It’s been awhile. My last bike camping/touring typed thing was the Oregon Coast Tour in August, six months ago. Despite wanting to do something in September or perhaps October, bike issues nixed that idea. Tent camping in the middle of winter is a definite possibility, but cabins and yurts are so much better. So Emee and I planned a little excursion to Stub Stewart State Park for the beginning of February.
Cabin camping at Stub Stewart is nothing new. I went out there for three consecutive New Years (2011-2013) with Cycle Wild. I’ve cabin camped a few times since then, the last time was when Emee and I went out for New Years 2020, my last camping in pre-pandemic times. So a revisit was overdue. We also incorporated a night at the McMenamins Grand Lodge, a hotel in Forest Grove, 20 miles west of Portland.
The original idea was to leave home on Saturday February 5th, take the MAX light rail west to the end of the line, and then ride the remaining six miles to Grand Lodge. But we got going very late in the day and decided to drive the van to the Lodge. The ride from Hillsboro to Forest Grove is on busy Route 8/Baseline Rd, which has bike lanes but is still sketchy, dangerous riding in sections. We would have had to ride that part after dark and neither of us was into that idea.1
We spent Saturday night enjoying the amenities of Grand Lodge, having dinner in one of the restaurants and soaking in the communal pool. We got on the road after noon on Sunday. Riding from Forest Grove to Banks instead of the route from the MAX in Hillsboro cuts out a couple miles, and most of the riding is very pleasant and bucolic. We watched the farmlands outside of the urban growth boundary. After supplying up at the well-stocked grocery in Banks, the rest of the ride (about 11 miles) was on the Banks-Vernonia Rail Trail. There were a lot of folks enjoying this sunny and mild (around 50F/10C) Sunday.
The last six miles of the ride are the toughest. The rail-trail starts to climb into the Coast Range. While most mainline railroads have maximum grades of 2-3%, the Banks-Vernonia is on an old logging railroad, and those lines tended to be steeper in order to get into the forest. It was about a 4% grade for that last bit, and after my sedentary lifestyle of late, I definitely felt it more than I hoped. At least it was pretty, as I was riding under a canopy of trees.
The last mile from the trail to the cabins is all up, with a good 8% grade or so. Emee and I opted to walk that bit. We got to the cabins right at sunset. The westward-facing view from the cabin, on the top of a hill, made for a spectacular show. Both of us had leftovers from meals at the Grand Lodge, so we didn’t have to cook. But we did make a fire and looked at all the starts.
Monday February 7 was a “chill at the cabin” day. I had the slight ambition of doing a hike, but didn’t get around to it. (It doesn’t help that the hiking at Stub is okay at best.) 2 Having all the time was nice to do nothing was nice. I read a book and also worked on watercolors for a couple hours.
And like that, it was time to go. After breakfast on the morning of Tuesday February 8, we rode back. Going back is a lot easier, with a good six miles of constant downhill! We stopped briefly in Banks for lunch and got back to the Grand Lodge after 2 PM. It was a great little trip.
I’d like to get back to the cabins at Stub Stewart again, and possibly for a longer time. It would be cool to even try to work from there for a bit. The first few years of going there, cell service was non-existent unless you got high up on a ridge to send a text message with one bar of reception. This time? We even had data–maybe not the fastest, but still useable. I’m slightly bummed that there is service these days, as one of the nice things about going was to pretty much unplug from the world, the only connection being via radio. But “remote working” from here sounds nice, though Murphy’s Law would dictate that if I went back expecting cell service/data, I wouldn’t have it.
The one thing I’d have to figure out is food. We brought two days worth of food with us, because the cabins sit at the top of a hill–no matter what direction we’d go for groceries, we’d have to go down then come back up. Maybe next time we could get them delivered? 😀
1 There is a bus that we could have caught to eliminate the riding, but having to remove all the bags and stuff from the bike for that jaunt did not appeal.
2 Last time we were here we did a hike, but the trails were beyond muddy. Plus there’s only a few real “viewpoints”, it’s mostly walking through stages of second-growth forest. From my 2020 report: Stub Stewart State Park is a weird beast: it was former private timber land, given to the state a few decades ago. It’s not a prime destination like say a hike in the Gorge is. There are no grand views or waterfalls, just second-growth forest in various states of regeneration.