A Quick and Dirty Guide to Mountain Biking near Portland

A group of riders gearing up for a muddy ride on a wet Portland trail.
A group of riders gearing up for a muddy ride on a wet Portland trail. Gabriel Amadeus
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Portland is generally known for its love affair with road bikes, but that marginalizes the city’s lesser known, but nonetheless strong affection for mountain bikes. Miles of singletrack trails near and far, even within Portland’s city limits, make mountain biking an appealing sport for riders in search of a rugged challenge.

Local mountain bikers have taken full advantage, carving out trails in some of the region’s most unique landscapes—like in the Mount St. Helens blast zone—and through the area’s rocky outcrops in the Columbia River Gorge. Even Forest Park, best known for its hiking and trail running offerings just minutes from downtown, sports no shortage of popular mountain bike options.

And with popular rides like the Portland Short Track Series and the Sisters Stampede XC Mountain Bike Race, there’s no better time to explore some of those trails.

Ape Canyon to the Plains of Abraham

The ride along the Ape Canyon Trail to the Plains of Abraham delivers riders to the lunar landscape of the Mt St Helens blast zone.
The ride along the Ape Canyon Trail to the Plains of Abraham delivers riders to the lunar landscape of the Mt St Helens blast zone. Benjamin Hollis

The Ape Canyon singletrack provides riders with one of the most unique rides in the Pacific Northwest; the 16-mile out-and-back ride takes place in the shadow of Mount St. Helens , which famously erupted in 1980 and left decades of devastation in its wake.

More than 30 years later, the blast zone—which looks more like a lunar surface than any Pacific Northwest forest you’re familiar with—is still recovering. Shady forests, wide open pumice plains, breathtaking views of the blast zone, and a few cascade peaks make the ride one of the most memorable in the region.

The ride is best suited for experienced riders, owing to its elevation gain and technical challenges along the way.

Sandy Ridge

Taking in the sublime views of the Mt. Hood Valley from Sandy Ridge
Taking in the sublime views of the Mt. Hood Valley from Sandy Ridge Geoffrey Franklin

Due to their proximity to Portland, Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood are inextricably linked in the minds of outdoor aficionados throughout the region. So while the Sandy Ridge ride lacks the lunar landscapes of the Ape Canyon Trail, it nevertheless offers a stark contrast and demonstrates the richness of Northwest landscapes.

Specifically designed for mountain bikers, the Sandy Ridge Trail System offers more than 15 miles of singletrack rides through the Cascade foothills, just west of Mount Hood. Cyclists ride along a ridge that winds through miles of forest, complete with Doug fir, western hemlock, western red cedar, and other deciduous and coniferous trees.

The trails were built with assistance from the International Mountain Bicycling Association, which means a variety of challenges, including easy flow runs and technical trails with exposure.

Syncline

Admiring the breathtaking scenery near Hood River, OR
Admiring the breathtaking scenery near Hood River, OR Zach Dischner

Months of rain throughout the winter and spring is enough to give even the heartiest of riders pause. So while it might rain a fair share around Portland, cyclists can stay dry by heading east and tackling the Syncline Trail , about 70 miles from downtown Portland.

With a 2,000-foot climb from the Columbia River, Syncline caters to veteran riders with a winding double-track trail, a strenuous single-track option, and technical challenges.

But it’s worth the effort. Syncline is home to sweeping views of the Columbia River Gorge, volcanic rock formations and cliffs, and basalt cliff outcroppings.

Forest Park

Forest Park offers a whopping 28 miles of easily accessible trails open to mountain bikers
Forest Park offers a whopping 28 miles of easily accessible trails open to mountain bikers Michael Silberstein

When most Portlanders think about Forest Park , they may imagine peaceful, early evening walks, moderately challenging hikes, or even a wide range of trail runs. But with 28 miles of trails open to riders, Forest Park offers some vastly underrated mountain bike excursions as well.

There are currently 12 Forest Park trails and roads with designated mountain bike access, including Saltzman Road, Springville Road, Newton Road, and Holman Lane.

But the most popular of the bunch might be the Leif Erikson Trail, a popular 11-mile route with a generally consistent elevation profile. It’s an especially popular trail for new cyclists, owing to the steady elevation, and a lack of roots and rocks to dodge along the way. More experienced cyclists can take full advantage of the trail’s considerable length.

While the park lacks classic singletrack access and technical challenges, it makes up for those shortcomings with beautiful, old-growth forest and close proximity to downtown Portland.

Additional Resources:

Trail Recommendations: Ape Canyon to the Plains of Abraham , Forest Park , Sandy Ridge , Syncline
Races: Portland Short Track Series , Sisters Stampede
Groups: Northwest Trail Alliance , Columbia River Mountain Bikers
Retailers: Next Adventure , Fat Tire Farm

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