If the McKenzie River Trail is the poster child for Oregon riverside mountain bike trails, the North Umpqua Trail (NUT) would be it's older sibling: bigger, tougher, more intimidating, and a heck of a lot more fun. With 70 miles of singletrack that stretches from the high Cascades to the lower reaches of the North Umpqua River, this IMBA Epic Trail provides a much greater variety of terrain and difficulty levels than the state's most well-known river trail, and it is much less crowded.
The Lemelo Section is the uppermost portion of the trail that is outside of the Mount Thielsen Wilderness, and thus it is the uppermost section of trail that is open to mountain bikes. The upper trailhead is at Kelsay Valley Campground, a popular staging area for equestrians. Always stop and make verbal contact with horseback riders about how to proceed when you encounter them on the trail; horses cannot tell that a mountain biker is a person, and they can be easily spooked.
The upper section of this ride follows the tiny North Umpqua River until it goes under a road and enters Lemelo Lake, the uppermost reservoir in PacificCorp's extensive North Umpqua River hydropower project. This entire project generates 194 megawatts of electricity from eight separate hydroelectric developments on the North Umpqua and two of it's main tributaries, the Clearwater River and Fish Creek. For the remainder of this segment, the trail follows the hillside to the north of Lemelo Lake.
The majority of the ride is through lodgepole and ponderosa pine, and it is mostly smooth and a little dusty. There are some rocky sections, but they are not very long and should be fine for advanced beginner and intermediate riders. Be sure to look back to the east as you climb above the lake for one of the elusive views of Mount Thielsen, which is the most prominent peak in the area. The trail can be ridden as a there-and-back from the bottom, a one-way trip with a shuttle, or a loop that utilizes the paved and gravel roads that parallel the trail.
There are a number of campgrounds around Lemelo Lake as well as a rustic resort that caters to fisherman and boaters. The lake has great swimming and fishing, but be prepared for powerboats and water skiers during the summer.