Choose your own bike adventure with Cascade Huts!
By Rebecca Agiewich
Photo at right: Five hut-to-hut explorers pedal up a hill with majestic Mt. Hood as their backdrop. Photo courtesy of Cascade Huts
Woven through the Mt. Hood National Forest—20 miles east of Portland, Ore.—you’ll find a network of more than 50 miles of fantastic singletrack where you can bike from hut to hut for days without schlepping food or sleeping-bags in your pack.
Cascade Huts makes it possible. This small company in the wilderness maintains huts for self-guided, hut-to-hut bike touring through beautiful, varied terrain. They’ve developed three flexible tours of varying lengths and difficulties that offer cyclists road and singletrack options to match their energy levels and experience.
We booked the shortest and easiest route: the 26-mile, three-day, two-night “Surveyor’s Package.” There is also an advanced 60-mile route.
Our adventure took place on a sunny July weekend after a stunning drive through the Columbia River Gorge area and the scenic community of rural Parkdale. By the time we reached our starting point at the Surveyor’s Ridge Trail parking lot, it was about 80 degrees.
The parking lot was filled with friendly mountain bikers out for the day who were happy to give advice about our route. Though we had the option to start out on the Surveyor’s Ridge trail, we decided to ride the forest service roads to our first hut, then drop our gear and explore the singletrack later.
We made the right choice. The five-mile ride to the Dog River hut was sunny and leisurely. Our chosen route took us along gently-graded (and sparsely-traveled) forest roads with tantalizing glimpses of Mt. Hood. We meandered by wildflower-strewn meadows and through groves of fragrant Douglas Firs. Time began to slow down.
When we finally rolled up to the Dog River Hut, our eyes popped wide open at the million dollar view of Mt. Hood. High-fives were exchanged as we upacked our gear for the night and cold beers were eagerly snatched from the cooler Cascade Huts provides. Then we plopped down to bask in the view, eat lunch and enjoy our little piece of wilderness paradise.
Eventually, we hopped back on our bikes and met up with the Surveyor’s Ridge trail a couple miles away. This impeccably-engineered trail is a local favorite and I soon understood why.
Lined with purple lupine and yellow Oregon sunshine, the trail dipped and rose just enough that a wimpy mountain biker like me could feel slightly challenged but not frightened. Best of all, after a few fun miles, the Surveyor’s Ridge trail led us out to another wide open view of Mt. Hood—this one emphasizing the peak’s pyramidal shape.
That night back at the Dog River hut, we enjoyed silence, solitude and a sky brimming with stars. Dinner was pasta concocted with garlic brought from home and noodles found in the well-stocked cupboard (think non-perishables like soup, granola bars, canned goods and packaged cookies). Warm and well-fed inside the small hut, we slept soundly in the thick sleeping bags that were provided for us.
Our second day followed the same pattern as the first. Ride the roads to our next hut, drop the gear and explore. That day we hit the Eight Mile Creek trail, another singletrack jewel that further stoked my ego as a mountain biker.
Like the Surveyor’s Ridge trail, the Eight Mile Creek trail is smooth and easy to ride, even when you’re screaming downhill (which you get to do at the end when you ride it clockwise). It also boasts wide-ranging views and two completely different landscapes. The first half of the trail follows a creek in a picturesque forest, while the second half takes you onto a ridgetop with meadows and wide-open sky.
Near the end of the loop, there’s a fire lookout on Five Mile Butte that you can climb for an even better look at the surrounding scenery. Just be aware that people rent this lookout from the forest service. Check in with the current tenants before you go hoofing it to the top.
By the last day, we were feeling a little more confident with our skills and knowledge of the area, so we decided to ride out via the Eight Mile Creek trail, rather than riding the roads all the way back to our starting point. Though a little more challenging to ride the singletrack with our loaded bikes, it gave us a feeling of accomplishment. We arrived back at our starting point sweaty, invigorated and very satisfied with our adventure.
After another spin on the Surveyor’s Ridge trail, we headed back to civilization and enjoyed cold brews, great food and another mind-blowing view of Mt. Hood at the Solera Brewery in Parkdale.
There, at an outdoor table, we basked in the balmy evening and recounted our favorite moments from the trail as a pink sunset gradually enveloped the mountain.
Cascade Huts: www.cascadehuts.com
Best Western, Hood River, Ore.: www.hoodriverinn.com
Carson Ridge Luxury Cabins: To treat yourself after your bike trip, try this uber-comfy bed and breakfast on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. www.carsonridgecabins.com
Toll Bridge Park: Scenic camping along the Hood River in a large, quiet campground. 7360 Toll Bridge Road, Mt. Hood, OR 97041; (541) 352-5522
There’s no lack of great food and beer in the Hood River area. (It’s brewpub central!)
Big Horse Brew Pub, Hood River, Ore.: www.bighorsebrewpub.com
Solera Brewery, Parkdale, Ore.: www.facebook.com/pages/Solera-Brewery/155875804519628
Writer Rebecca Agiewich has ridden bikes around the world from Patagonia to Europe, but she still thinks the Northwest is one of the best places to ride.