Why some trails are okay to ride when wet while others are not

“Don’t ride muddy trails” “Stay off when they’re wet”, you’ve heard us say those things. You’ve also wondered why some folks still ride in the wet season (what feels like half the year some years) and get away with it. The short answer is: there’s trails that are usually okay to ride when they are wet. 

Simply being wet doesn’t guarantee that a trail shouldn’t be ridden. It usually ends up that way, but it’s not 100% or a universal truth that every wet trail has to be avoided all the time. Considerations such as soil type and rock content greatly impact how readily and how well a trail will drain and “hold up” when wet. Some soils turn into sponges and hold water for days or weeks, some are relatively porous and drain readily. Rock content and placement can impact a trails’ appropriateness for wet riding. Trails with high rock content tend to drain well (again, not universally so) and rocks are a great natural “armoring” for wet use. Trail soils can be artificially amended with rock of varied size/shape to promote better drainage and wet weather suitability. You’ve likely seen this at the trails we built specifically for wet season riding: Whypass. Whypass exists because we had a need for a place where we could ride when other trails were not going to be responsibly ridden. Much of Whypass has been armoured with rock, soil has been amended, tread and drains designed to best promote proper drainage … all of which lends it to being one of the more sustainable areas to ride a mountain bike when conditions are horrible for other trails. 

There are trails that were blessed by mother nature and naturally “armoured” and combined with proper construction and maintenance hold up quite well in moderately wet conditions. Trails like Brice Creek, North Shore, Middle Fork and Larison Creek are blessed with great drainage and rock content. The maintenance and work the MTB community has put in has helped the natural strengths these trails have. However, there are times when it’s best to leave the knobby tires at home and choose a different activity for the day. Even properly designed, built, maintained and great draining trails need rest and to be avoided when it’s been a few days of straight Oregon liquid sunshine or when a layer of snow is melting fast and hard. There’s no perfectly draining trail yet. Until then, use common sense … and if the ducks, geese and raccoons are hiding in your dog house due to the weather, you should probably go skiing or head to the coast for whale watching. Give the trails a break.

Local trails to avoid in the rainy season:

  • Goodman Creek
  • Eagle’s Rest
  • Hardesty
  • South Willamette

Trails that hold up well to winter riding:

  • Whypass
  • Brice Creek 
  • North Shore
  • Middle Fork
  • Larison Creek