GIVEN OUR CITY’S STATUS as the country’s golden child of cycling, we were a little nervous about naming four ultimate biking adventures. After all, 6 percent of Portlanders consider biking their primary mode of transport. But even if you know the fastest route from OMSI to Big Pink, you may not know where to lay fat tire to trail, or where to take your niece for that first training-wheel-free pedal (besides the school parking lot). No worries: When you’re ready to shift gears from commuting to communing with nature, try one of these rides, where success isn’t measured by speed, but rather the size of your smile. —Stacey Wilson
Driving time: 75 minutes
Nearest town: Lyle, Wash.
Activity: Mountain Biking
Distance: Up to 31 miles one way
SPANNING THE GRAVELLY corridor between the tiny towns of Lyle and Warwick, Washington, this newish addition to the Columbia River Gorge has a complicated backstory with as many turns as the trail itself. After the Burlington Northern Railroad ceased operations here in the early 1990s, national conservancy group Rails-to-Trails purchased the 31-mile stretch of abandoned track from the state for $3.1 million, stripped away all the rails, and transformed it into a mountain biker’s playground—a process that took more than 10 years, owing to ongoing battles over land rights with local landowners. Since it opened in 2003, the gentle ride through prairieland has quickly become a favorite of locals and Portlanders alike. The route kicks off near Lyle and follows the Klickitat River for about 16 miles along a slightly rugged and bumpy trail. If you’re lucky, you’ll spy fishermen from the Yakama Nation’s Klickitat tribe dip-net fishing for chinook and coho salmon at Lyle Falls, just two miles from the trailhead. Where the trail departs from the river, the landscape begins to fade from the familiar fir-flecked Gorge scenery to the sparse grass hills surrounding Swale Canyon. While it’s sometimes closed in summer because of fire danger, this stunning stretch of sunburned land offers 12 miles’ worth of reasons to make a return trip in the fall. —SW
Get there: Take the Hood River Bridge to Washington’s Hwy 14 and go east for almost 11 miles. You will see the trailhead on your left. Maps: www.klickitat-trail.org
SAUVIE ISLAND LOOP
Driving time: 25 minutes
Nearest town: Portland
Activity: Road Biking
Distance: 12 miles
BETWEEN THE working farms, flocks of sandhill cranes, and views of our local peaks, this ride through an agrarian paradise is practically a Portland rite of passage. Even dyed-in-the-spandex fanatics (who, let’s face it, don’t normally gush about flat, amateur-friendly road routes) tout it as the most gorgeous stretch of earth on which to lay rubber to road—besides the revered Digne-les-Bains near the French Alps. And with good reason. Along the smooth, two-lane surfaces of NW Gillihan and Reeder Roads, you’ll see pumpkin patches, U-pick peach orchards, and even a vineyard owned by rock groupie Pennie Lane. As lovely as the island’s bucolic terrestrial offerings may be, even more wild beauty dwells in the skies. With over 250 species of birds inhabiting the island, spellbinding avian formations are common sights. Just be sure to look down when winding up your ride along the Multnomah Channel: Sauvie’s waddling mascot, the wood duck, has been known to cross the road now and then. —SW
Get there: Take U.S. 30 West to Sauvie Island. Follow NW Sauvie Island Rd as it curves left after you cross the bridge, and park in the gravel lot next to the Cracker Barrel store.
APE CANYON TO PLAINS OF ABRAHAM
Driving time: 90 minutes
Nearest town: Cougar, Wash.
Activity: Mountain Biking
Distance: 21 miles round trip
GIVEN THIS RIDE’S razor-sharp ridges, slapping winds, and the lingering late-season snow, even experienced mountain bikers who attempt the strenuous route have sometimes wondered, Man, is this really worth it? The answer, of course, is yes, and the proof comes at about mile 10, where you’ll get a so-close-you-can-almost-smell-the-lava view of Mount St. Helens’s north flank. But you’ve got to earn it first. The uphill starts from Ape Canyon trailhead with a quad-killing pump-fest through more than four miles of dense forest, followed by a white-knuckle session along Ape Canyon’s exposed edge. If your legs are thoroughly jellied when you reach the otherworldly dry creek beds at the Plains of Abraham, don’t worry—you’ll get a respite with a small descent at about mile 7. From there, less than two miles and a set of stairs separate you from Windy Ridge, the turnaround point where that spectacular vista of Mount St. Helens awaits. From your perch at 4,200 feet, take a moment to imagine what it was like 28 years ago when the mountain spewed its insides 14 miles into the sky. Then feel utterly relieved that you were nowhere near the angry dome that fateful day—and that the return ride is downhill from here. —SW
Get there: From I-5 north, take Exit 21 and drive east on Hwy 503, which will become FR 90. Just past the viewpoint at Swift Reservoir, turn left on FR 83 and follow it to the Ape Canyon trailhead parking lot. (If it’s closed, park at Marble Mountain Sno-Park).
CHAMPOEG STATE HERITAGE AREA
Driving time: 35 minutes
Nearest town: Newberg
Activity: Road Biking
Distance: 7.6 miles round trip
LOCATED NORTH of Salem on the Willamette River’s shores, the 615-acre Champoeg State Heritage Area’s easy paved trail is as perfect for kids using training wheels as it is for parents more accustomed to pushing the gas pedal than bike pedals. The meticulously maintained, seven-foot-wide path is set away from the park’s main road, which means you can devote more time to spying deer and less time to dodging speeding Chevy Impalas. From its start at the Riverside day-use area, the path meanders along flat terrain through majestic oaks and meadows, where the loudest sound you’ll hear is the rush of a breeze through tall grass. Along the way you’ll pass wooden stakes marking what were once street corners in the town of Champoeg (pronounced sham-poo-ee_), where Oregon’s first government was headquartered until a flood wiped out the settlement in 1861. If the little ones seem too tuckered to continue, ply them with the promise of ice cream from the Historic Butteville Store at the trail’s end. It’s Oregon’s oldest operating scoop shop, and the ideal spot for you—er, the kids—to take a breather before embarking on the return trip. —_SW
Get there: From I-5 south, take Exit 278 and head west, following signs to the park.