We love a good story. Originally, there were two mountains in the region with cowhorn spires on the top: Big Cowhorn Mountain and Little Cowhorn Mountain. But in 1911, lightning knocked the spire right off Little Cowhorn Mountain. The two mountains were renamed. Oddly, the spireless, smaller mountain was renamed Cowhorn Mountain. And the bigger mountain is now the iconic Mt Thielsen.
Besides Thielsen and Cowhorn, this route includes great views of Diamond Peak. It also has some pitchy climbs, “old school” single track deep in the forest, and a skinny YEHAWW paved downhill that will have you laughing like a schoolgirl playing hopscotch. We’ve also tossed in a little H2O, riding along canals and Lake Lemolo.
It’s an advanced route with an option to make it easier, but where’s the fun in that? If you want the fun downhill to seem like even more of a reward, to really make you giggle, you will need to feel the pain of the start.
Adventure / Gravel Route
Technical Difficulty & Risk[what this means]
Advanced. Due to: (a) the 3 miles of single track rated rated mountain bike intermediate and (b) the demanding 1 mile climb at a continuous 10 to 15% grade.
When we like to ride this …
Spring through fall on a sunny day, when the views will be big!
A dirt pull out alongside the paved road [NF 2614] just before crossing the bridge over the Umpqua River leading to Inlet campground.
Lat / Long: 43.310265, -122.155137
Food / Water
At the end of the day, if you’re looking for some quick eats and drinks, stop by the Lemolo Lake Resort general store on the northwest end of the lake. They also have full RV hook ups.
Lat / Long: 43.318228, -122.194348
For dry camping check out the following National Forest campgrounds along the lake: Poole Creek, East Lemolo, Inlet, and Bunker Hill.
Ride Details**Read More
Miles 0 to 8 / The Intense / Gravel (mostly)
From the parking area, head north [paved] across the bridge and then take a quick right. Spin the legs to get the blood flowing. At ~ mile 1, make a left onto NF 700, a gravel road. In a couple of hundred yards, make a left at the trail sign for the North Umpqua Trail. Yep, that North Umpqua Trail — the famous mountain biking trail with a section called “Dread and Terror”. (Named for a ridge south of the trail, not for the difficulty of the trail. Hmmm?)
The next 3 miles are not life-threatening, but they are technically intense; old school single track with narrow trail and limited sightlines.[micro-video] The riding is loamy, with occasional rocks and roots, meandering through a deep forest with big trees. The trail is rated mountain biking intermediate but is all rideable on a gravel bike with 40 mm tires and solid technical skills.
Completed in 1997, the trail follows the high ridgeline above the river, snakes through towering forests of hemlock, fir and pine, and skirts multiple waterfalls as it follows the shining rapids of the river. [Travel Oregon]
At mile 4.3, make a right onto a gray, hard-packed gravel road. Get ready for aerobically intense! The next mile will climb 800 feet with the pitch at 10 to 15% the entire time. The road darts in and out of the deep forest[micro-video] giving long-distance views of the hills and mountains to the west and north. Near the summit of the climb, after 1300 feet of climbing, you ride through a burn from 20+ years ago. The area is dotted with new trees and scrub.
Miles 8 to 14 / The Inverted “U” / Gravel
At mile 8, make a left onto NF 700. This next sector in an inverted “U” on the elevation profile, starting and ending with unobstructed views of Diamond Peak. Continue climbing up through the burn. As you top out, the road is lined by trees on both sides, and the views disappear. Overall, the gravel is fast and hard-packed with a bit of washboard, especially in the corners.
At mile 13.7, with views of Diamond Peak again, make a left onto NF 362, a more narrow gravel road, almost single lane.
William Macy and John Diamond climbed Diamond Peak in July 1852. These two men were part of a preliminary survey party known as the “Road Viewers.” They climbed the peak in order to plan a road that later became known as the Free Emigrant Road. They named the peak for Diamond, who was a pioneer from Eugene. [Wikipedia]
Miles 14 to 19 / Hills Peak Climb / Gravel
At mile 14.3, make another left. Soon the road begins to climb. The rock outcropping in front of you is Hills Peak. Circle around the peak to the right, and when the climb levels out [a false summit], look left for an unobstructed view of Hills Peak, Cowhorn Mountain and Sawtooth Mountain [left to right]. Ride out the flat for about a mile, and finish the last bump up. The heart of the climb is the first 3 miles, gaining 900 feet, an average gradient of 5%.
Mile 19 to 32 / The Modulated Descent / Gravel to Paved
The next 13 miles is a “hoot”! The descent is broken up by flat and sometimes short uphill sections, but the overall trend is downhill. The top two gravel steps ride fast and free. At the mile 23.5, you pick up the pavement. There is a short kicker uphill before you continue to descend.
The paved road is a single lane with pullouts. For us, it had been some time since the Forest Service had trimmed back the brush; thus, at times, it felt more like a paved bike path than a road.[micro-video] Twist and turn your way downhill,[micro-video] don’t forget to stop at the ad-hoc viewpoints. They are very evident. Big views of Mt Thielsen, Mt Scott on the far side of Crater Lake, and Diamond Lake.
The spire-like shape of Thielsen attracts frequent lightning strikes and creates fulgurite (substances that form when lightning melts rock). Fulgurites are only found between the top 5 feet and 10 feet of its summit. They are recognizable as patches of “brownish-black to olive-black glass” that resemble “greasy splotches of enamel paint”, ranging from a few centimeters in diameter to long, narrow lines up to 12 inches long. Some patches are rough and spongy; others are flat. Inspection of the fulgurite reveals a homogenous glass over a layer of basalt; in between, a stratum made of materials such as feldspar, pyroxene, and olivine exists. [Wikipedia]
Mile 32 to Finish / Canal & Lake Sector / Gravel to Paved
At the reservoir, veer right and then left across the wooden bridge. The canal sector is rough and bouncy. The alternative is to ride the road just to your left, but it has big frost heave cracks and gives you very little scenic payback. Choose rough and bouncy. Just when you’ve had enough, exit on the wooden bridge where there is a parking lot and trail to Lemolo Falls. Do not go any further along the canal on the gravel road as there is no exit.
The 194-megawatt (MW) North Umpqua Hydroelectric Project is located entirely within the Umpqua National Forest. Constructed between 1947 and 1956, the eight hydroelectric developments use water primarily from the North Umpqua River. Each project development typically consists of a dam, waterway (canals and flumes), penstock, and powerhouse. [PacifiCorp]
Back onto the paved road, endure a few miles of frost heave cracks and then, when at the north end of Lake Lemolo, spin back to the start/finish on smooth pavement.
(1) Easier Option: Same distance, same elevation gain, but without the single track sector and the difficult climb initial climb. The technical difficulty is reduced to moderate. Map / Cue Sheet / GPX / TCX
Our tire recommendation: 40 mm. On the single track and the canal sector, you will wish for a fatter tire, but on everything else 40 mm is the tire of choice.
Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road
Blue = single track
For help with GPS files, the RideWithGPs mapping app and to learn how to download our routes for free, see the “Using Our Rides” page.