A Favorite Locale in SW WashingtonThis Gifford Pinchot National Forest (GPNF) lowland trail, a good choice when snow has higher elevation trails buried, follows the course of the North Fork of the Lewis River above Swift Reservoir as it meanders through a magnificent old-growth rain forest. Ancient Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar and Bigleaf Maple, basalt cliffs and five spectacular, misty waterfalls will delight you as you explore this route.
From this trail, in addition to biking and hiking, one can gain access to the wild and scenic Lewis River for fishing, kayaking or rafting opportunities while setting up homebase in one of the may riverside camping sites.
One such camping spot is the historic Bolt Camp Shelter, about 3 miles into the ride from Curly Creek Trailhead . It was built by the Forest Service in 1921 and was used when they were harvesting cedar bolts for settlements downstream. The shelter was restored in 1991 but has once again fallen into disrepair, likely due to dampness and snowload from heavy snowfall over the last couple of winters.
The Lewis River Challenge
Depending on where you look, this strictly single track trail (number 31) is described as technically easy to difficult and from 10 miles one way to 27 miles round trip and gaining over 500 feet of elevation. The GPNF website lists the distance at 10 or 11 miles one way from one page to another and rates it as technically easy. For this page, mileage has been listed at 22 to 27 miles round trip and the difficulty as medium. The larger mileage figure takes into consideration the Lower, Middle, and Upper Falls portion accessible on Quartz Creek Trail number 5 once a rider crosses National Forest Development Road 90 at the end of Trail 31.
The first 3 miles are mostly level and are realistically easy to medium. Some of the middle stretch miles are more difficult due to either quick and extremely steep transitions, trail surface, moderately repaired washouts with steep downhill sides (one on which this author discovered a bike makes a good anchor to brake a fall) or a combination of these. This trail was likely developed pre-bicycle and the transitions reflect this as some of the climbs/descents are strictly an on foot affair for most users.
Finding Your Way and Playing by the RulesFrom the I-5 corridor:
About 30 miles north of Portland, OR, take the Woodland, WA exit and follow Lewis River Road (aka State Route 503) east to National Forest Development Road 9039 (signs for Lewis River Trail are here also) and turn left. Follow 9039 for less than one mile and look for parking areas around the bridge. Your trip along Lewis River Road/SR-503 will take you along three reservoirs: Merwin, Yale and Swift. You will also pass through the small town of Cougar, WA and a small vacation home settlement at the east end of Swift Reservoir called Northwoods.
From the Columbia River Gorge:
On Lewis and Clark/Evergreen Highway 14 about 40 miles east of Portland, OR, turn north on the Carson, WA turnoff and travel north on Wind River Road. Drive about 30 miles to Curly Creek Road/National Forest Development Road 5110 and turn left. Proceed about 8 miles to National Forest Development Road 90 and turn right. Follow 90 to 9039 (look for Lewis River Trail signs) and turn left. Look for parking areas near bridge after about 3/4 mile on 9039.
Trail head for biking is on north side of bridge.
Remember your daily or seasonal Northwest Forest Passes to leave in your haul vehicle; $5.00 and $30.00 respectively.
When to Ride
This trail can be a year-round trip providing a few important considerations: snow level does not drop below 2000 feet; heavy Winter rains or Spring runoff do not wash out signficant portions; a muddy trail may cause water quality problems due to stirring up sediment; tree dead falls can keep a ride short (from the photos one can see that these can be quite large here). If a rider is prepared for any one of these then this can still be a great trip even if the bike tires never hit the ground.
Interesting LinksHere is a link to additional photos and information about the Lewis River, the LR Trail, Quartz Creek Trail #5 and Lower, Middle and Upper Falls, the Lewis River Reservoirs and general information about recreation in the area. Very nice.
Lewis River Falls