Here’s another reason to visit Oregon’s South Coast: the chance to pedal on the shoreline, between massive rock promontories, along one of the most scenic stretches of the entire West Coast. Spinning through the sand, bracketed by the bulks of Cape Blanco and Port Orford Head, brings a whole new twist to “a trip to the beach,” thanks to fat biking.
This coastal route provides an exhilarating, cliff-side adventure that runs between two of Oregon’s largest capes, far enough from the highway and civilization to give you a real sense of isolation and a connection to the elemental nature of coastal life.
But, know this: Besides the tranquil buzz of riding next to (and occasionally in, if you want to) the Pacific Ocean, you’ll find yourself facing some challenges.
You can start at either end of this route, and you can also easily make a loop of it – more on that later. For this description we’ll start you at Cape Blanco State Park. Find your way down to the beach from the southernmost edge of the park, past the campground, and hit the hard-packed sand where resistance is minimal – although you should experiment with riding in different consistencies of sand, just for fun.
About 2 miles in, you’ll encounter the Elk River – challenge number one. There’s no bailout here – you need to get to the other side on your own. The crossing conditions depend on the time of year and the weather, but plan for a full-on river ford, where you’ll plunge into the water and float your bike alongside as you wade across. If you weren’t fully awake when you started the ride, you will be now. (Note: There are times in the spring when this crossing is not safe; check with a local bike shop or tour operator beforehand. Summer and fall are the safest bets.)
After you cross, you’ll parallel the river for roughly a mile on Tituna Spit, passing a small island on the left. Potential challenge number two: If you decide to explore anything near the river’s edge, be extremely careful about the surface you’re riding/walking on – there’s actual quicksand in this area. If you think it only happens in the movies, don’t find out the hard way that it’s a real thing. The safest approach is to cross the river where it meets the ocean, and then keep a safe distance from it as it runs parallel to the beach.
After a few more miles, the beach portion of the ride will come to a definitive end at the imposing walls of Port Orford Heads State Park.
There are a couple of options here. You can turn around and head back on the beach – you’re a veteran of river crossings now.
Or you can make this a spectacular loop ride by riding up and into the park on dirt single-track to savor the views from the Port Orford heads. Then you can ride down through town on Highway 101 (or back on the beach to Paradise Point State Park, where you can catch a road back to the highway) and follow the road back up toward Cape Blanco. If you haven’t already explored the lighthouse atop Cape Blanco, make sure to take the time to ride up to it.
Whether you ride one-way or a loop, you’ll have an adventure that will linger in your memory unlike any previous trip to the beach.
Note: You can rent fat bikes in the area at South Coast Bicycles. You will need an Oregon State Parks and Recreation day or annual pass to access Cape Blanco. Passes can be purchased at the park entry
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).