Salmon River Loop
If any ride speaks to the rugged beauty of the State of Jefferson, the very challenging Salmon River Loop does it in spades. This 100 mile loop is in the middle of one of the least developed and most remote tracts of land in the lower 48. Once out of the relative bustle of the Scott Valley, you'll probably have the road to yourself - if you need more than one hand to count the cars, it's a busy day. For most of the day, you'll either be climbing or descending one of the two significant climbs on the route - the majority of of which will put you in the steep-walled canyons of the North and South forks of the Salmon River. If you ride the loop clockwise, you'll be greeted by a 4-mile wall of suffering to the top of Etna Mountain Summit - a never-ending, merciless 11% grade that from mile 86 to mile 90 will test the resolve of the most dedicated riders.
The stats don't tell the tale — 100 miles and 10,500 feet climbing — this ride is harder than that, mostly because it climbs for 30 miles before getting really hard. That said, with good gearing selection and restraint with regard to your early pace, this is ride is possible for most riders. Starting in Etna, the loop is traditionally ridden clockwise. The first 15 miles are flat, following Hwy 3 to Callahan. Turning right onto the Cecilville Rd, the east side of Carter Mountain is a steady 6-7% grade... hard enough to cause problems later in the ride if you push it. A long 35 mile descent to Forks of Salmon includes some significant and steep rollers before turning onto Sawyers Bar Rd for 30 miles of climbing followed by the 4 mile slot to the top of Etna Mountain. The descent into Etna is safe, but just technical enough that extra caution may be warranted as most riders will be fatigued.
This ride traditionally starts in Etna. From the Rogue Valley, take I5 to Yreka and take the south Yreka exit. Follow Hwy 3 to Etna. There is ample parking for a handful of cars across from Ray's Food Place. Etna Union High School is also a possible starting point.
Highway 3 will have a consistent flow of traffic, but for Rogue Valley riders, you'll probably think it's sparse. The remainder of the ride will be virtually free of cars. There are very few opportunities for food and water. In the Scott Valley, you'll be able to stock up at the stores in Etna or Callahan. Water is available in Cevilville and there is a small seasonal shop in Forks of Salmon. If you are doing this ride early spring or late fall, don't depend on getting any supplies outside of the Scott Valley. The pavement is very good in places, but the roads along the Salmon River canyons are narrow, single-lane affairs with occasional rockfall and broken pavement.