The last time Cycle Oregon used Bear Camp Road (1994), stories of an epic climb circulated for years. The local community t-shirt sold that year proclaimed “I Survived Bear Camp.” The 2016 version of climbing to Bear Camp is somewhat easier than the first time around (we’re headed the opposite way), but there is still a lot of “up” involved in getting to the Bear Camp Overlook at just over 5,000 feet. Gold Beach, the starting point for the day, is pretty close to 0 feet in elevation.
After leaving Gold Beach, the route follows the storied Rogue River for nearly 27 miles. The Rogue was one of the original eight rivers named in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. According to the Bureau of Land Management, which manages much of the river, the “steelhead and salmon fishery, challenging whitewater, and extraordinary wildlife viewing opportunities have made the Rogue a national treasure. Black bear, river otter, black-tail deer, bald eagles, osprey, Chinook salmon, great blue heron, water ouzel, and Canada geese are common wildlife seen along the Rogue River. Popular activities include whitewater rafting, fishing, jet boat tours, scenic driving, hiking, picnicking, and sunbathing.”
The first 10 miles of the route is on a county road, which changes to a U.S. Forest Service Road for the next 40 miles and then becomes a BLM maintained road for the final 19 miles of the day. After passing a few campgrounds, the route begins to climb somewhat gradually 18 miles from start, for about three miles, before descending to the confluence of the Rogue and Illinois rivers. The 28-mile wild section of the Illinois River is said to be the least accessible river canyon in the lower 48 states. It is visited by only a few rafters and kayakers during the short spring river-running season, which in some years doesn’t even happen. Shortly after crossing the Illinois River, the second stop of the day is at a private resort and campground, before the climbing begins to the overlook at the Bear Camp summit.
The climb is mostly unrelenting for 16 miles, with a couple of flat sections for a short break and an actual short downhill section, and varies from three to about seven-percent grade. Five miles before lunch at the summit, a water stop is planned at Vista Point, a viewpoint overlooking hills blanketed with mainly Douglas fir and hemlock forest. After summiting and a well-deserved rest at lunch, it is all downhill to finish.
The first mile of descent is steep, which leads to a gradual downhill roadway for about 11 miles, and then a quicker descent until arriving again on the Rogue River near the community of Galice. Yep, over 20 miles of downhill, almost no pedaling required! The route then follows the river upstream for the last four miles to the overnight site at Indian Mary Park, a Josephine County park on the banks of the Rogue River.