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Applegate: The ride for the casual mountain biker

Sometimes it's not easy to get your friends onto the trails. To them, mountain biking may conjure images of uncontrolled downhill descents, hitting rocks and going tumbling over the handlebars, especially since all they own is a hybrid bike, or maybe an off-brand budget mountain bike with cantilever brakes and worn-out shocks.

If that's the case, there's still a place you can take them that won't bore even experienced riders. The trail around Applegate Lake is one of the most accessible and scenic trails for mountain bikers in Southern Oregon. 

The trail that snakes its way around the eastern shore of the reservoir is called the Payette Trail. There is very little about it that is technically challenging. And since the trail follows the contour of the lakeshore, it's mostly level. A 17-mile ride is nothing to sneeze at, but a smooth, rolling trail and little elevation change means you won't tire too quickly.

The traditional way to ride the route is counterclockwise. The Payette Trail begins at French Gulch Trailhead on the northeast end of the lake, but you can park anywhere around the lake and split up the road riding. The Da-Ku-Be-Te-De Trail also runs along the western edge of the lake below the road, but it is a significantly rougher ride than the Payette.

For the most part, the Payette is suitable for beginners. There are, however, many washouts and spots with steep dropoffs and trees sticking out into the trail. Don't hesitate to get off your bike and walk a section if it makes you uncomfortable.

Less than a mile into the trail, after a short climb, you'll come to a four-way intersection. If you want to extend the ride, go to the left. This will take you to the Dagelma Trailhead and some other trails that head up into the hills for a short ways and then drop back down onto the Payette. If you don't want to climb any more, continue straight.

The Payette Trail zig-zags for miles around Applegate Lake's numerous drainages, with a lot of hairpin turns that allow you to hone your cornering skills without the challenge of a full-blown switchback. Another great thing about it is that the trail is shaded the whole way, so it stays cool in summer. The low elevation means it's also usually free of snow in the winter, making this a great all-season ride.

10 miles from French Gulch, the Payette Trail meets an old road and begins a steep climb. Don't be afraid to walk your bike up this incline. When you get to the top, you'll be treated to a fast gravel-road descent, which quickly levels out to an open view of the lake. This time of year, you'll be treated to the savory smell of exposed muck and algae, which for me evokes fond memories of the Oregon Coast. You'll soon hit the main road. Take a right to begin your return trip. The creek here is a great place to go for a swim.

So, what are you waiting for? You don't need a $1,000 mountain bike to ride around Applegate Lake. Drag your novice friends there or go and try it yourself. 

Digital copy editor Forrest Roth can be reached at froth@mailtribune.com