5 Star Route / Ridden and Reviewed by Captain ‘O’
“Big Ku” of the Dirty Freehub team considers this one of the best gravel rides he has done. What makes this ride so special? Fun to ride roads and several “one of a kind” natural features: the Big Lava Bed, the magical disappearing lake within South Prairie, Goose Lake and one of the most impressive falls in the Columbia Gorge region, Panther Creek Falls.
The ride is known for and named for the “Big Lava Bed, located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in the southwestern area of the State of Washington. The Big Lava Bed is the youngest feature of the Indian Heaven volcanic field. The 0.9-cubic kilometer lava flow erupted from a cinder cone about 8200 years ago.
Lodgepole pine, alder, and other pioneer plants struggle to grow, seen sparsely growing between and amid towering rock piles, caves, and strange lava formations. Access into the interior of the lava bed is difficult, since there are no roads or trails crossing the lava field. Explorers who wish to venture deep within the lava flow are advised to choose their route carefully. Compasses are not always reliable, since local magnetic influences affect their magnetic performance in the vast expanse of rock.” **Click to Read More
The ride leads out with a 2 mile warm up on a small paved road. Big trees, ferns and moss. At the first right hand turn, the climbing begins — a sustained climb at 7% for 1850 feet over 5 miles. The key word here is sustained. The climb offers up few breaks and some hits up to 12%. We misjudged the difficulty of this climb from the elevation profile. It appears less demanding that it really is. At the summit, you cross over the Pacific Crest trail.
For the next 17 miles, the ride meanders up and down with an net elevation loss of 1000 feet. The descents are short and stair stepped, but you attack them aggressively (and safely) if that is your choosing. On a clear day, you get big views to the south of Mt. Hood and the hills of the Columbia River Gorge.
At ~ mile 24 (after climbing 3000+ ft), make a left hand turn onto NF-66, a paved forest service road. For the next 10 miles, you will be riding along the eastern edge of the Big Lava Bed. The lava field is filled with in growth of conifers, primarily lodgepole pine but also noble fir, ponderosa pine, and mountain hemlock.
NF-66 climbs at 2 to 4% for the most part, but there are several short pitches of 9%. After 8 miles of pavement the road changes back to gravel. Its flat and racey until you hit a beautiful meadow, South Prairie. Turn left turn onto a slow going gravel road with numerous dips / pot holes that crosses over the top (north end) of the lava field. You can always find a line, but need to pick and choose carefully. pump and chunk section.
At mile 39 make a left turn onto NF-60, a good gravel road. Shortly thereafter, Goose Lake will be to your right. A nice surprise. Expect a bit more traffic.
After a little more climbing and grand view of Mt. Adams, there is a short, flat traverse and then it is all downhill. Gravel for 2 miles and then pavement for 6.5 miles. The paved section is fast, swoopy, and narrow. Will need a little bit of brake, but not mutch. Watch for cars, watch for broken pavement.
Stop at the Panther Creek Falls trailhead. Make the short trek to the falls, maybe .25 to .5 miles, you will not be disappointed! Then, pin the last 2 miles back to the parking area / campground.
Adventure / Gravel Route
– Loop: 54 miles / 5200 ft gain
– Surface: ~ 65% gravel, 35% paved
– eBike Friendly: Yes
– Location: ~ 45 min northwest of Hood River, Oregon / 1 hour 10 minutes northeast of Portland, OR
– Course by: Captain “O”
– Published: October 2019
Moderate+. Due to a steep initial climb with average gradient of 7 %. The remaining climbing is of moderate difficulty and never too long.
When we like to ride this …
This is a ride we like to do May through September. There is a significant amount of tree canopy, making it good option for warmer summer days, especially with an earlier start.
Food / Water
Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road