If you like riding bikes, you’ll like Portland, Oregon. Sure, it’s maybe most famous for its commuter culture and bike paths, you’re more likely to imagine fixie-riding hipsters than anything else when you think of Portland cycling, but there’s a whole lot more to the scene than that. Everything from long, routes perfect for overnight bike packing, to technical downhill racecourses, long XC loops, and well-groomed jump lines are available just a short drive from downtown.
Portland is surrounded by towering volcanoes, and on the lower slopes and foothills of these mountains, a veritable web of mountain bike trails stretches out, with something for every rider. So don’t limit yourself to famous donuts and vegan restaurants, next time you’re in Portland, bring your bike and check out some of these riding areas.
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The closest riding to downtown Portland lies in Forest Park. Forest Park is very accessible, just off the Columbia River, and while it doesn’t have much elevation gain or technical riding, it’s got nearly thirty miles of mountain bike trails that’s perfect for intermediate and beginner riders. This isn’t the place to go if you’re seeking out gnarly descents, but as a quick mountain bike ride before or after work, or a warmup ride with kids, it’s perfect. Forest Park is made of a mix of hiking only and biking trails, so stay aware of where you are, and look out for hikers. It’s easy to string together long out and back rides on single and double track that’s fun on anything from a trail bike to a gravel bike.
This is a real gem of a riding area, tucked in close to town, and while it’s probably not worth visiting Portland just to ride here, it is absolutely worth a visit, between rides at other trail centers.
Similar to Forest Park, Lacamas Park is a city park located just across the river from Portland in the town of Camas. However, Lacamas Park has a wider variety of trails than Forest Park, and it’s possible to connect to a few other trail systems in the area from Lacamas Park by bike, so you can string together longer loops. This is another great area to grab a quick ride, it’s not worth spending all day here, but it’s a blast, and easily accessible when you don’t have time to drive anywhere else. Just grab your mountain bike, throw on your bike helmet, and hit the trails for however much time as you have.
A little further from town, Sandy Ridge has about 15 miles of trails, with something for every ability level. There are flowy green trails for beginners, fun blue trails to help you progress, and then a great selection of black and double black diamond trails to test your mettle. This area definitely steps up the standard from “townie trails” to a true mountain biking experience.
While Sandy Ridge may not have the most trails in the area mileage-wise, everything here is worth riding more than once, this trail system was built to session. So it’s a great place to take a few laps and work on skills, while also enjoying incredible views.
Sandy Ridge’s trail network is consistently expanding, as new trails get built, so be ready for some surprises since your last visit. If you like jump trails, you don’t want to miss Johnny Royale, their newest trail, which is littered with berms and gaps for over a mile. If a steep, technical trail is more your jam, check out Follow the Leader which has a wide mix of everything from rock gardens to big drops, to fast loamy sections. Just be aware that most expert and advanced trails at Sandy Ridge have big mandatory air features, so check everything before you ride it blind. And remember that most of the Sandy Ridge trails are directional, there are uphill and downhill-only trails. So don’t go the wrong way up trails, unless you want to get hit!
If you’re more interested in long XC loops than winch and plummet laps, check out Yacolt Burn. Yacolt Burn is perfect for the sort of riders who want to spend all day on their bike without riding the same section of trail twice. It’s easy to piece together fifteen to twenty mile-long loops out here, with a wide variety of terrain, from long, grueling climbs to rolling, playful sections, and technical descents. Several of the Yacolt Burn trails push up into the alpine, with ridiculous views and buff singletrack.
This trail network can be approached in several different ways. If you’ve got a four-wheel-drive vehicle you can run shuttle laps on trails like Chinook Run or Grouse Vista. If you’re just looking for shorter laps, you can climb Forest Service Road 1070 and come down directional trails like Sixth Sense and Thrillium. And if you want to explore, you can tie all of those together in a big loop that includes Tarbell and Hidden Falls. Basically, Yacolt Burn is a choose-your-own-adventure paradise. It is what you make of it, what do you want out of a ride?
Post Canyon is one of the most famous trail networks in the area, for good reason. It’s a densely packed group of trails with a little bit of everything. Seriously, it can get a little overwhelming picking what to ride here! That’s ok though, everything is pretty dang great. Post Canyon is primarily made of green and blue beginner and intermediate trails, and it’s easy to create big loops that span the whole trail system and let you experience a wide variety of terrain without retracing your steps.
For kids and beginners, there’s no better place to start than Eldorado. This 3.9 mile green trail spans most of the length of the trail system, with plenty of opportunities to access other trails along it. From the top, you can either head back down the way you came, or drop into more technical trails like X Chorus X and Three Blind Mice.
For thrill-seekers, Bad Motor Scooter is half a mile of jumps, drops, gaps, and berms, with features ranging from approachable, to scarry. Finally, if all you care about is air time, the Yogarobics zone is perfect for dirt jumpers and slopestyle riders, with big doubles that were built to help you dial in your tricks. And the nice thing about Post Canyon is that the trails are all interconnected, so if you decide you want to switch things up partway down, it’s easy to change trails at the next intersection.
Most riders won’t be content with just a day at Post Canyon, it takes a few laps to figure out what trails are your favorites, and by that time you’ll just want to come back and ride them again tomorrow. So budget plenty of time for this zone, and make sure your water bottles are full.
If lift-serviced riding is more your style, there are two bike parks on Mount Hood, Timberline Lodge, and Mount Hood Ski Bowl. Timberline Lodge has a variety of trails available off their chairlift. Gravy Train is a great warmup ride, it’s mellow and winding, with many bridges. This trail will help give you a feel for the type of terrain you’re dealing with, and then on subsequent laps you can step it up on trails like The Rock, which is slightly more technical, and Re-Align which is packed with fun, small jumps. At the end of the day, drop into Timberline to Town trail, which runs all the way from the ski area back down to Government Camp. You can even take it further down to Rhododendron if you want an even longer descent. There are also several other XC trails that loop out of Government Camp, so you can also ride from your lodging if you stay in town, or tack on a few extra miles after your day at Timberline.
On the other side of the road from Timberline Lodge lies Mount Hood Ski Bowl. Mount Hood Ski Bowl has a great history of hosting DH races, and while it doesn’t have the most trails, it makes up in quality and technicality. On top of that, there are incredible views of Mount Hood from most of the trails, making for an overall outstanding experience. If you like going fast and scaring yourself, check out Cannonball, it’s wide open with technical high-speed rock gardens.
For a mellower experience, Gnar-Gnar is less steep and technical, but still has plenty of features and berms to play around on, halfway down you can split onto Fire Hydrant which is a little steeper and more technical. Finally, if you like getting your tires off the ground, check out FreeRide Trail 3. It’s littered with jumps and drops, perfect for figuring out new tricks. All the trails at Mount Hood Ski Bowl are on the more technical side of things, so take it easy your first few laps, figure them out, and then let it rip.
Mount Hood might not have the biggest bike parks in the PNW, but they’re a whole bunch of fun, with trails for just about everyone to enjoy.
If you want to feel like you’re riding on a different planet, check out the Ape Canyon area. While a little farther from Portland, this area near Mt. St. Helens is a treat! This collection of trails, Ape Canyon, Plains of Abraham, and Smith Creek deliver a wild high desert experience. They’re a far cry from the lush ferns we often associate with this area. Instead, these trails, traverse crunchy volcanic “dirt,” with incredible views of the volcano. We suggest riding this area as a big loop, you can ride it in either direction although most people end up riding counterclockwise.
The singletrack in this area is very unique, and the overall experience from a day spent in this foreign terrain, staring at the volcano is incredible. Be aware that this is a very popular area with hikers, so prepare to stop and yield for them. If you like long XC rides with incredible views, this area needs to be high on your list. It’s also possible to tack on other trails that work their way around the volcano, so if you want to do a longer overnight bikepacking trip, this area is worth considering.
LL Stub Stewart State Park
If you’ve got a mixed group of folks who want to do a variety of activities, you probably ought to check out LL Stub Stewart State Park. Just forty-five minutes from Portland this park has rental cabins available, along with campsites, and access to over fifty trails. It’s easy to link up different loops of green and blue trails to get however many miles of riding you might want, and Drip Torch has a fun jump line that most riders will enjoy.
And if you want to do things other than mountain biking too, you’ve come to the right place. The LL Stub Steward State Park also has plenty of other activities including hiking, nature walks, and frisbee golf. And it’s right next to the Banks-Vernonia State trail which is part of a huge trail network that will take you all the way from Banks back to the Columbia on a paved bike path. So if you’re looking for a riding area with activities for the whole family, put LL Stub Stewart State Park on your itinerary.
The PNW is packed with great riding opportunities, and because of that, sometimes Portland doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. But just a short drive from the thriving downtown is a huge variety of trails with something for every style of rider. It’s hard to sample Portland’s best riding in just a few days, let alone a weekend. So get out your calendar and figure out which of these riding areas make the most sense for your riding style and group. The best time to start planning your next trip is now
April 12th, 2021 at 1:29 pm
I have been looking for a thorough and unbiased guide to mountain biking in the Pacific Northwest. Ape Canyon and Lacamas park look like ideal forest trails with great scenery.