Portland to the Banks-Vernonia State Trail

The background:

It’s been a while since I’ve taken a for-real bike adventure. So with yesterday’s free day, I jumped on the chance to check out the Banks-Vernonia State Trail, an old railroad line that was converted into a 21-mile bike/hike/horse trail. It starts in Banks, Oregon, and appropriately ends at Vernonia, where you can take an extra 1.5-mile loop to check out Vernonia Lake. And the whole way, you’re on a path totally devoted to non-motorized transport–all you have to do is cross a few roads that intersect it every few miles.

The pre-route:

To get to Banks and the start of the trail, I biked to downtown Portland and then took my bike on the MAX light rail out to Hillsboro. That way, I cut out about 22 miles (each way!) of biking largely through the sprawly west suburbs. A good $2.35 investment for the price of a MAX ticket. Once I got off in Hillsboro, it was about a 6-mile jaunt west to Forest Grove along a busy though nicely-bike-laned highway 8, then another 7 miles north to Banks along highway 47. (It’s also possible to take a bus all the way out to Forest Grove, but I’d had enough public transportation once I got to Hillsboro.) Highway 47 had a questionable bike lane at best, but the relatively light traffic and awesome views of green farmlands and distant mountains made up for it.

Once I got to Banks, there were very easy-to-follow signs that led me right to the Banks-Vernonia trailhead. Super plush.

The trail:

I wish I’d thought to take my camera with me so I could show you how amazing it was. The first few miles are nothing super special, except for the fact that you’re on a trail all to yourself. I could hear the highway to my west, and was so excited not to be biking on it but instead on this oasis of multiuse trail.

After about the 4th mile, though, the trail starts to get into what feels like real forest. The grasses and farmland give way to douglas-fir, huckleberries, ferns, creeks. The highway and the bike trail diverge, so without even noticing it, suddenly I couldn’t hear cars anymore. Then just after mile 7, you enter L.L. “Stub” Stewart State Park. This would be a fantastic place for an overnight camping trip from Portland. It’s only about 20 miles of biking if you start in downtown Portland and take the MAX to Hillsboro like I did, or you could make it a longer trip if you feel spunky. And there are tons of hiking trails, horse trails–even a disc golf course once you get there. I definitely want to take James back there some weekend.

Even without camping, though, Stub Stewart is pretty fantastic. You bike ever so slightly uphill for lots of miles, but it’s slight enough to not feel hard (and it makes for a mean descent to Banks on your way back). It feels like you’re miles and miles away from anything else, and the forest is gorgeous.

Once you get closer to Vernonia, you start seeing signs of logging and old clearcuts. Then the farms start to reappear, and then you finally come to a somewhat anticlimactic end at Anderson Park, which has some RV camping, a playground, a picnic area, and maybe some other stuff that I’m not remembering. Even though that’s the official Vernonia trailhead, the trail keeps going for a little bit, which is how I found Vernonia Lake. There are also some primitive camping sites at the lake, though it’s a little more urban than Stubs Stewart. It’s still a nice place, though, and it seemed like a lot of people were having fishing success there.

And then that’s it! You’re in Vernonia, after 21 blissful miles of biking on an old railroad-turned-bike-trail where you don’t have to worry about traffic at all. After a quick tour of Vernonia proper, which is super, super little, I turned around and headed back to Banks along the same trail.

The verdict:

All told, I think the day–from my house to the MAX, then from Hillsboro to Vernonia and back to Hillsboro, then to a different MAX stop so I could bike home through Washington Park–was about 80 miles. That many miles, though, feels a whole lot different when 42 of them are on a totally dedicated bike path through a gorgeous forest. Other than my immense hunger (partly assuaged by some strawberries I bought from a farmer on the side of highway 47), it didn’t feel like that many miles at all.

There’s some amazing wildlife on the trail. I stopped short at one point when I startled three deer–two adults and a super little fawn who trotted up to within 5 feet of me and then gave me a good long look (and a few deer squeaks) before scampering off to follow its parents. And in case it’s not yet clear, the trail is absolutely gorgeous. Plus, it’s so easily accessible from Portland! The next time I go back there, I’m going to bring my trailer, stay in one of the hike-in campgrounds accessible from the bike trail, and explore some more of what the forest has to offer.


  1. What, what? No pictures?
    Here are a few that we took back when Charlie was working in Forest Grove – we did a few hikes out there (this was prior to Stubb Stewart, but the trail was awesome then, too!). The wildflowers are knock-out this time of year…


  2. Hey, thanks for the pictures! Now I really wish I’d taken some, since your experience of the trail looks so much different than mine. It certainly makes me want to get off the bike trail and do some hiking!:)

    I was totally thinking of you guys when I was in Forest Grove, by the way, since I biked through the middle of Pacific University. Forest Grove seemed, if a little small, still super cute!

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