Runners looking to expand their soft-surface options beyond the local trail scene should consider gravel roads. The Cascades and Coast Range offer a number of such opportunities not that far from Portland, many just as scenic and enjoyable as trails, but with better footing! Not to mention, they’re accessible nearly year-round.
The Nehalem River Road is about 45 minutes west of Beaverton. Drive approximately two miles past the intersection of US 26 and OR 103 to a left turn on Lower Nehalem Road. (If you see the Sunset Coffee shack, you’ve gone too far.)
The road is paved for the first six miles or so, fading to intermittent sections once the gravel takes over. Park anywhere along road in one of the numerous pull-outs to begin your out-and-back run.
The road is mostly flat to gently rolling for the next five miles until reaching the Salmonberry River bridge, where additional parking exists. South of the bridge the road rolls more significantly, with numerous short but steep ascents/descents, probably one of the best places around for training on rolling terrain. The entire road is heavily shaded, and the Nehalem River is always within sight. You might be inspired to come back for a float on an inner tube!
A note of caution: The road is open to cars, but traffic is light to non-existent. Nevertheless, leave your music in the car and be alert. Drivers may not be expecting the company of runners. Treat the crests of hills with the same caution you treat blind turns.
Just an aside: The Salmonberry Trail is in the pipeline to become a 76-mile-long rail-trail, like Banks-Vernonia, between Banks and Tillamook. You’ll see glimpses of the old rail line if you start at the Salmonberry River bridge.