Looking for a fun place to bike in Grants Pass? Cathedral Hills may be the place for you.
By Mike Walters
As a Southern Oregon native, I fell in love, at an early age, with all the wonderful things to do in the outdoors and I consider myself an outdoor enthusiast. Those of you inclined to get outside, must appreciate all the southern part of Oregon has to offer. The Cathedral Hills Trail System, in Grants Pass, is an easily accessible outdoor area that falls into the must-appreciate category.
Up front, I acknowledge, I am a cyclist. I value nothing more, in the outdoors, than being on my gravel or mountain bike and disappearing in the outdoors. Almost daily, weather permitting, I roll on one of my bikes whether it’s on a gravel road or a hard-packed trail. I get on my bike for my sanity amongst healthy outdoor air, solitude, and photography opportunities of the myriad Southern Oregon nature. Nothing against walking, hiking, trail running, or getting out on horseback for those of you not inclined to get outside on leg-powered wheels; I simply prefer to bike. And good news for those in Grants Pass, whichever your proclivity for outdoor exercise and fun, there is the Cathedral Hills Trail System.
The ten-plus mile outdoor network of trails is rich with a plethora of combinations for nearly every skill level you can imagine. There are three different trail heads you can start from: Espey, Sky Crest and Walker. There is excellent parking at Espey and Sky Crest, but beware, Walker trailhead has only two spaces. The trails, exceptfor prolonged rainy days, are hard packed and easily accessible to all forms of your preferred exercise. Cyclists and horseback enthusiasts need to mind the weather and stay off the trails when the ground is muddy. Both can tear up the trails and inflict damage that makes them less safe for all.
One of my favorite things to do at Cathedral is stop and take photos of the landscape and diverse forest of trees.There are some Mad Max looking Manzanita portions of the trail where for a short distance you feel like you are in a tunnel of trees. There is a wide variety of tree species at Cathedral and according to the BLM websitetwo trees at Cathedral Hills are listed in the Oregon Big Tree Registry: a 25-foot tall Whiteleaf Manzanita and a towering 117-foot Knobcone Pine. Now that I know about these two trees, I am going to see if I can find them.
The 400 acres of Cathedral Hills Forest is secluded even though you are only minutes from Grants Pass. Several parts of the trails have easements for short distances on private land so please be respectful. Here is a photography tip for you. Don’t be afraid to step off the trail for a moment. When you do, look behind you, look up, look at the ground. If you see something interesting, photograph it. When you do take a photo, use the rule of thirds, which is a composition guideline that places your subject in the left or right third of an image, leaving the other two-thirds more open. You will improve your photography instantly if you use this composition guideline. Do an internet search to learn more about it. OK, let’s get back to the Cathedral Trail System.
Since the trails are full of all different types of outdoor human enthusiasts, be alert and practice safe trail etiquette. Cyclists should yield to hikers, walkers and trail runners, but common sense can prevail as well. My experience has always been that the aforementioned enthusiasts always step off to the side of the trails when I am on my bike. However, I am always prepared to stop and move aside if necessary. If they do step off the trail to let me pass, I always say thank you and apologize. Kindness by all goes a long way to a better experience for everyone. Horseback riders always have the right of way over everyone and cyclists need to be careful when moving by a horse. When in doubt, always offer the right of way to the other party no matter what activity you are participating in. There is room enough for everyone with decency and respect. If you are walking your dog, please keep them on a leash. With so many different types of outdoor activities on the trail, loose dogs can be dangerous for all.
With different trailheads, you can mix these up when you visit by parking at one of the three different spots. This gives you an opportunity to create a different route each time and vary the level of difficulty and scenery. BLM did a wonderful job of marking the trails with signage. Until you get used to the routes at Cathedral, the BLM website has a printable map system to help guide you. My experience with Cathedral Hills signage is BLM did an accurate job of rating the difficulty level. The skill levels range from Easy (green), to More Difficult (blue), and Most Difficult (black).
There are toilet facilities at Espey and Sky Crest. No drinking water is available so bring your own, especially during the hot summer months. Critters abound from a plethora of birds, squirrels, rabbits, deer, and turkeys (boo). You might see a fox if you are lucky and snakes, so be aware. With so many different types of users on the trails, two-way traffic is inevitable, so be particularly aware on blind corners. If you are a cyclist, you shouldannounce yourself coming around sharp corners, especially when going downhill, so no one is surprised. For those of you hikers and trail runners that like to wear headphones and listen to music or your favorite podcast. Sorry but if you can’t hear me yelling, “bike,” it isn’t my fault. Don’t be hating when I startle you out of yourAdidas.
If you live in Grants Pass and want to quickly get outdoors, Cathedral Hills may be the place for you. Early mornings are particularly spectacular for some solitude, but you won’t be alone. One early morning I nearly hit a deer, so be prepared and stay alert for everything. For those of you outside of Grants Pass, I am not sure you would like Cathedral Hills. I hear you can get a good hike in at Table Rocks, the Ashland Watershed or perhaps the trail systems outside of Jacksonville. I am kidding of course. Everyone is welcome at Cathedral Hills Trail System. If you are an early riser, you might see me out there.