A long, long time ago in an America far, far away, cars had trouble going up steep grades. Responding to the needs of the Model T, civil engineers created roads with maximum grades of 6%. The Model T’s inability to climb is your gain, especially on this ride. 4800′ of climbing at 6%. That’s good, really good.
Larch Mountain stands about 3000′ above iconic Crown Point. You can ride to Larch from Troutdale (nice), Corbett (brutal), or anywhere along Highway 30. Your choice of starting points will be determined by the day of the week and the hour of the day, as well as by the season; if it’s summer vacation, you’ll want to start early to avoid the traffic. If it’s the weekend, you’ll want to avoid this ride altogether, unless perhaps it’s raining?
My preference for this ride is to start at Ainsworth. Easy access right off the freeway. Plenty of free parking. Nice long, nearly-flat warmup. You can also park at Multnomah Falls (assuming the parking lot isn’t full) and head west. The ride starts with gentle rollers. Either starting point gives you great waterfall views and perfect blacktop. It’s about 13 miles from Ainsworth to Crown Point. It’s shady. Waterfalls and creeks line the side of the road. A gazillion wildflowers add color to the understory in spring.
You’ll climb to Crown Point (this is the best dang climb in the Gorge, I think), where there’s a restroom and water (after 9am). Climb a little further and take a left on Larch Mountain Road. It’s about 14 miles to the top, nearly all of it in the shade under a canopy of fir trees. Be careful… the road has a lot of potholes.
When you reach the top, hike your bike along the trail 1/4 mile for a spectacular view of the Gorge. Leave. Ride down. Watch for potholes. Take a right at the stop sign, and you’ll be on your way down past Crown Point.
A couple of notes: by 10am, there’s quite a bit of traffic headed west from Portland towards Multnomah Falls and the rest of Highway 30. Use lights. Expect slow drivers on your ride back to your car. Honestly, though, you may not notice the cars too much. This ride is truly spectacular. Five stars.