Bike Touring with the Cycling Sojourner
Story and Photos by Ellee Thalheimer
Photo at right: The pinnacle of views—the payoff for the famous rim ride around Crater Lake.
Crater Lake is freakishly gorgeous. Cycling around its high-alpine rim is, by my calculations, 43.7 times better than seeing it from inside a car.
Eons ago, in the Southern Oregon Cascade range, an eruption from the center of the volcano Mt. Mazama (now Crater Lake) caused the peak to sink into the mountain body. As it plunged, it ripped bizarre stone cliffs and flung pumice for miles. The resulting crater filled with deep azure water that makes sapphires envious.
Cycling this cloud-grazing, crater rim route is like floating around the ether as you cruise around the remnants of an uncanny geologic catastrophe. Besides ogling the lake, you can see an ocean of mist-colored mountains boiling voluptuously in the valleys far below, as well as blankets of blue-green forests, meadows perfect for lumbering alpine bears, and Mt. Thielsen’s glacier-sharpened peak.
This sweetheart rim ride was the highlight of our five-day Southern Oregon tour, but the rest of the tour was epic in its own right.
Ashland and Up!
Our tour started in style in the Shakespeare-crazy, bike-enamored city of Ashland where we discovered the delectable eats and libations at Standing Stone Brewery. The IPA was lip-smacking, and the kitchen whips up a succulent burger. This brewery gets local and national accolades for bike-friendly business practices. Bonus.
After leaving the city limits, we immediately headed toward alpine country on the nefariously named Dead Indian Memorial Road, which provided the 13 hardest miles of climbing on the tour. The sustained, sometimes steeply graded, ascent cuts through the remote, curvy foothills east of Ashland where the summer sun frizzles the grasses blonder than the clientele at an L.A.
That climb was the gateway out of the valley and into the heart of our forested, mountain-dappled tour. We explored deserted back roads that cut through the heart of the Rogue River National Forest. We discovered an ultra-remote, one-lane, paved logging road that made me feel euphoric, even in a 50-degree downpour. Much of the time, we shared quiet forest service roads with only deer and squirrels.
Out of the saddle, we swam in clear lakes surrounded by dormant volcanoes, passed the highly-recommended fishing spots like Medco Pond, and rubbed elbows with locals who were happy to share a story or re-fill our thermos with hot water.
Hitting the Rim
After two days of cycling and heave-ho climbing from Ashland, my buddy and I finally crested to the rim of Crater Lake on the third day of our self-supported bicycle tour. The awe that hit me when I caught the first jarring, cobalt-turquoise eye-full felt like an ancient and very human experience; it was the same awe that Native Americans and American pioneers must have felt hundreds to thousands of years ago upon first view.
Giggling and camera-happy, we were practically intoxicated by Crater Lake and the ride around its rim. For me, each time I saw the lake, the water shocked me with its radiant blue layers cradled by precipitous crags and bluffs.
For a 39-mile ride, this day jaunt, which never dips below 6,500 feet and tops out at 7,900 feet, can really work you over with almost 5,000 feet of climbing. However, on a sunny day, there’s no better riding in the world.
After we descended back into Ashland and packed up to go home, we felt high from the world-class cycling and incredible scenery. A promise from Southern Oregon: she won’t let the cycle tourist down.
Ellee Thalheimer is the author of the Cycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-day Tours in Oregon, which has all the details and logistics you need to do this five-day tour, as well as other bike tours all around the state. Get a copy from her website or follow her blog at www.cyclingsojourner.com. The book is also sold at Powell’s Books and Amazon.
Southern Oregon and Beyond Tour: Ashland, Ore. to Crater Lake and back
- Five days and four nights
- 245 miles
- 20,250 feet of climbing
- Season: July-October (September being the best month)
- Difficulty level: Challenging
Highlights in the Saddle
- NFD 37 (National Forest Road): A quiet wooded road snaking its way through Rogue River National Forest.
- Riding around the rim of Crater Lake.
- Leaving the hullabaloo of Crater Lake via the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway: Open plains with a snow-capped mountain backdrop.
- Descending into Ashland on Greens Springs Highway: Swooping descent that makes a loaded bike feel graceful.
Highlights out of the Saddle
- Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Year-round, world-renowned festival based in Ashland.
- Beckie’s Cafe at Union Creek: Don’t pass up a slice of their famous huckleberry pie.
- Jo’s Organic Deli in Fort Klamath: Delicious health food oasis in the middle of nowhere.
- Lake of the Woods Resort: Adorable cottages and campgrounds on a crystal clear lake.