It’s been Round Two of summerlike heat in the Pacific Northwest for the last few days. High temps above 80F! (27C) Winter cold now such a distant memory. The desire to be outside all the time, especially since being indoors is too damn hot. Like always, I had Tuesdays and Wednesday off. I could have gone camping, but wasn’t thinking about it (or motivated to do so.) But I definitely wanted to do some on-bike adventuring. Where to? Somewhere new and a bit different.
I’ve got a list of metro area destinations that I’ve been wanting to go to, but for some reason have never gotten to. On that list is Whipple Creek Regional Park, in Clark County, some ten miles north of downtown Vancouver, Washington. I had known about it since I picked up the first edition of Wild in the City twelve years ago.* I was intrigued by this wooded park, but it’s only until now that I’ve gone! Part of that problem is not only is it across the Columbia, but far enough from anywhere I’d normally go over there, and not on the way to somewhere else. And unlike some far-flung destinations this side of the Columbia, I can’t take the MAX light rail to aid me in my journey. (Every C-TRAN experience seems to involve three buses.)
I left the house in the early afternoon, which as many can tell you, is not the smartest strategy for a bike ride on day that would hit 90F/32C. But I had worked until 10 pm the night before, and with getting home and winding down, it’s hard to get to bed early. (To top it off, I am no early riser, so getting up at 7 am for a bike ride after going to bed around midnight isn’t going to happen.) Still, I managed to stay hydrated and didn’t wilt too much in the sun. And thankfully, Whipple Creek is a wooded, shaded respite. Very little of it is “out in the open”, so I didn’t have to worry too much about ol’ man sun beating down on me.
When I arrived, I was greeted with a map outlining the five or so miles of trail looping around the park. The park is criss-crossed by creeks, so it’s a series of ridges and ravines. All of the trails are open to hikers, bikers, and equestrian use. And right at the south entrance of the park, there is an equestrian center. I saw four horses during my time looping the trails, and horse shit was unfortunately everywhere.
And getting into the park, the trail was a bit rough, full of loose gravel and steep pitches. I was worried that all the trails were going to be like that, but luckily I turned onto what’s called the South Ridge Loop. Here was a mostly well graded soft surface trail winding through the woods, with a few roots thrown in for good measure. It wasn’t any real technical mountain biking, but then again, I wasn’t looking for that!
And that sort of sums up my experience: pleasant trails winding their way through the woods. Yeah, there were some steep pitches, and the trails were pretty beat in some sections. I did have to walk for a couple short bits. I could see the evidence of trail repair and building, piles of gravel on occasion and fenced off areas where they were building new trails to alleviate the damage on the degraded ones.
To compare it to some other metro area parks, it was a little bit like riding around Powell Butte, except without an epic view. Or it was like riding around Tryon Creek State Park, if they allowed bikes on the trails.**
I did a good circuit on the trails, logging about four miles. There were a few side trails I could have explored more, but I felt like I got a good picture of the place and its riding quality.
Overall, Whipple Creek was great. I only saw a few people while out there (and four horses), though I’m guessing it could get busier on a weekend, though this place seems so off the beaten path I don’t think that it’s particularly likely.*** Which is interesting, in light of the dearth of easily accessible mountain biking areas around the Portland area. In Portland itself there’s only Powell Butte and a handful of trails in Forest Park (and local mountain bikers have been fighting for more access there for years.) With the talk of adding mountain biking trails to the new North Tualatin Mountains Park (and the inevitable push back from a few local residents), it’s nice to know there are other mountain bikeable areas around. While the trails on Whipple Creek weren’t that extreme (which could be the reason why “serious” mountain bikers ignore this place) they were good enough for me. All I’m looking for is a nice biking experience in the woods, removed enough from civilization (and civilization’s noises) to give me a peaceful, contemplative experience.
After doing my time at Whipple Creek, I headed southward, swinging through the bucolic landscape of the Salmon Creek Trail, then heading into Vancouver for a nightcap before heading home.
Will I be back to Whipple Creek? Most likely, though I don’t know exactly when. It’d be nice to incorporate it into a longer ride through the far flung places in Clark County. And hopefully on a cooler day.
*Unfortunately, it’s not in the current edition, so don’t bother looking. And let me clarify: when I say “a dozen years ago”, it means that I got my hands on a copy around 2004, though the book was printed in 2000, one year before I moved here.
**At Tryon Creek, they only allow bikes on the paved trail that parallels Terwilliger Blvd. You’ll never get close to the creek on a bike.
***For example, when I mentioned where I went to my friends in Vancouver, they had no clue about this place.