Oregon, Meet Your Next Mountain Bike Trail Destination

We took a few runs down the Whiskey Run trails in Southern Oregon. See what the new singletrack is all about.
Photos: Chris Hornbecker / @hornbecker

When we think of mountain biking in Oregon, we often think of places like Oakridge, Bend, or Hood River. Well, it is time we add another destination to that Oregon list. The Whiskey Run Trails on the Southern Oregon coast, between Coos Bay and Bandon, are well worth the trip.

The folks at Travel Southern Oregon Coast reached out to us about attending the Whiskey Run Mountain Bike Festival, July 21-23. Being a Singletracks contributor who happens to live in Oregon, I was happy to go on assignment, making the nearly five-hour drive to ride these trails I’ve had my eye on.

Travel Southern Oregon Coast didn’t skimp on the accommodations for the media representatives. All of us were put up at Bay Point Landing, an RV park with additional cabins or Airstream trailers available for rent. Bay Point Landing was a great launching pad for the weekend as it seemed just a few minutes from everything—grocery stores, breweries and cafes, and, most importantly, the Whiskey Run trailhead.

And if a great place to stay and awesome trails weren’t enough, the release of 7 Devils Brewery’s Gnome Wrecker IPA was just icing on the cake. Beer, art, and bikes came together to make an awesome weekend at the Whiskey Run Mountain Bike Festival.

Whiskey Run Festival

If you’ve never been to a bike festival, I strongly recommend going to one. They’re a great opportunity to ride new trails often with new friends you’ve just made. There is typically good food and beer, and sometimes live music. And there is almost always at least one bike company in attendance with a fleet of bikes ready for demos.

The Whiskey Run Bike Festival kicked off Saturday morning with quite a few attendees already there when the gates opened. Our day started with a media ride with the man behind the trails, Eddie Kessler. Kessler, a Southern Oregon coast local, owns and operates Ptarmigan Ptrails, and is responsible for many of the Whiskey Run trails.

We ripped down some incredibly well-built trails until about noon. Group rides and other festivities continued until the Saturday evening meet-up at 7 Devils, where we celebrated the release of Gnome Wrecker IPA, named after a favorite Whiskey Run trail. 

Sunday brought more riding and the second stage of the Ride The Dirt Wave “flow-duro” series. This small, local trail race series limits the event to 100 participants and a one-stage course. Each racer will have two attempts down the same track, with their best time being kept. Each of the three stops of the event has a winner with an overall points winner being crowned at the last stop of the series. 

The festival weekend, Gnome Wrecker IPA, and Whiskey Run trails moving into the future were wonderfully depicted through the artwork of Chris Mcnally. Not only did we have the pleasure of enjoying Mcnally’s watercolor pieces, the media crew joined Mcnally for a workshop in the sand. Best of all, Mcnally grabbed his Ibis Ripley and hit the trails with us.

With the festival weekend done and dusted, It was time to head home. The last great thing about the Whiskey Run trails is that there are other great riding destinations to stop at on your way home. Heading north? Swing into Alsea Falls or Blackrock. Oakridge is on the way if you’re headed east and Ashland if you’re going south.

Whiskey Run Trails

To say that the Whiskey Run trails are fun is an understatement. In fact, “fun” has been going on in the area for a hundred years or so, as Kessler alluded to the name “Whiskey Run” being a nod to alcohol transportation in the area during the prohibition days. Many of the trails carry on the theme, with names like “Speakeasy,” “Bottoms Up,” and “Hangover.”

The trails are incredibly built, well thought out, and have a mix of everything you may be looking for. Flowy turns and berms give way to steep chutes and a rooty, chunky mix of tech. Doubles, drops, and trail speed gaps are scattered throughout many of the trails.

The trails are progressive too. While blue and black trails are plentiful at Whiskey Run, not to mention a couple of double-blacks, plenty of green trails can be found as well. There is even a nice little pump track area with groms ready to shred. 

Most of the trails at Whiskey Run are on the shorter side. Think less than a mile and less than 500 feet of elevation gain or loss. However, speed was never a problem and neither was fun. Kessler and his team at Ptarmigan thought about laps on laps of riding and built many of the trails accordingly.

For example, a steady spin up a trail called Bourbon Street (notice the theme again) puts you at one of the highest points in the area. Incredible views of the city of Bandan and the ocean surround you. Four trail options are then presented: Hangover, Blind Tiger, Speakeasy, and Prohibition. A fifth trail, Outlaw, can be accessed from Blind Tiger.

All trails lead you down to the same point, where you can hop back on Bourbon Street to climb back to the top. An easy grade and thick, sea-level air made the majority of our climbing fairly simple. Our group rode three of these trails in less than an hour. 

While the trails were phenomenal, what blew me away was the dirt. A festival taking place in late July can expect late July soil conditions. And we found those conditions at the top of some trails when we were in clear-cut areas. But once we dropped in and hit the treeline, it was a whole different world.

Some of the lushest July brown pow met our tires and held us in the corners. A literal dust bowl in the exposure gave way to some of the best dirt I’ve ridden regardless of the time of year. We might have even splashed through a puddle or two.

And while I’m no ecologist, I imagine this is because of the coastal marine layer of fog hanging with us every morning of the event. The surrounding forest is incredibly green and dense, holding that moisture from the fog in as if the area just saw rain.

The trade-off, however, was the incredible lack of light once you hit the treeline. Kessler warned us sunglasses wearers that we won’t want them. I heeded his advice, throwing my clear lenses on. It was still hard to see.

It took a minute or two for my eyes to adjust. Once they did, I could pick up the pace. The tricky part was the trails that started in the exposure and crossed into the forest. If I was doing it all over again, I would be stopping once I hit the forest cover to give my eyes a few minutes.

This weekend only allowed me to scratch the surface of the Whiskey Run trail system. I rode just a sampling of the 37-miles of trails in the area, with “sides of the mountain” I didn’t even get over to. I’ll be heading back.

The Community

The Whiskey Run Trails seem to be a great example of small communities finding new life in the mountain bike industry. For the folks in and around Whiskey Run, it is clear that they not only see the potential for tourism dollars, but they see a greater potential for their residents to enjoy the nearby forest.

Coos County manages the land that the Whiskey Run trails find themselves on. The area is actively logged, and as we rode Kessler mentioned how this summer would be the last time a particular area could be ridden. Soon, logging operations would shut sections of the trail system down.

But Kessler and Ptarmigan will be there to rebuild the trails once the logging is complete, just like they’ve done before. The success in the area is clearly due to organizations and individuals choosing to find a way to work together. 

All weekend I heard one organization or individual praise another. Kessler spoke highly of Ptarmigan’s relationship with the area’s foresters. Folks from Coos County sang Kessler’s and Ptarmigan’s praises. 

“See that guy over there,” Kessler asked me, pointing to an older gentleman shaking hands and greeting people at the opening of the festival on Saturday. “His name’s John Sweet,” he said. “He’s a county commissioner and comes up here once a week to clean and restock the trailhead toilets. He believes in what is going on up here.”

You won’t find Sweet on a mountain bike. You will find him shaking hands and advocating for trail access. Sweet has seen the Coos County mountain bike community literally coming out of the woodwork, and said, “How can I help?” Mountain biking needs more people like John Sweet.

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