Applegate Valley offers good spring ride

Snow is still visible on the higher peaks; vineyards have renewed foliage after long winter dormancy; wildflowers are showing their colorful faces and the Applegate River is hustling the winter snow melt down to the Rogue River. The Applegate Valley beckons cyclists to share some of the best early summer scenery in Southern Oregon.

The town of Jacksonville is a good location to start a ride to Applegate Lake.

However, your climbing legs should be in good shape because the Jacksonville Hill, heading southwest on Highway 238, averages a 5 percent grade for 3.5 miles. After reaching the crest of the hill, it's a four-mile down hill run (3 percent grade) to the town of Ruch. The road shoulder is wide enough for riding, but be cautious of traffic, which can be particularly heavy on Sunday mornings.

If you want to avoid that first climb and shorten the ride (by 16 miles round trip), start at Ruch. However, note that mileage referred to for this route assumes the ride starts in Jacksonville. Subtract 7.8 miles from the route description distances if starting in Ruch.

Heading west of Ruch on Highway 238, turn left on the Applegate River Road and cycle southward, passing the elementary school on your right followed by Valley View's vineyards. Valley View Winery has a picnic area and is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The road climbs gradually and then passes the junction with the Little Applegate River Road (mile 10.5). The next six to seven miles pass through rural farm lands, climbing at an average 3 percent grade.

At mile 14 is the historic Star Gulch Ranger Station. A horse, a rifle and a tent under the stars was all a ranger needed in the summer of 1910, when the first forest ranger settled into Star Gulch along the Applegate River. The building has been used continuously for nearly 100 years.

A bit farther up the road is the McKee covered bridge (mile 16.6), built in 1917 by John Hartman of Jacksonville. It was used until 1956 when it was declared unsafe for vehicular traffic. The 122-foot span is 45 feet above the Applegate River, named for Lindsey Applegate, the pioneer trailblazer who opened the southern route for Oregon settlers. A scenic park next to the bridge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, has restrooms and is a nice spot for a picnic. Other services are offered by a small restaurant and store near the bridge.

One mile beyond the McKee Bridge is Jackson Campground (mile 17.6), a nice place to stay if you want to camp out overnight on this trip. A couple of years ago, a friend and I pulled our trailers to this campground and slept soundly adjacent to the river.

At about mile 22, there is a 0.7-mile-long 12 percent climb to where there is a turnoff to go across Applegate Dam. The reward for your effort is the first view of 988-acre Applegate Lake with a depth of 225 feet. Stop here for a breather and enjoy the view. Take a short detour and go across the dam for more stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

Return to the main road and ride less than a mile to reach Swayne overlook, which has a grassy area, ideal for eating lunch on, or getting horizontal for a well-deserved rest. Restrooms are available at this location.

If you feel like riding farther, continue on for 0.3 of a mile and then enjoy the rapid 11 percent descent to the south end of the lake (mile 27) where campgrounds, picnic and swimming areas are available.

Don't overlook this ride as an opportunity to pull a bike trailer with your camping gear and make a multi-day trip. It's a good distance, with some challenging hills to try touring on your bicycle. Riding this route, pulling a trailer, will easily represent touring on a bicycle around the Pacific Northwest.

Traffic to the lake is moderate and road conditions are excellent. Weekends with warm weather invites lots of recreational users to the lake area, so expect higher volumes of traffic.

Whether you plan a single day outing, an out-and-back ride or an overnight ride, the bicycle ride to Applegate Lake is one of the primo bicycle routes in Southern Oregon.

Bicycling enthusiast Bob Korfhage of Phoenix is a former president of Siskiyou Velo bicycle club.

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