There’s something about that ferry boat ride that makes you smile.
What a refreshing change of pace. After sitting on a bicycle seat for the better part of an hour, cyclists quickly find themselves slowly floating across the Willamette River.
Rides from Independence into the Polk County countryside are memorable. One day you may catch the unmistakable scent of a freshly mowed mint, another may have you watching an osprey glide overhead. Pedal past vineyards, climb hills, or follow the flat rural roads along the river.
Then there’s the ferry boat. Ride south from Independence to the village of Buena Vista and follow the signs to the Buena Vista Ferry. For $1 per bike, take a ride to the Marion County side of the Willamette and continue your exploration.
Here are two rides south of Independence to enjoy. You can find more at bikeindyoregon.com
The Independence / Buena Vista Ferry Loop
This is a popular ride with plenty of variety on both sides of the Willamette River.
Most of the 25-mile route is flat and comfortable. Start in downtown Independence and ride south toward Buena Vista. There’s an optional 3.5-mile detour into fields of hops. The city was a major producer of hops decades ago and still grows its share of the famous Willamette Valley varieties for Oregon’s popular craft beer industry.
The route leads you to Buena Vista where you will find a ferry boat waiting. Enjoy the river views during the crossing and look for an osprey nest atop a pole on the Marion County side.
“Having a ferry crossing is a unique touch,” says Ramon Martinez, the city’s bike route coordinator. “As you cross the river at such a tranquil speed, you can’t help but appreciate the natural beauty around even more.”
Once back on the bike, the route quickly connects with the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, one of 17 official state scenic bikeways. Follow the bikeway signs across the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, past Ankeny Vineyard and onto a few rolling hills. The road, Riverside Road South, eventually heads downhill and across fertile farmland.
The road eventually meets River Road at the Independence Bridge. Follow the road under the bridge as it circles around. Cross the bridge, turn right, and you’re back in Independence.
Make note of the places you pass along the way. Redgate Winery, for example, is a popular local winery with live music in the evening.
It’s wise to check the Marion County website to make sure the ferry is in operation.
The Airlie Loop
“There are so many combinations of routes you can do south and west of town, especially incorporating the stretches included in the 41-mile route,” Ramon says. “Typically, the roads on this route are very quiet and have beautiful views of the Mid-Valley. Doing this route either direction is nice, too.”
The ride starts with the same roads as the ferry loop – minus the hop farm detour – but diverts south in Buena Vista. No boat ride this time. Continue south into Benton County before turning west toward the community of Adair Village. Look for the Benton County Aerodrome (Brian Unwin Field) along the way and see if you can spot any radio-controlled model aircraft flying by.
The road zig and zags through Adair Village, then heads into tall trees before returning to Elkins Road and Polk County. Find Helmick Road six miles later and you’re on your way back to Independence for well-deserved food and drink.
– Dan Shryock