On paper, we figured this route would be beautiful and easy. A point to point, with more elevation loss than gain, it almost felt like cheating. But we were only right on half that description, it’s a beautiful route, but you earn every mile.
Overall, this route offers up beautiful views of the mountains, quiet forest roads, two beautiful lakes, a roaring river, and a hidden waterfall. We saw loads of blooming bear grass and wild rhododendrons. The two parts that make this route a challenge. The first is the “teeth”: once you polish off 2,000 feet of gain, you reach the UP, DOWN ridge that has waves of steep pitches. After that, you reach the 2,600-foot descent in ten miles on gravel that is steep and sketchy enough that your hands will hurt from riding your brakes.
There’s no question, this ride rocks … just no “whingeing” that you’ll stop a little more on the second half of the route, to recover from the teeth, cool off your brakes from the downhill, or find the hidden waterfall.
Miles 0 to 8 / The Up (in the Forest) / Gravel
From the parking area at Clear Lake, continue on the one-way paved loop road. It is steep! Making for “brutal” start”. Cross the highway (the sno-park here can be used as an alternative start) and continue on the gravel road, NF 2672. The route makes a few early turns in the first several miles, gradually climbing through the Willamette National Forest. The roads are gray gravel (mostly) and hard-packed. It is pleasant riding, mostly forested with 20 to 40-year-old pine trees with green undergrowth and scattered flowers.[micro-video] The first 8 miles gains 1000+ feet, with a loss of 300 feet. **Read More
About 1,000 B.C., Sand Mountain erupted. Lava flowed out toward the McKenzie River and burned the forest as it moved. When the lava reached the river and struck the cold water, it stopped. The McKenzie quickly backed up behind the wall of lava, and Clear Lake formed. The forest that had lined the river banks was submerged under 120 feet of water. Remnants of these trees still stand today, incredibly preserved in the depths of the near-freezing lake. [US Forest Service]
Miles 8 to 10 / The Dip with Views / Gravel
Just after the 8-mile point, you get your first big views of the day.[micro-video] The road dips down, but the views continue for the next several miles.
Mile 10 to 16 / More Up (in the Forest) / Gravel and a Little Pavement
At mile 10, you return to the forest and begin climbing again with moderate grades, usually less than 6%. This is the longest singular climb of the day, gaining 1000 feet in 6 miles. At mile 12.6, the gravel road gives way to a one-lane paved road for the next 2 miles. At mile 14.6, turn right onto NF 1509. This is a beautiful section of forested riding on loamy soils. The trees are older and taller.[micro-video]
At mile 15.4, the peaks to your north are Iron Mountain and Cone Peak, across highway 20 about 10 miles away. This is where we remarked, “the climbing hasn’t been too bad today. Pretty moderate.” Oh, the remaining 2000 feet of gain is nothing like that! It is short steep up and downs. Undulating! A lot of pitches above 10%.
Most of the 300+ species of wildflowers in the western Cascades are found on Cone Peak and Iron Mountain. This area also offers one of Oregon’s most diverse and abundant butterfly viewing opportunities and 17 species of tree, more than anywhere else in Oregon. [The Mountaineers]
Miles 16 to 31 / Contouring Traverse: Forest, Flowers, and Views / Gravel
This sector of riding is absolutely stunning. Sections of deep, green forest. Wildflowers. And big views (The Three Sisters, Three Fingered Jack).[micro-video] Mile 16 is the high point for the day, at an elevation of 4600 feet. In the next 15 miles, there are a series of small climbs and descents with pitch. Nothing over 300 feet in gain and nothing over 500 feet of descent. You will not find a spinning rhythm; over time, it is very demanding.
It feels as if you are riding a ridge, but you are not. Instead, you are following the 4000 ft topo line from col to col. This was also our favorite sector of the day.
Miles 31 to 40 / The Big Downhill / Gravel
At mile 31, the big downhill of the day begins, 2700 feet of loss in 9 miles.[micro-video] The grade continuously changes, with some downhill pitches over 10%, even 12%. There are also a couple of ups that gain 50 to 100 feet. Just before mile 38, Tidbits Creek comes into play on your right-hand side. When the descent gives way to a bit of flat, look to your left to see a hidden waterfall. (There is a brown vertical marker in the scrub with W1529 on it.)
Take the next 2 miles slow, ride the right-hand lane.[micro-video] The beauty and force of Tidbits Creek is not to be missed.
Miles 40 to Finish / Blue River Lake, Flat / Paved
The last several miles are flat, on pavement, and along Blue River Lake. Spin easy and enjoy!
Blue River is a beautiful, clear tributary to the McKenzie River that starts high up in the Cascade foothills and terminates near the town of Blue River, Oregon. On the way, the river is harnessed into a gigantic reservoir formed in 1968 when the Army Corps of Engineers installed Blue Lake Dam and Saddle Dam. [Outdoor Project]
This route is one of the few Point to Point routes in the Dirty Freehub catalog. For this ride, we recommend using a shuttle service. We like to park at the finish, the Saddle Dam boat launch, where the shuttle meets us, and then brings us and our bikes to the start at Clear Lake. This way, we ride down at our own pace, and when finished, our car is there with a change of clothes, food, and drink.
There are several shuttle services that can be used (tell them that Dirty Freehub sent you!):
This ride is entirely doable on 40 mm tires, but we prefer a bit more contact patch for the steep downhills (50+ mm).
This route is from Day 1 of the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder in 2019.
At the start, check out Clear Lake Resort. To make a day of it, get an early start and have breakfast overlooking the lake.
Adventure / Gravel Route
Technical Difficulty & Risk[what this means]
Advanced-. Due to: (a) a number of short steep pitches up and down above 10%, (b) the remote nature of part of the ride and, (c) limited cell phone reception.
When we like to ride this …
Early summer (late June to early July) when the flowers are in full bloom. With an early start, this is a doable ride on a hot day, as a lot of the route is shaded. But … there are several sectors along the route that are exposed to the sun and could be quite warm.
Clear Lake Day Use parking area. Pit toilets. This parking area can get very busy on the weekend. An alternative is to park at the Ikenich sno-park at the intersection of Highway 126 and NF 2672.
Lat / Long: 44.373321, -121.998849
Food / Water
Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road
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.