One of the pleasures of living in Eugene is the accessibility of the outdoors and recreation within a relatively short distance. As an enthusiastic cyclist, I am always intrigued with the many possibilities for outdoor rides in our own backyard. One such opportunity is the Aufderheide Memorial Drive in our own backyard; this magical 63-mile ride is accessible via public transportation, and for $5 and a little pedaling you can experience a unique ride through pristine wilderness and old growth, surrounded by the sounds of nature, the smell of the forest and your own awe at the beauty of it all.
It was a warm almost-autumn day when I first cycled this roadway last September. My husband and I loaded our bikes onto the LTD Diamond Express bus in Eugene and were delivered to Oakridge, where we began our journey, an hour later. It was a good day for a bike ride: The leaves were beginning to turn and the salmon were spawning as we traveled along both the South Fork of the McKenzie and the North Fork of the Willamette, up and over the Cascades, enjoying an incredible 20-mile descent. Sights along the way included Constitution Grove (a 200-year-old stand of Douglas firs), Box Canyon Horse Camp (a replica cabin and a monument in Aufderheide’s memory at the summit) and from there we went on to Cougar Reservoir, Terwilliger Hot Springs and Cougar Dam. We completed our ride that day at the junction with Hwy. 126, where we met up with friends and camped nearby, further enjoying the majesty of our national forests.
Aufderheide was named after Robert Aufderheide, who spent 25 years in the Forest Service. He served as the Willamette National Forest supervisor from 1954 until his death in 1959. This Scenic Byway is a gateway that connects Hwy. 58 (Oakridge) and 126 (McKenzie Highway). The road is also called Hwy. 19 and begins just next to Oregon’s longest covered bridge in the tiny town of Westfir. From this point there are no services for 60 miles, so cyclists must be prepared to meet their own hydration and nutritional needs. It is also a good idea to carry first aid, a patch kit and a pump. For any cyclist who can work up to 60-plus miles with some elevation (4,300-foot ascent), this ride can be completed in six hours to several days, depending on what you are seeking. There are ample opportunities for hiking, camping, swimming and general picnicking along the way.
Some details: The surface is mostly smooth and well maintained the entire way. The climb in either direction is steady and gets steeper a bit near the summit for two to three miles. There is one extremely sharp turn on the descent from the direction we took, and I’ve heard that riders in the opposite direction experience some bumpy road at some portion on the descent. The traffic we encountered was mostly motorcyclists and they were courteous and friendly. We met two bikers and were passed by about 10 cars by the time we arrived at Terwilliger Hot Springs. From this point, the remainder of the ride is a steady decline to McKenzie Hwy.
This summer I will ride the Aufderheide once again in the opposite direction with a group of friends, ending at the Westfir Lodge, a “time out of time” B&B, brimming with hospitality and located directly across from the covered bridge. Whichever direction you choose to take, this ride is outstanding. Accessible in both directions via public transportation through the LTD route on the McKenzie and Diamond Express on 58, it is truly a treasure in our own backyard.