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Oregonís Bear Camp Road

Friend or Foe

If youíre enjoying a ride through the Grants Pass area of Oregon and itís time to hit the coast and head north, there are two obvious ways to do it.

The first is to ride south on US 199 and intersect with US 101 in California. A scenic ride through the Redwoods, but not exactly practical if you plan on riding north. The other option is to take I-5 north an hour and head out to the coast on SR 42 which provides some tasty twisties, but cuts out some of the lower coastal sections worth riding along.

The less obvious way is to use what is known as Bear Camp Road which will take you directly west to the small coastal town of Gold Beach. Also known as FS 23 and BLM 34-8-36.

Unfortunately this road comes with a checkered past. You might recall the Kim Family who got trapped on it during a snow storm back in the late fall of 2006, where James Kim eventually died of hypothermia trying to hike out for help (his wife and children were rescued).

Today the gates are locked during the late fall, winter and spring months and access to the road is not possible. In the late spring after the snow thaws, the road is cleared of debris and opened for passage. It is the most direct route to the Oregon coast from the Grants Pass Area.

The road is a mish mash of county, BLM and Forest Service land and the road surface changes depending on whose land it is crossing.

Riding east to west, the road starts off sweet as you wind your way upward to the ridge it follows. Here it begins as a county road and switches into BLM hands. At the Y, riders continue on to the left where it becomes FS 23. At this point, areas of gravel appear now and then on the straight sections. But as you continue on past the second scenic overlook, the road makes its way down the ridge through a series of corners. The gravel sections occur more often and closer together, making what is marked as a paved road on most maps about 25% gravel. Not pretty if you're on a street bike and don't posses off-pavement riding skills.

Nonetheless, we all must learn how to maneuver our motorcycles through construction areas now and then, that's just the reality.

The trouble on the west end of the road is that the contractor the Forest Service hired to repair broken pavement sections opted to do so on a number of corners only half way through the turns, leaving a blind surface change for riders to have to navigate safely with little room for error. For most riders, using the vanishing point technique and keeping their speed low makes it a doable task. But ask the local wrecking company how often they make a visit up the road to retrieve bikes that have missed the corners and the answer is 'often.'

In further investigation, we found out that the Forest Service is satisfied with the gravel patching that has been done and does not have plans to repave those areas anytime soon. So entering paved corners that turn to gravel seems to suit them fine. It's adding to the wrecking companies bottom line, too.

Dual sport riders have the option of turning left off the road and riding all gravel down to the Agness area where the pavement returns in full as FS 33 and heads to the coast. To do that, use FS 2308 just east of the second overlook.

We think Bear Camp Road is a great way to get to the coast from Grants Pass and one that few riders ever use. But rider beware of the incomplete re-surfacing that is in play on the road, look well ahead and keep your speed down.

SR/Summer '10


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