I had a lot of ideas for what I could do for my “adventure day” this week. But on Monday night, I got the itch to ride as much on dirt as possible. While there are several options around Portland, the longest unpaved road/trail open to bikes in the area is Leif Erikson Drive which winds for over 11 miles in Forest Park. And a nice loop could be made out of it. I hadn’t been up to Leif Erikson in a good year, so a trip was overdue, especially since I want to do adventures in areas that I had never been, or areas I rarely go or haven’t been to in awhile. So the choice was easy!
After about a seven mile ride from my house up through the Northwest neighborhood, I entered Leif Erikson Drive at the NW Thurman St trailhead. I chose this trailhead to start with because it features a gradual climb from about 300 feet in elevation to about 600-700 feet in elevation, which is the elevation Leif Erikson stays in for the most part on its course. Other access points would mean steeper climbs. Plus, Leif Erikson is at its roughest for the first couple miles (this used to be a paved road for cars up until the 1980s, and they didn’t do that great of a job of removing the pavement in this section), so I’d rather be ascending here than descending.
The first few miles feel the most “urban” despite all the trees around. That’s probably because of the industrial district and its attendant noise below. The tree canopy is a bit more open (and a lot more deciduous) here, so it means better views but less soundproofing.
This feeling goes away, though, as the forest gets deeper and the drive winds in and out of the many little valleys and canyons on this side of the Tualatin Mountains (aka West Hills). Just after milepost 3.5 there is a picnic table at the junction of two creeks (and next to Nature Trail and Chestnut Trail). I had a bit of lunch here. I always stop here, as I love sitting beside a babbling brook. And the babble of the brook was all I really heard!
At about milepost 6, Leif Erikson Drive intersects Saltzman Road, another unpaved path open to bicycles. I could have dropped down from here and out of the park, but that would put me on busy NW St Helens Road (US 30) right at the peak of rush hour. No, I wanted to continue riding a bike on a path in the woods. And the second half of Leif Erikson I find the best part. The Douglas-fir forest here feels more “deep” and mature, and the surface at its best (though man, it would be really nice if they regraded it at some point!) It’s one of those “I can’t believe I haven’t even left the city limits, in this city of 600,000” type of experiences, and I wanted to milk it for what it’s worth.
This part of the ride goes by remarkably fast, and soon I found myself at the intersection of Springville Road (just past MP 9), another unpaved path leading out. This is where I would normally leave Leif Erickson, but I wanted to go all the way to the end at Germantown Road, especially since somehow I had never done the last two miles of trail!
The big problem with going all the way to Germantown is this road is one of the main ways over the West Hills in this area. The road is windy, steep, narrow, and highly trafficked. But I would be going downhill at about 30 miles an hour, so no big deal. (If I was climbing it, however…)
And I was back on the mean streets of Portland. I rode across the St Johns Bridge into North Portland and from there home. It was about a 30 mile loop altogether. I know that Leif Erikson isn’t a true “mountain bike” trail (and Forest Park has a lack of those, much to local mtb’ers chagrin), but the dirt road in the woods adventure is the type of stuff I like.