The Banks-Vernonia State Trail offers lucky cyclists a glimpse of the past and the future in one corner of Oregon’s old timber country.
Oregon’s first rails-to-trails linear state park is on the edge of the Northern Coast Range that tumbles down to the Pacific Ocean. Portland is only 25 miles to the east. But the paved bike path takes you through distinctively Oregon countryside. Much of the trail runs under a shady canopy of trees, a welcome break from the summer temperatures that can soar over 100 degrees. But we also cycled past open fields and one small sawmill that was buzzing with activity. We zoomed past grazing cows and even stopped to have an impromptu chat with a local dairy farmer.
For our three-day stay we camped at L.L. Stub Stewart State Park. The park has horse stalls, showers and cabins offering breathtaking overlooks. Stub Stewart is conveniently located on the bike trail at the halfway point and also is connected to a series of mountain bike trails for cyclists eager for a backcountry experience.
The 21-mile Banks-Vernonia State Trail runs along an abandoned rail line and is anchored at each end by two small towns. On the north end is Vernonia on the Nehalem River in the heart of Oregon’s timber country. At the southern end is Banks, another old logging town. The trail is popular with hikers, cyclists and horseback riders, and both towns see the bike trail as an opportunity to boost local economies that have suffered through the long decline of logging.
On our first day, we cycled south to Banks, where we cooled off with tall glasses of lemonade at The Trailhead Café, while the proprietor Lisa kept a friendly banter going with her local customers and a couple of inquisitive tourists.
Lisa said the bike trail and her café get busy on the weekends. We were fortunate we chose midweek for our visit, unhurried as we lingered over our drinks before we cycled back to our campsite on a bike trail dotted with only a few cyclists and horses.
The Banks-Vernonia Trail cuts through bear and cougar country, but actual sightings are rare. We did see hawks hovering over the fields, plenty of Steller’s jays and a lone coyote that made a dash for the underbrush the moment it saw us.
In addition to the wildlife, cyclists on the Banks-Vernonia trail pass over 13 bumpy bridges, highlighted by the 700-foot-long, 80-foot-high Buxton railroad trestle. The ancient towering trestle is an ideal spot to linger. We stopped to take in the rugged forestland and imagined the lonesome sound of a whistle signaling the coming of a train moving lumber from the once-bustling mills to Portland.