“What did people do before singletracks.com?” I wondered to myself as I approached the trailhead to the Cathedral Hills trail system in Grants Pass, Oregon. Fairly new to town and without a crew to ride with, I scoped the Nearby Trails tab, loaded up my ride with a hunch I was headed to the right place. Situated 55 miles up the I-5 corridor in southern Oregon, this place is a hidden gem often overshadowed by shuttle runs at Mt. Ashland or some of the better-known spots to the north near Eugene and Bend.
To access the main trailhead, take Williams Hwy to Espey Rd, just past the Grants Pass Golf Club to a dead end, well-maintained parking area. I lucked out on my first visit and met a few locals that knew these trails like the back of their hand. Pro skater Mark Partain, hard-charger “Boogins,” and Oregon Enduro racers Landon Burgess and Gary Sauer happened to be heading out on a ride and invited me to tag along, using Outback Loop to get to “the good stuff.”
The trails didn’t disappoint, as we climbed some easy opening sections; a mix of doubletrack connectors provide quick access to the underlying, well-marked sections of blue and black diamond singletrack. If you remember one thing about this review, remember the trail “Bridges”: it’s a must-ride, and if you remember nothing else, following the signs to Bridges will take you down the yellow brick road. There’s a few ways to get there, but we chose to climb Manzanita Tunnel, bear right, and follow the signs to Bridges.
The opening drop is a bomber chute straight down the ravine, across a narrowish wooden bridge, and back up the other side–the MTB equivalent of a huge opening roller coaster drop. Stay right at the next spilt to keep heading downhill or you’ll wind up following K Trail along the ridge for the rest of the run. Bridges winds its way back and forth with cuppy berms that pop into fast straights where you can hammer down, pop your way through a few exposed roots and chop, before setting into another corner and repeating the process all over again.
Interspersed throughout the trail system are some good optional lines with drop offs, step downs, bouncy root and rock sections, and plenty of opportunities to hang it out. There is also a pretty burly jump section buried out there… which I’ll admit cost me a collarbone break and four weeks of surfing the couch during the most prime riding month of the year!
One of the many perks of riding in Southern Oregon is the sheer diversity of terrain. At Cathedral Hills you’ll rip chocolate cake loam through stands of Douglas Firs on Zed’s Trail just in time to check your shorts before settling into a few grimace-inducing stages that pay massive rewards for the effort. In what seems like a matter of moments, you’ve risen from the the earthy-dampness of the forest floor into twisted, enchanted stands of Manzanita trees and epic mountain vistas. If it sounds like a page out of a tourist guide, I can assure you it’s not: this place is a literal paradise.
The Rogue Valley Mountain Bike Association presides over this trail network and a few others around the region. Kudos to their organized effort, killer trail work crews, and impressive website, with a vetted Trail Status page updated by the club. Formerly the Southern Oregon Freeride Association, they’re partnered with IMBA to protect and expand riding opportunities in Southern Oregon.
To review: You know you’ve found some of the best trails in town when you happen to also come across some of the raddest locals in the area, all in one fell swoop. Even the few horseback riders and hikers seem to be bike friendly. In keeping with Southern Oregon tradition, there’s no bad days when you’re outside doing whatever it is you love to do.