Digging for Secrets

Idyllic Farm in the Valley

The Banks–Vernonia State Trail is a paved rail trail and state park in northwest Oregon in the United States. It runs for 34 km, primarily north–south, between the towns of Vernonia in Columbia County and Banks in Washington County on an abandoned railroad bed.

It is a short 40 km west of Portland, Oregon and affords a scenic, automobile-free way to see the countryside. This was my first time riding it and I decided to start in Banks and bicycle to Vernonia and back as a short day trip to stretch my legs. It’s been a while since I rode anything more than a handful of kilometers.

Route Map

The Ogre at a Trail Waypoint A View Down the Trail Riding Over the Buxton Trestle Bridge

The trail opens at 7am and an early, weekday departure was a great decision. On weekends in fair weather the trail can get quite crowded with families, pedestrians, and so forth, and I was looking for a dose of alone time as much as a bicycle ride.

Vintage Cars on the Streets of Vernonia Old Country Barn Lupine in the Morning Sun

I have ridden a handful of rail trails across the United States including the entire Katy Trail in Missouri and while I am an avid supporter of this type of land use and the part it plays in popularizing outdoor activities, I do tend to find them a bit monotenous and uninspiring to ride long distances. They are almost perfectly flat due to the requirements of locomotives and, because they were originally for the railroad, tend to be hidden away from most of the interesting bits of the countryside and lined with trees that prevent all but the occasional glimpse of whatever area you are passing through.

The Banks-Vernonia trail, however, has enough variance in terrain to keep the riding somewhat interesting. The ride back from Vernonia to Banks, after cresting the high point of the route early on, also provides a nice, long downhill almost all the way back to Banks.

Weathered Country Barn

While I was out I met a cyclocross rider who was coming off the Crown Zellerbach Trail from Scappoose, which I’ve never ridden either, and it got me thinking about connecting trails. It looks like it is possible to ride from the Portland area northwest to Scappoose, then take the Crown Zellerbach (all gravel and forest service roads) to Vernonia, then connect the Banks-Vernonia State Trial to Banks, then (probably) connect some other trail back east to Portland. That would probably be a 200 km loop or so.

Fuel for future adventures!