Ride The Rim – Car Free, Carefree Cruising Around Crater Lake

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By Joe “Metal Cowboy” Kurmaskie — On a cloudless Tuesday in July, a week or so after the National Park Service opened Crater Lake's rim roads to traffic, I found myself laboring up and down the forested circumference on my Surly touring bicycle. The color of the most pristine and pure lake in the world was a shade of blue that stunned me each time it came into view.

“I thought it would be… flat,” said my companion, a childhood friend visiting from Florida. “Like a road around a reservoir.”

My laughter ricocheted off the rock uplifts that buffer some of the climbs.

Ride the Rim travels around Crater Lake, Oregon. Photo courtesy Discover Klamath.
Ride the Rim travels around Crater Lake, Oregon. Photo courtesy Discover Klamath.

“They call it Oregon's hardest ride you'll want to do again.” I paused to pull over and take the full measure of a geologic feature on the lake known as Phantom Ship. “I don't know if I agree that it's the hardest ride, but the doing it again part is a no brainer.”

“Who are they?” asked my friend.

They, are the organizers of Ride the Rim, a partnership with the National Park Service, Discover Klamath Visitor and Convention Bureau, as well as the Friends of Crater Lake, a non-profit service organization, who host two weekends of car free rim rides every September.

Granted, a Tuesday morning in July saw only a few cars per hour pass us, but I told my pal I would be back in September to experience the route sans vehicles.

“There's just something about not having to look over your shoulder.”

Not to mention pedaling with hundreds of other bikers, unicyclists, joggers, skateboarders. September is typically Oregon's driest month and still warm.

Which is why, after seven years, Ride the Rim boasts 5,000+ participants.

But is it that hard? I'm probably the wrong guy to ask. Having hauled 18 feet of bikes, tag a longs, trailers, gear and kids across both Canada and the USA, I tend to think of a 35-mile jaunt with 3,700 vertical feet of climbing as a fun little pedal in the park… which it is, literally.

What needs to be pointed out is that the car free portion of the ride is 23.5 miles of the 32.6 needed to be covered if one wants to close the circle. Organizers have set up the route to go from the North Junction entrance clockwise to the Park Headquarters. This is the section completely free of cars. When riders reach the headquarters they continue on to the lodge and on to North Junction by bicycle (this is primarily an uphill climb and you will be shadowed by cars trying to pass much of the way). (Sadly they are not able to offer the shuttle in 2021 because of Covid restrictions).

If one keeps riding they will share the road with cars. The National Park has to keep itself open to the general public, so this is the concession it has made on these weekends. That nearly ten mile section open to cars is also congested with them at times during those weekends because everyone is driving back down to get their bikes.

That section felt safer on the Tuesday morning with cars than on the car free weekend with cars. This is due to the number of cars retrieving bikes. If I had one suggestion to organizers it would be to consider adding a shuttle service trailers to haul bikes back to the north junction, in the same way as they offer the trolley shuttle for passengers only. This would greatly reduce the number of cars retrieving bikes and would add to the car free feel of the entire route. It would also increase the number of bicycle riders who do the entire rim ride.

That said, it's an absolute thrill to take in the views, the five rest stops stocked with free food and drink, the volunteers are knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and the feel good vibe of pedaling with everyone from racers to families hauling their children on tag-a-longs. It's truly a party atmosphere which may help people manage the hills better. The road is wide, and with both directions closed I never felt in danger of fellow cyclists colliding with me. The pavement is in fairly good condition, but at that elevation and due to the harsh winters the park endures, it is best to look at the road ahead on the descents. There are some divots and hot spots which is par for the course with an annual freeze and thaw.

The car free section takes between 3-5 hours depending on your fitness level and how much stopping and taking in of one a natural wonder of the world. Be warned there are hikes and waterfalls and overlooks to explore, so one could easily lose the day. I plan to spend the weekend next year and ride it twice.

The ride is free, but park admission still applies. If you park outside the park, bicycles roll in for $15.

Organizers want everyone doing the event to register in order to provide proper snacks and water.

A final note. Everyone is coming from somewhere to do this ride. We carpooled, but there are other options including Amtrak and making it a bike camp weekend.

[Also, in 2021, there is not a shuttle that transports people from Klamath Falls to Crater Lake, so Amtrak would not be a good option if someone it not planning to rent a car.]

For more details:

ridetherimoregon.com

Bike Rentals:

Bike rentals will be available from the following businesses for those that do not want to bring their own bikes. Arrangements will need to be made in advance.

Zach's Bikes
  • Klamath Falls, OR 541.851.9200
  • zachsbikes.com
Tall Town Bike & Camp
Sky Lakes Wilderness Rentals
  • Chiloquin, OR 541.591.0949
Hutch’s Bicycles
  • Bend-Eastside 541.382.6248
  • Bend-Westside 541.382.9253
  • Redmond 541.548.8200

[Editor's Note: Ride the Rim is scheduled for September 11 and 18th, 2021 in Klamath Falls, Oregon, ridetherimoregon.com]

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