Winter cycling can bring surprises. Recently I wanted to try a different route out to Smith & Bybee Lakes involving less street cycling and more options for fewer total miles. I was yearning to spend some time in nature, and especially wanted to enjoy the wintering birds which populate this watershed of the Columbia River Basin.
I did some research to see if there were some alternate routes which were new since I last ventured out this way. I found the above map from the City of Portland site, which shows a possible 24 mile loop beginning up in North Portland. I didn’t choose the recommended starting point and instead drove my bike out to the Smith & Bybee Lakes parking lot, but used the map as a reference for choosing as many off-road trails as possible.
From the parking lot I first ventured east, and stopped at one of the Smith Lake viewing spots. This experience changed my whole outlook on the ride. I took a few videos with my iPhone, shown above, which depict the Lake’s natural beauty and teeming wildlife. There are over 200 species of birds which have been identified in this area, and it is a destination point for birders.
Continuing east I crossed Portland Road and continued along the off-road path which is best described as “occasionally paved”. Fortunately, the 32mm 650b tires on my 1975 Centurion Semi-Pro worked well for this road surface. The route is almost completely flat and passes by a sewage treatment plant (not pictured!) and a golf course. Bald eagles flew overhead while I observed snowy egrets and great blue herons hunting on slough’s banks.
40 years ago, I regularly rode my 1976 Centurion Pro Tour from my house in SE Portland out to Kelly Point Park and back, so it seemed fitting to take the Semi-Pro out for this ride. I’ve got it set up with Northroad bars for a comfortable but reasonably vigorous riding position. Back then, the entire route was on streets and highways, and I’m glad now to have the option to explore this region without having to deal with the stress of road cycling. In those days, there were no cell phones to contribute to distracted driving, and no gigantic SUVs and trucks to kill you instantly.
I cycled out to the end of the path at Vancouver Avenue, then turned around and headed west back to the lakes. I was saddened to see the trash around the campsites which line the slough near the Vancouver Avenue overpass, but upon returning felt rejuvenated as the skies opened up and delivered a touch of blue. I continued on toward Kelly Point park, then circled back to stop again at the Lakes, which cannot be explored by bike. Dismounting is required to protect the natural areas. I walked my bike slowly along the trails leading to the view points, but a rack is provided at the trail head if you prefer to lock your bike up.
Smith & Bybee Lakes offer a respite from city cycling, even though they are surrounded by industrial lands and were once a dumping site for toxic waste. If you venture out here on your bike, be sure to stop and take in the sights, smells, and sounds. You won’t be disappointed.