2-Day Bikepacking Trip Near Tillamook Oregon: The Wilson River Trail Loop

Pain and Suffering: An Ibex’s Tale

Once again, quote of the trip belongs to my riding buddy Brandon, who couldn’t join us on this trip but remarked via email correspondence after having seen the proposed ride via GPS routing: “Good God, who made this route? An Ibex? It’s like all climbing.”  And he was right. This ride was NO… JOKE.  It turns out that Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) trails are ORV trails for a reason: they require a motor to climb them.  However, my riding partner for this trip – Dan – and I still had fun, despite the pain and suffering that it caused.

The Marin Pine Mountain 2’s maiden bikepacking voyage.
The new bolt-on framebag I sewed for my PM2 – yeah, I’m pretty proud of it.
Both of us with new rigs: Dan with his Canfield Nimble 9 and me with my PM2.
The pain started early.
Almost ran over this little guy.

Kamikaze Jackrabbit!

The Proposed Map

Want a GPX version of the map, or just more detail?  Click here.

The Actual Route (due to various trail and road closures)

Want a GPX version of the map, or just more detail?  Click here.

Who Needs 2 Crank Arms Anyway?

As previously stated, ORV trails don’t mess around, and Dan and I quickly found that out after 2,000 feet of elevation gain in 4 miles.  To make matters worse, just as the trail began to undulate with some blessed downhill sections, Dan’s Crank Arm on his bike fell off.  That’s the arm that holds the pedal on your bike for those whose bicycle vocabulary is a bit rudimentary.  This is a VERY odd bike malfunction, and after searching for the missing mount for his crank arm to no avail, a random guy and his wife pulled up in an ATV and offered Dan a lift back down to his car.

This required a new plan: Dan and I would split up and meet at our ending campsite after he had taken his bike to a bike shop in Tillamook and gotten it fixed.  With Dan gone, my only company was the interminable climbs that plagued me the rest of the ride.  I guess I only have me to blame for that.

The Deafening Ululations of a 2-Stroke

While Dan was spared from the rest of my Ibex route, I continued on, mostly sticking to gravel roads and only taking the occasional ORV route if it clearly connected back up with the main road again.  This worked out well for me except for one tiny mishap which started with me seeing a ‘shortcut’ on my GPS and going for it, and ended with me basically sliding down an overgrown black diamond ORV trail (it was a 34%+ descent based on my GPS) because I’d gone far enough down that I literally couldn’t climb back up with my bike.  I have some nice bramble scrapes on my arm from that little mistake, but I could have fared much worse all things considered.  After that, I tried to keep my ORV trail excursions closer to the road.

Tight squeeze.
ORV blue trails (intermediate) are great for mountain biking, it turns out.

A couple mud puddles/ponds like this in the trail whose depth were impossible to decipher until in them.

As I got farther into ORV territory, the deafening screams of the 2 and 4 stroke variety could be heard racing all over the hills.  Whenever I decided to brave one of the ORV trails I felt extra tense knowing that at any minute, some hooligan dirt biker could come ripping up the trail and end my mountain biking days.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so vulnerable on my bike.  Looking back, I think I’d generally stay away from ORV designated areas for mountain biking, unless it’s just a small connector trail that links back up to singletrack, simply for my own sanity.  I’m sure that the ORV folks are wonderful people, but the 2-stroke dirt bikes could be a mile away and still, when they’d open up their engine, I’d about have a heart attack.

Back to gravel.
This is me on my first ever gravel road hike-a-bike. The road was so steep (up to a viewpoint), that my fatty 3-inch tires were spinning out, unable to keep traction on the loose rock.
Viewpoint.
Headed back down.

Eventually I made my way to Elk Creek Campground where Dan was waiting for me to arrive.  The campsite was completely full, but we rode up the Elk Creek Trail a ways and found a nice flat area where we decided to do some ‘Dispersed Camping,’ which ended up being way better than staying at the overcrowded campsite anyway.

River crossing on our way to a secluded dispersed camping spot.
These little guys were all over the rocks on the creek bottom.

Made it to our campsite.
It was a tight squeeze, but we both fit.
Quick snack before heading out again. It looked so good at the time, but now I’m not so sure…

We set up camp, and then headed out once again to tackle Elk Creek Trail, a 3.5 mile climb that ascends 1,700 feet of elevation; my inner ibex was reawakened.  After tooling around at the top for a bit, we descended back the way we came and spent the rest of the evening cooking food by the Wilson River and enjoying the solitude of our surroundings.

Climbing up the Elk Creek Trail.
A campsite at the top of the trail.
Bullet shells were littered throughout the campsite; welcome to Oregon.
A beautiful campsite at the top. Maybe we should have hauled all of our stuff up here.
So many viewpoints.

Elk Creek Trail was a quick, rocky descent that kept us on our toes the entire way down.

The Wilson River Trail

Our 2nd day had us riding on the Wilson River Trail, a 20 mile section of trail that runs from Elk Creek Campground to a parking area at Cedar Butte Road, 10 miles down Highway 6.  This was some pure, unadulterated singletrack that was a great end to the trip.  Plus, we got to ride it mostly unloaded because Dan’s little Crank Arm incident meant he had his Jeep at the campground we had been at the previous night, so we threw all our unnecessary baggage in his car and road our bikes naked.  As in our bikes were naked.

Breakfast looked awfully similar to dinner.
My idea of a bed & breakfast.

The Wilson River Trail included a whole lot more climbing.

But it was worth it for the high cliff-edge vistas and eye-watering descents.

A creek that Dan somehow managed to drop his spork into, so in he went to retrieve it.
Some beautiful bridges on the west end of the Wilson River Trail.

Unfortunately, the last 3 1/2 miles of the trail were closed due to storm damage, so we had to skip it this time around, but outside of that, the trail was in great condition and proved both challenging and rewarding.  It’s definitely an MTB trail worth exploring if you live in the area.

After finishing we drove into Tillamook, bought some beers, and hung out at a small Wetlands observatory, reminiscing about the ride and other sundries.  Another successful outting in the Oregon backcountry.

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