Toll Road

The most awful ride in the world

Overview

Road conditions have improved considerably since 1889, so this probably no longer qualifies as the “most awful ride in the world”.  But that doesn’t mean it’s any easier – it just means you won’t have to get out of your horse drawn carriage to help push it up the long, steep grades.

We are continually drawn back to this route by its fascinating history and remote access to the far reaches of the Coast Range. As with all Coast Range routes, expect rough gravel, steep grades, and active logging. But if you’re looking to avoid people and maybe crash headlong into an unsuspecting herd of elk, this is the route for you.

At a glance

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DISTANCE (MILES)
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ELEVATION GAIN (FT)
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RECOMMENDED DAYS
Difficulty
Commitment
Navigation
55%
GRAVEL

Map

Details

Route

Similar to our Trask route, we usually link this up with the end of the MAX line to cut out as much pavement as possible. From the MAX station you have several options to get yourself out to the start of the “real” riding. We prefer to get the pavement out of the way as quickly as possible and ride on the wide shoulder along OR-8 to Forest Grove where you can jump off onto quiet country roads as you head south towards the meat of the route.

If you had the chance to participate in our old Rapture ride, you’re familiar with the ascent on Toll Road. It’s a long and unforgiving 8 mile ride towards the summit of Trask Mountain. Until you cross a gate on the downhill just before Murphy Camp at mile 39 the entire climb up Toll Road is on private Weyerhaeuser land which is typically gated. So unless you run into any active logging you should have the place to yourself.

This route is easily linked up with our Tillamook Baby Loaf (coming soon!) and Trask routes to create a remote dirt loop to the coast and back.   If you’re riding it one-way, we suggest tying it in with the Wave bus back to Portland.   Reservations are recommended and make sure they know you’ll have a bike. The bus only holds two bikes on a front rack, but they’ve accommodated us in the past by putting another bike in the back.

This route is slightly harder, slightly more committing, and slightly more difficult to navigate than the Trask route. The Tillamook Baby Loaf route is one step harder than this on all accounts. If you’re trying to decide which to ride – that’s how we’d grade them – Trask, Toll Road, Tillamook Baby Loaf – easiest to hardest.

Check out the route forum for the most up to date information

Services & Water

There is a multitude of services along OR-8 on the way out of town. Once you’re outside of Forest Grove the only real option is the Lake Stop Grocery at mile 11.   Expect corn dogs and chicken strips along with typical convenience store fare.

You may cross a few tiny streams on the way up the big climb, but don’t expect any significant, untainted water sources until you cross Elkhorn Creek at mile 36.7. Even this may be dry later in the season. Otherwise, the only truly reliable water won’t be until you hit the East Fork of the Trask River at mile 45.

There is potable water at the Trask River County Park at mile 52, but for whatever reason it has a very strong, unpleasant sulfur taste.

Cell service drops off dramatically once you get near the Coast Range. Expect little-to-no cell service from approximately miles 16-62.

Camping

Weyerhaeuser rules prohibit camping, so your first options aren’t until you cross the gate into the Tillamook State Forest at mile 39. The best spots will be along the river between miles 45-49.  Full, up-to-date Weyerhaeuser access rules can be found here (you’ll be passing through the “North Valley” section).

If you prefer organized camping there are two options on the route. The first is the Flying M Ranch just off the route near mile 26 and marked on the Ride With GPS route. Check with them for availability on camping.

The other option is the Trask River County Park at mile 52. We don’t necessarily recommend it, but it’s an option.  Other further flung options could include Cape Meares and other State Park campgrounds out towards the coast past Tillamook.

Navigation

We highly recommend picking up the Tillamook State Forest Map. It is by far the most accurate map you can find for this area. Do not try and rely on Google Maps or even our favorite Benchmark Oregon Road & Recreation Atlas for this or any unpaved route in the area – neither are worth a lick in the Coast Range.

We recommend riding with a GPS unless you’re very familiar with the area. While the ascent on Toll Road generally involves sticking to the most well-worn path, this changes occasionally depending on logging conditions and there are a lot of unmarked, confusing intersections. This is especially so when you roll into the 6-way intersection at Murphy Camp.

Bike & Tire Selection

Despite all the pavement, we still recommend the usual rigid 29er (or similar) with ~2” tires with some tread.  The rougher sections of the route demand it, though it will admittedly be less than ideal on the long paved sections.

Route Alternatives

Route alternatives abound so we’ll leave that up to you. From past experience, Flora Mainline and Bark Shanty are typically in good condition and decent alternatives. You can also continue on Toll Road after Murphy Camp which more-or-less follows the ridgeline for a few more miles before dropping steeply down towards the river and linking back up with the route. Personally, we think the section along the East Fork of the Trask River adds some new, interesting riding to the route which is why we didn’t strictly stay on the Toll Road for its entirety.

Logging Roads

Riding on active logging roads requires special mention. First, and most obviously, get the hell out of the way of all logging trucks. This is not the time or place to take the lane or try and exert any sense of entitlement to the road. When a logging truck approaches from either direction, stop and get completely off the road. They move fast and may not even see you.  Wave and be respectful if they do. Regardless of how you feel about logging, these are nice, hardworking folks who could easily run you over before even realizing you’re there.

Second, at least part of this route travels through private Weyerhaeuser land. Current Weyerhaeuser rules allow bicycle travel as outlined on their website (you’ll be traveling through the “North Valley” section). This is a privilege, not a right.

You can also expect active logging throughout the Tillamook State Forest portions of the route.

Highlights, History & Other Resources

From 1874 until 1917, the Trask River Wagon Toll Road was Tillamook’s primary link to the Willamette Valley. Travelers faced considerable odds even on the daily commercial stagecoach run – on the steepest sections they were required to get out and push the wagon because the horses couldn’t quite make it on their own. Sadly I can no longer find my copy, but there’s a pamphlet-style book describing one traveler’s journey on the route, who dubbed it the “most awful ride in the world”.  A quick google search will provide you with a few more details if you’re interested, as will this short description.

While the current road is still called the “Toll” Road, most of the original wagon route no longer exists and once the nice folks at the Flying M Ranch in Fairdale pass on, knowledge of the old route will likely be lost forever.

Speaking of the Flying M Ranch, if you ever get a chance to talk to Bryce Mitchell, ask him to tell you stories of being a kid and riding his fixed gear bike over the Coast Range on the old Toll Road in the 20’s and 30’s to fish for salmon. To counter the lack of brakes on the steep descents, he’d cut down a small pine tree and tie it to the back of his bike to check his speed while jamming one foot against the front tire. You can also catch a cameo of Bryce driving the getaway jeep in the 1977 classic Fire! with Ernest Borgnine. The movie was filmed in the area and included most of the locals as extras.  If they still do it, Sunday brunch at the ranch house when the bush pilots fly in from all around is a unique experience.

If you’re into historical fiction, I’d recommend Trask by Don Berry.  It’s about the life of Elbridge Trask, an early settler, mountain man, and fur trapper who’s the namesake for Trask Mountain and the Trask River.