Looking for a good loop to do in the Portland metro area that is mostly trails and drops you off at a couple of sweet camping spots? Looking to do some trails that are equal parts paved and gravel to do a comparative analysis of which you prefer? Look no further than this overnighter loop along the Crown-Zellerbach (CZ) and Banks-Vernonia (BV) trails. The loop along these trails has become a bit of an annual thing for Turns to Gold. We do it in two parts. The first day is along the CZ Trail. Think gravel when you think CZ. We camp the night and the next day we ride the BV Trail. Think paved when you think BV.. For a more detailed account of this ride, checkout the post by Eric Bagdonas on Turns to Gold called Following the Old Portland and Southwestern Railroad. Eric as he often does, provided a great deal of historical context in that post and detailed ride information that only he can pen. He is the braintrust of this ride and loop after all.
Here is a great video that Takeshi Okuno made of the most recent ride. Takeshi captures many of the moments along the way in a minute or so of video. Enjoy!
The CZ BV Loop, or Timber Trails Loop as I like to call it, is an easy journey from Portland. The only drawback to this loop is riding on Highway 30 to Scappoose if starting the loop in a counterclockwise fashion. We not so affectionately called this part of the ride the “Dirty 30” section. This section from the St Johns Bridge to Scappoose has heavy traffic, but a wide, if not debris laden, shoulder the entire distance. There are alternative routes with less traffic that will get you Scappoose should you want to avoid the highway, such as NW Skyline Blvd to Rocky Point Rd, but taking Hwy 30 is a quick and direct route to start this ride.
I love a good loop as much as the next person. This loop really is a tale of two trails. The CZ portion from Scappoose to Vernonia is gravel and the BV section from Vernonia to Banks is paved. Allow me to anthropomorphize the trails for a minute for the sake of comparison. CZ and BV are kinda like twins with different personalities. CZ is a bit wild but enjoys quietude, a bit rough around the edges but darn easy to get along with. BV on the other hand is a smooth operator, enjoys socializing, and is a bit more recognized than CZ in public settings. BV loves to entertain and has many visitors.
On the CZ Trail, we saw a few mountain bikers, one group on horseback, and a couple of groups walking near Scappoose. Otherwise, we had the trail to ourselves. We could spread out as we pleased and ride while talking with one another no problem. Stop in the middle of the trail and have an impromptu dance party? No problem.There is also a sweet stopping off point along the CZ with a short hike down to an old rail tunnel and beginnings of the East Fork of the Nehalem River. This diversion is well worth the minimal time and effort it takes to hike down from the trail and should not be missed.
The BV Trail is a different story. This trail has consistent and busy traffic from Vernonia to Banks, including a steady flow of road riders moving at a good clip and youngsters learning how to travel on two wheels. Don’t let all the traffic prevent from visiting the BV. It is a great place for families and riders of all ages to get out on bicycles. The BZ from Banks to Stub Stewart State Park is one of the great overnight bike trips for those new to bike camping in the Portland metro area. I often recommend this route to people who would like to try bike camping for the first time, especially those with children.
On this trip we camped at Vernonia Lake. Vernonia Lake has a primitive camping spot, which is nothing more than a large field with some picnic tables and fire pits sandwiched between the lake and the Nehalem River. Make a site reservation or show up and if there are any campers already at the spot they will likely be happy to share given the size of the area. A bonus on a hot day is that there are some great swimming holes on the Nehalem River just down a trail through the trees from the camping area, so bring your swimwear.
In Vernonia, we made our annual stop at the Black Iron Grill. The Black Iron has good burgers and beer and a nice outdoor seating area along the side of the building. After dinner, we made our way back to camp, enjoyed an incredibly pink end to the golden hour and a few stories by the campfire.
Since the days are long and the night is short this time of year, many of us were up early and set off for coffee. Upon arriving in Hillsboro, we had a few tacos at Ochoa’s and took the MAX home to end another awesome journey along the Timber Trails Loop. See you May 28-29 of 2016 for our next trip on this route.