If you haven’t been out to the Crown Zellerbach Trail in a while, it’s time to go back. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s time to listen up.
The Crown Z (what Columbia County would prefer you to call it) underwent a major facelift late last year and with summer finally here, this rail-trail is ready for its close-up.
The Crown Z used to be a major railroad line that ran timber and supplied work camps between the Multnomah Channel in Scappoose and the Nehalem River in Vernonia. Today it’s a 22-mile long linear trail that offers easily accessible and safe riding great for all ages and abilities.
The trail is in great shape right now, even with a lot of recent rain. As things dry out in the summer heat, the beautiful trees that border the path will keep you cool in their shade. And with numerous creeks nearby, you can always hop off and splash around. When you do, don’t miss the impressive foliage that’s like a Pacific Northwest plant guidebook come-to-life.
For many years the CZ was neglected and used mostly by adventurous riders. It provided a fun and safe alternate to the windy and narrow Scappoose-Vernonia Highway (which I do not recommend riding on) which it parallels. In recent years the community and County have teamed up to invest in the trail. Thanks to generous donations by local businesses, the hard work of volunteers, and political support, the CZ now boasts amenities that make the relatively short drive (or ride) from Portland well worth it.
I’ve ridden it many times myself as part of long loops from Portland. After noticing some of the upgrades on a recent ride, I went back on Saturday with my nine-year-old son. It took us about 35 minutes to drive there from north Portland. We parked at the Pisgah Trailhead, which is about two miles west of Highway 30 in Scappoose.
We rode five miles up the trail from Pisgah to the new trailhead at Ruley. Along the way we stopped several times to hike around creeks and to get acquainted with the forest.
It was so much fun. I highly recommend it to anyone with young kids or family members who want to ease into unpaved/gravel riding. One of the great things about the CZ is its topography. It rises gently in elevation from its start east of Highway 30 and goes 14 miles west to its peak at the Nehalem Divide trailhead. That means you can head west until you’ve had your fill, and the reverse route back to the car will be all downhill. (I don’t have to explain to parents what a big deal this is.) It will also be fun to track our progress as my son gets stronger and more adventurous — pedaling further west each time out until we make the connection to Vernonia Lake.
Our destination on Saturday was Ruley trailhead. Columbia County and their partners have done amazing work at this location. There’s a covered picnic bench, a nice bathroom and hand-washing station, bike parking, and a deluxe bike repair stand and pump in case you need to fix your rig or make adjustments. Everett loved getting to know the herd of cows in the nearby meadow.
My favorite part was the outdoor museum.
I’m a huge fan of making historical connections to the places I ride though. Thanks to the Columbia County Historical Society and Museum Association (Facebook), there are several kiosks with old photographs and information that tell the story of the surrounding area. Camp Chapman was a major settlement created by the Works Progress Administraion (WPA) in 1935. 1,400 workers were stationed in the surrounding hills and labored to build the roads and other infrastructure. The photos show family life in the 1940s and there’s even a neat old painting of the camp itself. (Several decades before Camp Chapman the area was home to major logging camps, which I highlighted after riding here in March 2019.)
After lunch at Ruley, Everett and I coasted back to the car. “That was so cool!” I heard him say at one point. “I was gliding through the forest, just like sort of zenning out for a minute.”
If you need a moment of zen, head out to the Crown Z*.
– Friends of CZ Linear Park Trail on Facebook
– Official Columbia County website
– Background on recent improvements from Columbia County Spotlight
(*Note: Riding in places like this is a no-brainer for me because I’m white. It’s not like this for Black, Indigenous and people of color. As reported by OPB last week, there’s racism in the outdoors too. And this past weekend someone found a noose hanging from a truck while in a rural area outside of Cottage Grove. That is unacceptable and we want you to know these realities are on our mind as we share these places with you.)
UPDATE: Portland resident Dale Latham serves on the Crown Z Trail Citizens Advisory Committee. He points out that the trailhead near Vernonia isn’t ready for the public yet and is still an active logging area, so please avoid riding through the western end of the trail. He also says if you do come out, bring a face mask and be sure to try the restaurants in Scappoose or Vernonia. “We Portlanders should help our rural neighbors by leaving something in return. Both communities have some great local restaurants less than quarter-mile from the trail.”
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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