The Rhododendron Ridge Trail is a beautiful, challenging ride that is a great choice for a little solitude. The ride presents some fantastic views of Mount Jefferson and Ollalie Butte, a few open meadows that are filled with penstemon, lupine, and Indian paintbrush in the spring, and a dense Douglas fir and hemlock forest with abundant huckleberry in the understory.
The trail begins climbing immediately from the trailhead, so there’s no need to wear that preliminary layer. In the spring you’ll get a quintessential Northwest view that includes a vibrant, delicate, and colorful groundcover in the foreground and a behemoth of a snowy Cascade volcano standing in the background. It is gorgeous, which is a nice consolation when the trail relentlessly climbs through switchbacks and straightaways.
After the initial climb the trail evens out a bit as it enters the trees and huckleberry, and the exchange between climbing and descending that you would expect from a ridge ride settles in. Generally, there is more descent after the trail’s first crossing with an unnamed road (there are several unnamed roads on the ride that would make for easy shortcuts if the ride had to be abbreviated, but be sure to use a map). Some of the climbs along the way are tough and steep, and several coincide with technical sections of trail that are either channeled out or rocky. While it may not be the most grueling ride, Rhododendron Ridge does take some fitness and skill to complete enjoyably.
It is worth noting that, while the trail receives light mountain biking pressure, it also receives little maintenance. This isn’t a big issue, as any windfall and brush is easy to overcome, and the trail is certainly passable throughout. You will find your downhill flow more than a little chopped up by dismounts for log crossings, though. A little trail maintenance would go a long way on this ride.
The Rhododendron Ridge ride is best completed as a clockwise loop if you are riding without a shuttle; to begin at the north trailhead and ride counterclockwise would mean more and longer singletrack climbs. If you have two vehicles, setting a shuttle at the north trailhead will save you the climb back on a gravel road. On the other hand, some of the best views of Mount Jefferson and Olallie Butte are from the road, so taking time on this section isn’t a bad idea.