Coast Range to Cape

By Michael Kew

Looking toward Blacklock Point from Cape Blanco. Photo: Kew.

IF YOU LIKE BIKES, hit Port Orford this summer.

Or anytime, really.

This quaint Curry County burg of 1,100 now anchors the Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway, a paved, 61-mile network of glorious, natural beauty. While it’s not carless, hence flawed, it’s a great new way to tour the zone, particularly the upper Elk River and green, Grassy Knob Wilderness.

“Port Orford is the perfect place to start or end your ride,” Alexandra Phillips, Bicycle Recreation Specialist at the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department, said. “It has the friendly people and slow pace one would expect from a small town, with a very electric, artsy, almost eccentric feel to it.”

The Oregon Coast’s first—and the Lower 48’s westernmost—townsite is home to Battle Rock, where the Qua-to-mah tribe fought Captain William Tichenor’s men in June 1851. Today, 165 years later, it’s a pleasant wayside park, the logical spot to trade four wheels for two and head north for some seabreezed, sun-kissed delight, starting on Jackson Street, connecting with Port Orford Loop, then Highway 101, then veering east, past the fish hatchery along the curvy Elk River, navigating the narrow, sometimes-rubbly road past its deep gorges and green, old-growth forests. In the opposite direction, the route unfurls toward the ocean, tracing the serene Sixes River to Cape Blanco, Oregon’s westernmost point, a windswept trove of natural and historical wonder, including a 19th century lighthouse and an early Irish settler’s home.

“The Bikeway exemplifies our land/sea connection,” Port Orford’s Tyson Rasor, project coordinator for the Redfish Rocks Community Team, said. “Not only does the route connect you with absolute natural beauty, it connects you with the culture and history of our region as you ride past its cranberry bogs, ranchland, art galleries, the Elk River Fish Hatchery, the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, the historic Hughes House, Port Orford Heads, the Port Orford Lifeboat Station/Museum….”

And, no, you don’t have to pedal it all in one day—you can freely heed the old adage, there’s no hurry in Curry (County, that is), because there is something for all riders, of all riding abilities, of all fitness levels. With several out-and-back options, it can be a slow cruise with family and friends, or, for more experienced tour riders, a challenging time trial. You can also overnight at three pretty parks along the way: Butler Bar, Sunshine Bar, and Cape Blanco Campground.

Alexandra Phillips does share the more common choice: one segment at a time, allowing yourself to, between rides, soak up and route’s diversity and uniqueness and historical significance.

“I love it,” she said, “because it’s easy to pick what I want to do. A good climb ending with a spectacular ocean view? I head out to Cape Blanco. A wilderness-like experience with views of an opal blue river? I head up the Elk River. Feeling like some amazing views without working quite so hard? Paradise Point State Recreation Site, then back to town for lunch.”

What northern Curry Coasters have long enjoyed has only recently come to Oregon’s cycling fore. The Bikeway’s process began in 2012 via Travel Oregon’s Rural Tourism Studio, a training program designed to assist rural communities in sustainable tourism development.

“We looked at the map of where Scenic Bikeways were located,” Rasor said. “There was one obvious blank spot: the coast. And there were no Bikeways in the state’s southern half. So we determined this was a great opportunity and a unique way to share the Wild Rivers Coast with our family, friends, visitors, and cycling enthusiasts.”

The group from south Coos and north Curry counties sought the best route in the region. Thanks to the area’s natural endowments, it didn’t take long, though the Bikeway wasn’t officially approved and opened until October 2015.

Oregon is America’s first state to have designated Scenic Bikeways; 14 have been established since the program was launched eight years ago.

“The Oregon Scenic Bikeways provide the best-of-the-best road cycling routes in Oregon, which means these are some of the best rides in the entire nation,” Scott Bricker, Travel Oregon’s destination development manager, said. “The Wild River Coast Scenic Bikeway offers low-traffic routes that includes flowing rivers, coastal forests, and sweeping views of Oregon’s Pacific Coast.”

Need more?

I didn’t think so.

Get that chain lube ready.

Elk River. Photo: Kew.