Bike Guide 2014: Bikepacking the Tom McCall Memorial Route

Intro to Cycle Touring, Hillsboro to Cape Lookout


Bike camping—or "bikepacking"—may well be the best way to experience Oregon's landscape. While there's no shortage of route options from Portland, my favorite is the trip to Cape Lookout and beyond, both for its proximity to the city (doable as an overnighter) and its historical significance. I've dubbed it the Tom McCall Memorial Route for a few reasons: In 1967, then-Gov. McCall reclaimed public ownership of our state's entire coast, which made possible such hiker-biker campsites as the one at Cape Lookout. And in 1973, he established the Tillamook State Forest after reforestation following a series of major fires. This trip celebrates both achievements.

Skip the suburban snarl by taking the MAX to Hillsboro's Hatfield station. From here, the cycling distance to Cape Lookout is 69 miles, easily accomplished in eight to 10 hours, including stops. The first part of the ride is a beautiful winding tour through the fragrant farmlands and vineyards of rural Washington County. You'll soon join up with Highway 6, where you should be prepared for a shoulder of varying width and occasionally significant semitrailer traffic.

If you want, you can skip Highway 6 entirely by taking Upper Nestucca River Road, which adds about seven miles of distance and 1,900 feet of climbing. It's a good option for the return trip, particularly on a long weekend, when Portland-bound RVers can be impatient or downright dangerous.

You'll notice something else on Highway 6: the sensation that you're pedaling uphill. You will continue pedaling uphill for so long that you will forget what life felt like before this hill. Try to see the slow pace as an opportunity to experience the majesty of the forest. Just when you're beginning to wonder whether this trip was such a good idea—maybe after 90 minutes or so—you'll see a sign identifying a turnout in a quarter-mile. Stop for a second, take a swig of water and prepare to hit the summit at 1,614 feet.

It's mostly downhill after this, and all through the stunning Tillamook State Forest. When the coastal forest parts, you'll find yourself in the open farmlands approaching the city of Tillamook, facing a headwind that smells like cattle and sand dunes. Stop in Tillamook for food—hit the Safeway deli and then grab some s'mores fixings. The last 15 miles are mostly small, rolling hills along the coastline, and then you'll reach Cape Lookout. The hiker-biker camping area is right near the beach, hands-down the most beautifully placed in the state. There are also cabins to rent.

Once out of the saddle, buy some firewood from the park host, string up a line to keep food away from the raccoons and hightail it to the beach for some well-earned sand between your toes. Head back after dinner for the moonlit views.

If you have a few extra days to tour, you can add some mileage along the multistate Pacific Coast Route on Highway 101. Consider traipsing north to Astoria, which will add 79 miles and just over 3,000 feet of climbing each way. Or you might go south to Newport for the aquarium and Rogue Ales. While the total distance from Cape Lookout to Newport is roughly 65 cycling miles, the coast-hugging route is packed with camping options, so the leisurely cyclist can stop at Devil's Lake State Park or Beverly Beach to cut the daily mileage in half. Some stretches along 101 can feel unfriendly for bikes, but just wait for the Otter Crest Loop, which starts at mile 50. It's riding rapture, with beautiful views of the coastline, little car traffic and a generous bike lane. Newport is a great destination for the cycle tourist. The South Beach State Park across the Yaquina Bay Bridge has hiker-biker campsites near the beach, or there's the famed Sylvia Beach Hotel. Elliott and Daniella Crowder run a hospitable shop called Bike Newport, a great place to get a quick tune-up—or even do some laundry—before your ride back to Portland.

RIDE IT: Find turn-by-turn directions from Hatfield MAX Station to Cape Lookout at

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