You’ve been pedaling uphill for a while now, keeping your cadence up. You want to look at your watch to see how long you’ve been at it but you dare not. Don’t change your rhythm.
Your legs are getting tired. You get out of the saddle to change muscle groups even though you know this, too, will take its toll.
Yet despite the fatigue you keep going. You’re riding the Rim Drive around Crater Lake and even those tired muscles can’t dampen your spirit.
“The Rim Drive is a heck of a challenge in and of itself,” says Alex Hayes, co-owner of Cycle Sport in Medford and a longtime Southern Oregon cyclist. “ Just riding the The Rim Drive is 33 miles with 3,300 feet of elevation gain. That’s a tough ride but it’s gorgeous. The viewpoints are second to none.”
Crater Lake National Park is a popular destination for many Southern Oregon visitors and it’s especially enticing for dedicated road cyclists looking for a challenge. It’s so appealing that organizers of the annual Cycle Oregon event insisted on incorporating an excursion to the lake into the 25th annual week-long ride this September.
“The focus on this year’s ride was to get people to Crater Lake,” says Ken Chichester, Cycle Oregon’s longtime route planner. “Any time you can ride a bike around Crater Lake, it can’t get much better than that.”
Riding up to Crater Lake National Park is not for the faint of heart, but there are many more roads throughout Southern Oregon that will please cyclists of all skill levels. The back roads here provide riders two cherished commodities – low-traffic back roads and beautiful scenary.
“Each place has its benefits. The Ashland area is much hillier than, say, Central Point,” Hayes says. “I like having so many options for making loops. Central Point is centrally located so you can make any kind of loop from there.
“And I like the low-volume roads. There are plenty to choose from and you can custom tailor your ride for your distance and level of climbing,” he says.
Zach Gilmour enjoys riding in Klamath County, in part because so few cars and trucks are on the roads.
“It’s so open, there’s almost nobody on the road here,” says Gilmour, who manages the Hutch’s Bicycles store in Klamath Falls. “We have a huge variety of roads, long climbs and long flats, and no matter where you go there’s very little traffic.”
Gilmour agrees that views from a bicycle are breathtaking. “We have gorgeous scenery. It’s so dramatic and you can see it wherever you are.
"I moved here in 2004 and I was surprised by how easy it was to find all the good routes. I just opened a map. Even today it’s been a constant joy to discover new routes. I’m still finding roads I haven’t ridden before and I ride several thousand miles a year.”
Chichester, who did his research in planning the 2012 Cycle Oregon routes, points out there are sufficient variations in geography to interest all road riders. “The Looking Glass area near Roseburg is a good ride. So is the Applegate Valley,” he says. "You have varying scenery throughout Southern Oregon to go along with the varying types of roads. You can find flat and you can find hilly. You can find it all."
Cycling in the Upper Klamath Basin
Long-distance riders stopping over in the area appreciate the welcome respite offered by our rural roads and trails. They find opportunities for day rides during their rest, like the 9-mile compacted gravel surface trail that connects Lake of the Woods and Fish Lake Recreation Areas. The trail crosses recent lava flows from Brown Mountain and offers views of Mt. McLoughlin. Start from Great Meadow, Brown Mountain Trailhead, or an area campground or picnic site.
Day riders discover destinations in the area for any skill level. Beginning at the Hwy 140 intersection, follow Westside Road a bit over two miles to the Westside Road overlook (or continue 3 ½ miles further to Malone Springs, a boat launch site and picnic area equipped with a vault toilet) Four more miles bring riders to Crystal Springs Rest Stop, a beautiful area also with vault toilet facilities. The ultimate 24-mile day trip ends at Fort Klamath (or stretch it into a multi day trip to or through Crater Lake National Park)
The unpaved road past Eagle Ridge County Park and the 10 miles of dikes trails through Wood River Wetlands skirt the waters edge and are popular for families with older children.
For views of pastures and high mountains, consider the nearly-flat 10-mile loop from/toFort Klamath that follows Weed, Sevenmile, and Nicholson Rds.
Mountain bikers might prefer the more challenging 25-mile Brown Mountain Trail that follows Hwy 140, USFS Rd. 37, and Dead Indian Memorial Rd. The 1500 ft. vertical climb with old growth timber and few hills make this a scenic jewel.
Dan Shryock is an Oregon-based journalist and travel writer. When he's not visiting Southern Oregon or sampling local wines, he can be found cycling throughout the state.