Length: 54.8 miles
Altitude Gain: 5,085 feet
Attributes: Extended climbs, forest, mountain views
The 54-mile route east of Ashland is becoming a must-ride destination. The circuit is part of Oregon’s one-of-a-kind scenic bikeway program, a series of 15 designated routes throughout the state. There are three in Southern Oregon.
With more than 5,000 feet of elevation gain, the Cascade Siskiyou route is among the more difficult.
It started easy enough with a rollout from Garfield Park, a neighborhood playground on Ashland’s east side. But by mile 10, we were shifting to lower gears.
We quickly realized scenery would never be in short supply. Before the day was done we’d take in expansive views, pass by lakes, reservoirs and 9,500-foot Mt. McLoughlin. We’d ride through forests with a mix of Douglas firs and ponderosa pines and even relax while riding across a flat stretch of meadow.
Alexandra Phillips, coordinator of the statewide bikeways program and an avid cyclist herself, has ridden every mile of every route. Each route gets “very serious vetting” to make sure it meets their standards for safety and enjoyment. “Our criteria looks at scenic value, both human made and natural,” she said. “We also rate road conditions and safety. Some roads do not have shoulders but we consider them safe because they are very low-traffic roads.”
Routes are issued a difficulty rating ranging from mild to moderate, challenging or extreme. On this day, we all wanted extreme.
“Yes, we rated the Cascade Siskiyou route as extreme,” Alexandra said, acknowledging the thousands of feet of climbing and that very fast descent. “There’s also less traffic and the scenic qualities are there every inch of the way. You get the forests, the open views, the lakes and the downhill.”
Traffic was an afterthought for the most part. The opening climb followed up state Highway 66 but the many switchbacks across the 7-mile stretch made vehicles slow down so much they were not an issue. And, despite initial appearances to the contrary, intermediate riders could make it to the top.
Once over the Green Springs Mountain summit – at 4,551 feet – it’s an easy ride to the Green Springs Inn. A popular rest stop for riders, the inn is a landmark at the intersection of Highway 66 and Hyatt Lake Road. It’s a great place to refill water bottles, catch your breath and get something to eat. Cyclists like to sit on the outdoor deck and enjoy the inn’s selection of pies.
Rested and refreshed, we left the Green Springs Inn and rode north on Hyatt Lake Road for another 3 miles before the route leveled off for 11 miles through the trees. As we neared the end of this stretch, we could look east and see the imposing Mt. McLoughlin.
At about the 35-mile mark with the mountain over our shoulders, we turned left on Dead Indian Memorial Road and rode a flat mile or so before the last grinding uphill to a final summit. Once over the top, we gripped our brakes for a final 12-mile, 3,200-foot plunge back to town with speeds reaching 40 mph.
There wasn’t much chance of enjoying the available views as we wound our way down along one creek and then another, slowing for each series of bends. We eventually passed the gates to the ornate Belle Fiore Winery before easing back into town.