One of the best things about cycling in Portland is how quickly you can leave the city for an epic, scenic bike ride. But with only a map, it can be hard to tell which unfamiliar roads are bike-friendly. Riding in well-marked bike lanes can still suck if they're on high-speed or high-traffic roads. But plenty of streets without bike lanes are low-traffic enough that the whole road becomes a bike lane.
"To me, that's really the beauty of the bike," says Dave Guettler, owner of River City Bicycles. "You can really get out and learn your environment and get a feel for wherever you are."
But for less experienced riders, not knowing what you're getting yourself into can be terrifying. Thankfully, some of Portland's most knowledgeable route-discoverers were willing to share their favorite rides.
Hidden Mount Scott
By Dave Guettler, owner of River City Bicycles.
30 miles, 4,133 ft. total ascent.
Mount Scott hardly seems like bike haven. "The problem is, most people think of Mount Scott the way that you would drive," says Guettler, "which, no way, man, I would never ride up those [roads]." Guettler's route veers off the I-205 bike path at Southeast Flavel Street. From there, use Knapp Street to get to 105th Avenue, which takes you into Willamette National Cemetery, where Guettler's route takes a 5-mile loop. "It's just really nice and peaceful and really no cars at all," he says. "I always go on the day after Memorial Day. They have little American flags on each grave. Otherwise, you don't really see the graves. It's just a sea of grass." The cemetery is hilly, but the ride's most intense climb is yet to come. The loop spits you back onto Flavel by the I-205 path, where you can either call it quits and get back on the bike path or take 92nd Avenue to the Johnson Creek Trail to climb the 800 feet up Mount Scott. After the descent from Mount Scott, Guettler's network of neighborhood roads takes you over Scott Creek and past Scouters Mountain. The intersection of Southeast Foster and Troge roads is your turnaround point for the 7 miles back to the I-205 path. You can either go back exactly the way you came, or use Southeast William Otty Road to get back to 92nd and skip the climb back up and down Mount Scott.
By Erik Tonkin, owner of Sellwood Cycles.
28 miles, 1,825 ft. total ascent.
View map here.
Though the Springwater Trail is the most direct route out of the city and into the Boring Lava Field, it's flat and straight the entire way. For those looking for a more of a workout, Tonkin's route through the same area provides more topography and better scenery. "I feel like I'm out of the city even though I know I'm not," he says of the route. It veers off the Springwater at Southeast Flavel Drive, which takes you to Flavel Street. From there, you skirt the side of Mount Scott before taking neighborhood routes back to Flavel. Take a right on Southeast Deardorff Road, a winding, low-traffic route that takes you through a mossy forest and over the Cedar Crossing covered bridge. Then, Tonkin's route takes you back on the Springwater and past Powell Butte. Turn off at 158th, which takes you onto Foster Road for only a few blocks. Tonkin's ride is basically a rectangle through hilly farmland. The route takes you back to the Springwater via Barbara Welch Road, a breezy, downhill stretch flanked by forests and a creek. When you get back to the Springwater from 145th, it's 5 miles west to your starting point at Flavel Drive and 7 to Sellwood.
Improved Council Crest
By Anna Grace Christiansen, professional racing cyclist and co-host of the podcast We Got to Hang Out.
16.3 miles, 1,365 ft. total ascent.
The ride up from River View Cemetery to Council Crest is a Portland classic. But most major roads in the West Hills have constant, fast-moving traffic, and it doesn't exactly feel safe. So Christiansen's ride uses a network of neighborhood streets. "They're super-cool, with, like, chickens in the road," she says, "and you go on this hiking path for like three minutes." For the abridged, novice-friendly version of Christiansen's route, climb River View's bike path. Take a left out of the cemetery to Southwest Terwilliger Boulevard. From Terwilliger, take a sharp left at the Chart House Restaurant. "That's where you start meandering through this neighborhood," says Christiansen. "The roads are tiny, and for me, it feels like you're in another country for a little while." Eventually, the neighborhood streets spit you out just below Council Crest. After that, take Southwest Vista Avenue and Salmon Street to get downtown.
Smith and Bybee Lakes to Kelley Point Park
19.7 miles, 369 ft. total ascent.
The Slough and Kelley Point aren't exactly secrets, but it's surprising just how many miles of bike lane there are right along the Columbia River. To amp up the car-free mileage, Maus and Guise's route uses an unnamed, unmarked path—it's essentially a sidewalk—that's wide enough to ride on without posing a hazard to pedestrians. "It's well-maintained, it's just a really good connection. And then you're at the beach at the end," says Guise. From Kenton, take North Argyle Way to Columbia Boulevard. Make a left onto the wide path that runs along the south side of the street. After about two miles, take a right onto North Portsmouth Avenue, which will take you to the Slough Trail. Head west on the trail toward Smith and Bybee lakes. After you've been on the trail for about 3 miles, "there's a trail that takes you to a viewing platform on the lake," says Guise. "I've seen beavers. There was a big log that was just full of sunning turtles one day." Follow the Slough Trail all the way to Kelley Point Park Road, which will loop you around the perimeter of the park and back to the trail. From there, you can follow the trail past the lakes and down the Slough. Once you get to North Vancouver Avenue, the route uses neighborhood greenways to take you to Peninsula Park and then back to Kenton.
East Buttes Leap Frog
By Ryan Francesconi of Our Mother the Mountain.
28.2 miles, 1,354 ft. total ascent.
This route manages to find a number of dirt paths and parks to connect some of East Portland's most scenic areas. "East Portland, if you do it wrong, it really sucks. But if you do it right, it's actually really awesome," says Francesconi. This route uses neighborhood parks to connect the buttes scattered throughout the Boring Lava Field. The ride through the buttes doesn't require a bike with suspension, but you'll need wider tires than those on a road bike. The ride begins with a climb up Mount Tabor. Then, take Southeast Yamhill Street to the I-205 bike path. The route turns off the path by Kelly Butte Park and zigzags through a series of neighborhood parks for about 3 miles before it reaches Powell Butte. Then, take the Springwater Corridor to the Butler Creek Trail. From Gresham Butte, use the Springwater to get to North Main Avenue. "Downtown Gresham is a spot that a lot of people in Portland don't even realize exists," says Francesconi. When you get there, you can take the MAX back to the city or you can use Gresham's Wy'East Way Path to get to more neighborhood parks that Francesconi's route connects on the north side of the buttes. "The way out is inarguably a pretty nice ride," he says.