bridge for the old rail trestle, one that people, their kids and their dogs can cross without taking an endo over the side, sounds like a pile of money. In this discussion here, nobody seems to want to take a guess at what the thing would cost to build. I’ll take a wild guess…maybe three to five million.

    Before worrying about a bridge and a more gentler route, maybe go for the easy stuff first…like at least a pedestrian activated yellow beacon for the highway crossing (think I heard those are somewhere between $100-$200 thousand). As is, the crossing looks like an accident waiting to happen.

    People that really think the grades are too steep, could actually get off their bikes and walk them until the grade eases a bit. This is supposed to be a recreational trail, relaxing and fun, rather than the daily mad dash to work commute.

  18. Avatar Rob Edwards says:

    I’d like to share the perspective as a landowner who has property on both sides of this trail. Our family has owned this property since the 1960s. Space we have two legal easement across the trail we run our farm machinery back-and-forth and in a couple different occasions we have gotten blamed and shower that we’re doing what we have done legally for all that time which means movie at Farm equipment in timber across the trail. Space for whatever reason the biking community has some bad apples that appear to believe that they own and have all rights to the trail.
    In most cases the park only extends about 20 feet from the centerline of the trail. Space if you have to stop and wait for a minute once a while for Farm Equipment to get across the trail that’s how it goes. My son was pulling logs across the trail and the biker came up on him and started yelling at him that he was stealing logs from the state park. When my son informed him that it was off our property he then said you have no legal right to cross the trail. Wes and informed him we have a legal easement and this guy then said you have to be escorted by a Ranger across the trail. His anger just begin to build. This type of interaction is unacceptable but it seems to happen about once a year. I’ve never had that from walkers or horse riders. Remember when you’re out on a trail in the country you’re in our backyard. Space please respect our property as you would have us respect yours. I don’t assume you know what you’re talking about unless you have specific knowledge.

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