Earlier this summer, we pulled our bikes out of a back corner of our garage, dusted them off, and hauled them down to Rainy Peak Bike Shop for maintenance. With the sun shining beautifully last weekend, we packed a couple PB&J sandwiches and hit the Row River Trail. My goal for this trip was a slow and easy ride to get my body used to being on a bike again.
As I enjoyed my PB&J, sitting on my favorite bench and watching bald eagles fish along the lake, I was reminded of two things: First, the Row River Trail is an awesome place to get your bike legs ready. It is flat, wide, and car-free which means the we could go way further than I thought we’d be able to. And second, Dorena Lake is beautiful!
If your bike legs are a little rusty, or you have small children, or you just want a care-free path to enjoy, you’re in luck. There are three near-by paths that are wide enough and flat enough that they are enjoyable for anyone, of any ability, at any time of the year.
Ruth Bascom Riverbank Trail System
Stretching from Springfield to North Eugene, the Ruth Bascom Riverbank Trail System, also commonly known as the Willamette River Bike Path, is probably the most well-known and the most used of the three paths (here’s a good PDF map of the trail). Trails run along both sides of the Willamette River for roughly 14 miles total. With five pedestrian bridges across the Willamette, this path can become a loop trail of varying lengths. The path follows residential roads in a couple places, but for the most part this whole network is free of cars.
Valley River Center provides a popular starting point. From the parking lot, head north to access Delta Ponds, keeping an eye out for beaver, turtles, herons, and other wildlife that call these ponds home. Turn around at any point or create a 4-mile loop by crossing the river at the Owosso Pedestrian Bridge and returning on the west bank path. Alternatively, from the parking lot head across the river then turn southeast to see the Owen Rose Garden, less than a mile away. Alton Baker Park is another popular stating point for heading southeast toward Springfield through the wooded Whilamut Natural Area.
Middle Fork Path
The newest and shortest of the three paths is the Middle Fork Path which follows the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. Completed in 2013, this 4 mile path (one way) runs from Clearwater Park (on Clearwater Lane) in the east to Dorris Ranch in the west. Users are rewarded with views of Mt. Pisgah, the wild Middle Fork River, and hunting osprey. Be prepared to spend extra time enjoying Dorris Ranch, a 250-acre national historic site and the location of the first commercial filbert orchard in the United States. The first filberts were planted here in 1903 and today, over 100 years later, it is still a working orchard.
Row River Trail
Extending from Cottage Grove to the tiny town of Culp Creek, the Row River Trail is the longest of the three paths. Originally built in 1902 as a rail line to connect Cottage Grove with gold and silver mines in the Bohemia Mountains, this 15.5 mile path (one way) provides views of the scenic Row River Valley, covered bridges, the 6-mile long Dorena Reservoir, and – in the spring – plenty of wildflowers.
One good starting point is the Mosby Creek Trailhead (on Layng Road) for viewing the Mosby Creek Covered Bridge just east of the parking lot as well as the Currin Bridge a mile down the path. Another good starting point is Harms Park (on Row River Road). Heading east or west of the Harms Park Trailhead provides views of Dorena Reservoir. Serious wildflower fans should be sure to spend time at Bake Stewart Park, 3.2 miles to the east, which comes alive with wildflowers each spring.
Parts of this blog post are adapted from an article I wrote which appeared in Boomer and Senior News.