The Down Low on 8 Mile
The scenic experience is top shelf. The Cascade peaks panoramas and lush valley views at many lookout points are breathtaking. One moment you are aware that you are riding in the dense western Cascade rain forest only to emerge moments later in mountain meadows clad with wild flowers. Soon, Ponderosa Pine, Manzanita, and Scrub Oak of the drier east side climate surround you. If a creekside ride experience in on your list, check.
The tread itself offers a little of everything good in mountain biking. It is mostly smooth with an occasional rock garden patch or a rooty step section and although portions can get very loose, powdery and dusty in late summer, much of the surface consists of fir and pine needles or a just right balance of loam and pumice for reasonable grip. There are rippin' and flowy downhill portions loaded with tree-grazing slaloms and switchbacks as well as leg and lung burner climbs.
Depending on the route one chooses, some lengths of trail here may offer a relatively flat 12 mile out-and-back while other combinations may mean as much as 2000 feet of vertical to be accomplished in just 4 or 5 miles. There are ways to link together all day 30 miler epics or just catch a relaxed 6 mile loop.
If a camp fire, cold beverage, maybe some S'mores, and a place you rest ride-weary bones light your fire, there are a couple of primitive forest camps available to pitch your tent. All of this is within 90 minutes of much of the Portland, Oregon area.
Trail Description -- The Ride
go left and begin the meandering, relaxed climb that takes you along 8 Mile Creek for more than 2 miles.
At about 2.5 miles, you will come to a road crossing which is the entrance to the Bottle Prairie trail head. Go right at that road and look for the trail head kiosk. Proceed left at the kiosk and keep following the Trail 459 signs. By the way, you can also begin this loop here at Bottle Prairie if you are not so concerned about finishing with gravity on your side.
You will soon pass the turn off for trail 455, part of the Knebal Springs Loop. Stay right on 459 and continue along this ridge toward 5 Mile Butte. The trail will descend, cross a road, and climb again. Now you will find the composition of the forest has changed to the drier climate pines and grasses as well as the tread has turned more rocky.
When you reach an unmarked but well-worn trail to the left, take it. It is the spur trail to the 5 Mile fire lookout and is only a couple hundred yards from Trail 459. Interestingly, even though it is this close to the trail and is quite tall, the lookout is not visible from it. It is a side trip worth the effort and time.
After your stop at the lookout, proceed back down the spur trail to 459, turn left, and continue the loop. The trail ahead is the best part of the ride if you like gravity assisted mountain biking like I do. Tree hugging slaloms with bermed turns, fast straights, and white knuckle switchbacks await. You will find that you need the cranks very little once you start down this descent toward 8 Mile Crossing where you left your vehicle.
The day I made this ride with Charlie and Alex, we combined the 8 Mile Loop with an out-and-back to High Prairie along Trail 450. Trail 450 can be accessed from the Bottle Prairie trail head and we were able to get about 17 miles total with this lolly pop style route. It was a phenomenal day, the tread was perfect with just a little moisture to keep the dust down, the company was inspiring and we all agreed it was about the best ride any of us had done in 2011.
Getting There and Red TapeFrom Portland/Gresham, take US Highway 26 eastbound past Ski Bowl and Government Camp to its junction with State Highway 35. Set your odometer to zero as you get on Highway 35. Pass milepost 70 then at 13.4 miles, turn right onto Forest Road 44. At 18.9 miles, turn right to stay on Road 44. At approximately 24 miles, look for the 8 Mile Crossing Campground signs and entrance on the left and park.
From Hood River, Oregon (exit 64 off I-84), drive south on Highway 35 for about 27 miles and turn left onto Forest Road 44. Set your odometer to zero and at 5.5 miles, turn right to stay on 44. At approximately 10 miles, look for the 8 Mile Crossing Campground signs.
Pick a nice camp spot for an overnight stay or use the day use parking for a day trip.
If you are only staying for a day, a season or single day Forest Service Recreation Pass is required and must be visible in/on your vehicle. For overnighting, your park use fee will suffice as a permit.