Why Stub Stewart State Park is (still) the ultimate family bikepacking destination

Why Stub Stewart State Park is (still) the ultimate family bikepacking destination

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Leaving camp with a 10 mile descent through the forest on the Banks-Vernonia Trail.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

If you thought bikecamping was a new fad or that it was just for extreme adventure-seekers, consider this: This weekend I joined several other families on a two-night campout at Stub Stewart State Park. We rode 40 or so miles each way from north Portland to the park’s wonderful little cabins nestled in the woods of bucolic Buxton (about 10 miles south of Vernonia).

What gets me so excited about what we did this weekend isn’t about how “epic” the ride was. In fact it’s the opposite of that. I love how accessible and doable it is for just about everyone. Not only did we have kids as young as six riding their own bikes the entire way, we had adults with us that had never done anything like it.

When we did a similar trip (with some of the same families!) five years ago it seemed like a much crazier thing. But with the trend toward more adventure-riding and “overnighters,” it seems like the idea of bikecamping has trickled into a more mainstream audience. Case in point: In the town of Banks we rolled up to a market and met another group of families with young kids doing the exact same thing!

If you’re thinking of giving it a try, Stub Stewart is a great place to start. Here’s why…

You can take a train

By hopping on the Blue Line MAX train you can cut the biking distance from Portland in half. Stub Stewart is about 20 miles north of the Hillsboro Transit Center (end of the line) and 10 of those miles are carfree bliss along the Banks-Vernonia State Trail. Keep in mind that big bikes loaded up with gear and trailers and such might attract attention from some TriMet operators. One family in our group unfortunately got thrown off the train on the way out of town. The train was relatively empty and the operator was mean and even called the police when the mom of the family pleaded her case. That’s rare, but it can happen. If you do use MAX, try to use it during off-peak hours.

If you have kids or friends that are on-the-fence about riding all the way, sometimes just knowing it’s an option is enough to get them to commit. “We can always take the MAX if we need to,” is a comforting thing to keep in your back pocket.

There’s a great route to use

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I like to avoid auto traffic as much as possible — especially when riding with little people.

Five years ago I didn’t have the luxury of GPS and a bunch of vetted routes to choose from. We pedaled on some scary stretches of road that weren’t fun at all. But now we have technology! I found a great route on RideWithGPS.com (highly recommended site/service by the way) that was created by our friends Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of Path Less Pedaled fame. The route uses Willamette Blvd and the St. Johns Bridge to get out of town. Then it rolls up through Forest Park on Saltzman Road. Once on the west side, you’ll hop onto the Rock Creek Regional Trail, a fun paved path that winds through several parks and helps you avoid some of the unsafe roads in Bethany and North Plains. There are still a few sketchy spots, but overall I’m confident in saying it’s the lowest-stress route from Portland to Stub Stewart (and I’m pretty sure 16 other moms, dads, and kids will back me up on that).

Even with the climbs and the distance, we had on six-year-old and a few seven-year-olds who did it! My advice after leading the group: keep the speeds slow so the group always stays together. That makes it more fun for the little ones and it keeps their confidence high because they won’t get demoralized by trying to close a gap to faster riders.

A state park where you can camp in a suburban cul-de-sac

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Just some kids from the neighborhood.

The cabins at Stub Stewart are out of this world. There are 15 cozy wooden bungalows nestled in a forest clearing that overlooks the coastal mountain range. It feels like a suburban neighborhood with sidewalks, porches, nice people to meet, and plenty of safe places for the little ones to run free. And you can drive there too of course. No shame in that. In fact, we had a few people who drove out, which made our loads much lighter (and allowed me to have a mountain bike to play with, more on that below). Keep in mind you’ll have to reserve cabins way ahead. But even if you can’t get one, there are 111 other campsites scattered throughout the park.

And in case you haven’t heard, Stub Stewart is a trail-biking paradise. It’s a hilly park so expect climbing; but if you’ve got the legs and the enthusiasm, Stub has an impressive network of singletrack trails and logging roads. The nonprofit Northwest Trail Alliance has done amazing work and I can’t wait to go back and ride the rest of the trails.

All-you-can-eat blackberries

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If you time your trip right, you can enjoy a blackberry buffet that goes on for miles. We stopped and picked several times, stuffing our water bottles and bowls with as many berries as possible.





Here are a few more photos from the road…

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Fortunately we only had a couple miles on Highway 30. I sure would like to see ODOT and the City of Portland work together to make biking more pleasant here.
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Descending Springville Road just before the Washington County line.
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Pro tip: Try and carry your kids’ stuff so they can just enjoy the ride.
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Rock Creek Regional Trail is a gem!
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Bethany Lake.
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Fuel.
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One of the many old homes along Meek Road between Hillsboro and Banks.
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Gravel yes, cars no.
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Sampling some of the singletrack trails in the Stub Stewart mountain biking area.
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The kids found a playground near the cabins.
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Hollywood Theater and River City Bicycles partnered with State Parks for an outdoor movie showing of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure on Saturday night.
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The Banks-Vernonia Trail is worth its weight in gold.
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Leaving Banks.
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Yes, these two little seven-year-old superstars rode the whole way.
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WTH?
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This little six-year-old dude pedaled all the way up Springville Road with a little help from his dad.
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Using Forest Park isn’t just a fun adventure, it’s also another way to avoid auto traffic.
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Smiling and enjoying the St. John’s Bridge is possible when you take the lane with a group of 16 people.

If you have any questions about our trip, feel free to ask in the comments. I’m happy to help more people experience this.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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