Used to be, the only option for “riding the dunes” along the Oregon Coast was loud, fast and fairly expensive – a dune buggy or other motorized off-highway vehicle (OHV). But now, thanks to fat tires and strong legs, you can take on some serious sand riding without making any noise – except maybe either the occasional exhilarated “woot woot!” or possibly gasping for breath as you make your way up a big one.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is one of the highlights of the Oregon Coast; you just don’t get to see real-life, full-size dunes like this very often. It’s a marvel whether you walk, ride or drive. So here’s your chance to get out there and explore them on two wheels – and, sometimes, two feet pushing two wheels.
If you don’t have a fat bike, plan your trip to the Oregon Dunes to include a stop at Bike Newport, the nearest place to rent one –they’ll make it easy for you. And while you’re doing that planning, for this ride you’ll want to take into consideration which way the wind is blowing. You’ll enjoy this route a lot more if you have the wind at your back on the beach, and then ride on the road back into the wind. This route is set up to head north up the beach, and then take the road south back to the start, but it can be ridden either way based on the wind direction.
Start the ride at the Siltcoos Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) area south of Florence. Make sure to get a $5 parking pass if you’re leaving a car behind. You can park in any of the designated lots, and then get to the trailhead, which is located just east of the Lagoon Campground.
The first thing you’ll do is head down the sandy two-track road. If it’s tough to get going through some really soft sand, don’t worry; it’s not like this the whole way. You might have to walk your bike on some sections, but it’ll be worth it.
Because… sand dunes! When you first get a view of these rolling behemoths, stop to ponder the concept of just how the wind creates these shifting sculptures; it’s like a natural art installation that’s different every time you come to look at it. If you can’t see the ocean, imagine you’re heading into the Sahara Desert. Then think about how many grains of sand…no, wait, your head might explode.
Get your bike up the really steep backs of the dunes, however you have to do it. It’ll take a considerable effort, but it also will take you to the top of the OHV dune area, where the views get even more interesting. And your company might get interesting as well; listen and look carefully for any motorized vehicles buzzing around on the dunes; try to stay in their line of sight as much as possible.
Try riding down a dune, if you’re so inclined (joke; get it?). Spend as much time as you like exploring the contours of the terrain, before continuing on toward the ocean; find the double-track path that leads to the beach. Wend your way to the shoreline and head north up the beach (i.e., keep the water on your left). There may be some more motorized vehicles here, but the views are much longer, and the beach becomes less populated as the peninsula thins toward the tip. The resident tidal pools provide a really fun feature to ride through, if you don’t mind dipping a wheel and maybe getting a nice spray of seawater on your feet. Dance with the waves as they hit the beach, and generally just let your sense of two-wheeled freedom take over.
The northernmost point of the route comes when you encounter the Suislaw River. Make what’s basically a U-turn and head south, then east, alongside the river to the parking lot. From there, connect to Highway 101 and ride south on the shoulder back to the car. (You could turn around and retrace your steps; let the wind and your fatigue level be your guide.)
Today, my friend, you have ridden the dunes – under your own power. Relish that accomplishment – and everything wonderful you saw along the way.
If you go: Wherever you go fat biking on the Coast, check the tides and try to go during low tide as much as possible. Beware of sneaker waves and stay off rocks and small, enclosed beaches. Respect the sensitive micro-environments, whether it’s birds or anenome you encounter. In particular, it’s critical for people and pets to avoid areas that are closed due to western snowy plover nesting season, March 15-Sept. 15. Look for bright yellow signs nearby Oregon’s beaches and more info about how to protect this threatened species here).
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