Taylor Creek Trail an oasis for mountain bikers
Zach Urness/Daily Courier

Ryan Freeman mountain bikes recently on Taylor Creek Trail.

Not far from Grants Pass is one of the best areas for mountain biking in Southern Oregon. Taylor Creek Trail offers two fantastic and contrasting options for riders, including one that pays homage to the original Star Wars Trilogy.

Here’s a link to the video and here’s one to more pictures of the area.

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By Zach Urness of the Daily Courier

The most depressing days in Grants Pass occur when the valley is filled with fog, and a creamy soup of stagnated air creates an eerie twilight on the streets around town.

Normally chipper folks become ghosts wandering through the mist, and the motivation to do much besides curl up indoors hits low tide.

On these winter days I'll often load my mountain bike and head for Taylor Creek Trail, which provides an exhilarating ride through a lush and colorful forest above the valley's purgatory of fog.

Yellow beams of sunlight slice into a canopy of titanic pine trees on a network of single tracks that's among the best mountain biking in Southern Oregon.

The best part?

Of the two options for riding Taylor Creek Trail, one section goes by the name "Return of the Jedi."

It's not often you can combine the original Star Wars Trilogy with a day of mountain biking.

Lone Tree Pass serves as the best starting point. It's the highest of the multiple trailheads on Taylor Creek Trail, sitting at that wonderful elevation of 2,600 feet that usually stays free of much snow yet is high enough to escape the fog.

The first option from Lone Tree is to ride the Jedi, which runs slightly less than four miles southwest to Sam Brown Campground and is best classified as beginner/intermediate.

The other option is to head the opposite way, going northeast from Lone Tree down a more scenic but tougher (intermediate/advanced) section of trail, which follows Taylor Creek itself and is probably best ended at Tin Can Campground.

(There are a ton of paths branching off Taylor Creek Trail, but those will have to wait for another story).

I always start the day with a run on the Jedi. This well-defined trail swoops through a series of fast turns, whipping between some of the world's largest ponderosa pines while paying homage to the Star Wars movie of the same name.

Those of us "cool" enough to have watched "Return of the Jedi" a few million times can easily visualize the scene for which the trail was named. In it, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia use speeder bikes to chase down Imperial Stormtroopers on the planet Endor, which is populated by Ewoks, in a sustained effort to destroy the Death Star.

(Wow, that sentence got nerdy in a hurry.)

The scene in question was actually filmed in Northern California's Redwood national and state parks — not Southern Oregon. But the feeling of speeding between massive pines on a mountain bike is oddly similar to the sensation created by the movie, so we'll have to forgive the trail its geographic handicap.

The Jedi trail passes a junction with Big Pine Campground along the way and ends at Sam Brown after about four miles. Its fast, twisting speed always leaves me exhilarated and wishing for just a few more miles.

At the trail's end, I usually jump back on paved road 25 and ride back up to Lone Tree Pass.

After the warm-up on the Jedi, I'll usually take on the lower section of the trail during the afternoon. The lower section calls for a different type of riding, as it drops steep downhill and requires traversing a number of obstacles. There are sharp, exposed turns along with divots in the path (which have tossed me twice), mud, rocks and a couple of crossings of Taylor Creek.

The rewards for the treacherous riding are obvious. Lone Tree Pass to China Creek traverses a lush and mossy forest, dripping with bright greens, oranges, reds and yellows. It's wet enough to feel like a Pacific Northwest version of a rainforest.

There are two creek crossings during the first 3.3 miles that can get tricky. I've ridden this section multiple times and can usually just plow across the streams on my bike — recent improvement to the bridges have also been a big help to other potential crossings.

However, I do recommend checking the river level during the spring runoff or after a big storm to ensure you don't get into trouble.

The rest of the trail stretches on along the creek, sometimes rising high above it and sometimes diving back into the forest. And the good news is that with the multiple trailheads and proximity to the road, it's pretty easy to get off the trail should something go wrong.

Taylor Creek provides a mountain biking test that is both fun and challenging, both serious and with offbeat references to Star Wars.

And on a day when the Rogue Valley is filled with a soup of depressing fog, a ride through the sunlight on this lush and pretty trail is tough to beat.

Notes: The ride back to Lone Tree pass from the lower section of Taylor Creek Trail along paved road 25 is fairly long and tiring on a mountain bike. So, if you plan to ride both the Jedi and lower section of trail the best method is to set up a shuttle. On the drive up Briggs Valley Road 25, leave one car at Tin Can Campground or another lower trailhead and continue up to Lone Tree Pass. Ride the Jedi using the paved road to get back to Lone Tree. Then ride the lower section to your car.

• Annual race: Each year there's a big festival and mountain biking race in the Taylor Creek area. For more information, call one of the local bike shops, BikeKraft (541-476-4935) or Don's Bike Center (541-471-3494).

Taylor Creek/Return of the Jedi Trail

• Adventure: Mountain biking

• Equipment: Trail bike

• Drive: About 45 minutes from Grants Pass

• Trail distance: Entire trail (10.1 miles one way); Return of the Jedi section (4 miles one way); Lone Tree Pass to Tin Can Campground (about 5 miles one way)

• Effort: moderate/difficult

• Craziness factor (out of 5): 3.5

• In a nutshell: A fun pair of mountain biking trails that include a fun, easy section, along with a more difficult but scenic area.

• Directions: From Merlin, follow Merlin/Galice road about 9 miles to Briggs Valley Road 25, and turn left. Follow this paved road to multiple Taylor Creek trailheads along the road's left side.

• Fast fact: Lone Tree Pass (2,600 feet) is the highest of the trailheads, and marked by a sign and gravel road with a small parking area on the left-hand side.


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