It's vacation season, and also fire season. That means it's a convenient time to put your mountain bike on or in your vehicle and head west, away from the perennially smoky valley, to the misty Oregon Coast.
Last week, I went on a road trip to the coast with my dad. In search of mountain bike trails, we went as far north as Port Orford, and explored the possibility of biking in state parks as far south as Arcata, Calif. The only singletrack of suitable length and challenge that I found was a bit closer to home.
Length: 10 miles (one-way)
Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
Directions: Take 199 south of Grants Pass for about 70 miles. Turn left on South Fork Road. At a 'Y' intersection, head left and go 7 miles to reach the Paradise trailhead, or head right for 1.5 miles to reach the Howland Hill Road trailhead.
The Little Bald Hills trail, just east of Crescent City, Calif., ascends the rugged mountains around the Smith River before dropping down into the redwoods near Jedediah Smith State Park.
The trail covers several different environments, and as a result makes for a more interesting and epic-feeling ride than other trails of similar length.
The 10-mile out-and-back can also be ridden as a loop (via South Fork Road) or a one-way trip with the aid of a shuttle.
The trail begins near the riverside hamlet of Rock Creek. I took the first of two trailheads, Paradise Trail, which climbs quickly for a mile through a series of switchbacks before meeting the Little Bald Hills Trail.
This portion of the trail boasted a spectacular number of late-season wildflowers, including hundreds of purple irises and varieties of rhododendrons.
For the next few miles, the trail climbs slowly along an old mining road cut into the hillside. The scenery alternates between lush drainages and bare, scorched serpentine areas, which offer spectacular views of the Siskiyou Mountains and the winding Smith River 2,000 feet below. The Smith is notable for the clarity of its water; check out a swimming hole along the North Fork on your way back along 199.
After a few miles, the trail turns away from the hillside and crosses through a series of grassy mountaintop meadows sprinkled with pines. Think twice before setting up your picnic basket, though. Funnel webs that may be home to hobo spiders are ubiquitous in these fields.
After crossing the bald ridges, the trail begins its descent into the redwoods. You'll begin seeing a lot more ferns; compared with the start of the trail, this might as well be a different world. There's a backcountry camp here, with picnic tables, a spider-free place to take a break.
The trail will then cross into state park territory, where it becomes wider and smoother. Now the fun begins.
There's a reason this trail is one of the few in redwood state parks on which bikes are permitted. The trail is broad, and the turns are easy. There are a few switchbacks that will force you to slam on the brakes, but for the most part, don't be afraid to pick up some serious speed as the trail sheds 1,800 feet in elevation, quickly bringing you down to Howland Hill Road. The trail can be ridden in either direction, but doing the downhill through the redwoods is too fun to pass up.
The trail may be a little far from the Rogue Valley, but it makes for a great destination — for bikers and hikers alike — as part of a larger coast trip.
Forrest Roth can be reached at email@example.com