The Airport-College Loop is a useful road bike ride for riders who are not used to hills, who are working on getting back into shape, or for anyone visiting Columbia who wants to include a short and not too demanding ride in their day. I’ve included this one in the “casual and kids” category; this ride includes short stretches on potentially busy roads, so this may be more casual than kids. There are several variations for this ride; I’ll present a main loop with some alternatives.
The basic loop starts from Columbia State Historic Park and heads north on sometimes busy Parrotts Ferry Road for 0.5 mile before turning left at North Airport Road. North Airport starts a series of lightly-traveled residential roads around Columbia Airport. After one mile turn left at Chili Gulch Road and climb the longest hill on the loop.
The road changes to Bennett Road at the top of the hill. Enjoy the descent and watch for the rocky Table Mountain area as you approach Horseshoe Bend Road. In the springtime there are pools and wildflowers to admire.
Turn left at Horseshoe Bend and do a short and gradual climb before bearing left into a sharp descent to the Airport runway area. Bear right at the bottom of the hill and continue to Springfield Road. Turn right onto Springfield Road and immediately bear left onto Shaws Flat Road. After 0.5 mile, Shaws Flat leads to a left turn onto narrow Union Hill Road. Another half-mile brings you back to Parrotts Ferry Road.
The Union Hill/Parrotts Ferry Road intersection can be tricky if traffic is heavy. Cars come quickly onto Parrotts Ferry from the Highway 49 ramp. Turn left onto Parrotts Ferry and take the first right onto Sawmill Flat Road. Sawmill Flat leads to the main entrance to Columbia College, so during class transitions traffic can be heavy. The road is narrow with minimal shoulders. After 2.2 miles Sawmill Flat circles around to Yankee Hill Road. Turn left at Yankee Hill and roll through a couple short hills back to Columbia.
The bare minimum (not mapped). Instead of turning right from Horseshoe Bend Road onto Springfield Road, turn left to return to Parrotts Ferry Road. Turn left on Parrotts Ferry to return to the park–watch for traffic. Cuts total to 4.6 miles with about 400 feet of climbing.
Add on Mt. Brow Road. After turning right onto Springfield Road and bearing left, turn right to stay on Springfield Road for another 0.8 mile. Turn right onto Highway 49 and then take a quick left onto Mt. Brow Road. Take Mt. Brow to Jamestown Road (left) to Shaws Flat Road and turn left. Cross Highway 49, and turn right onto Union Hill Road to continue the loop. Adds 2.7 miles, 200 feet of climbing.
Howser Lane (gravel and hilly). Instead of turning right from Horseshoe Bend Road onto Springfield Road, turn left to return to Parrotts Ferry Road. Proceed across Parrotts Ferry onto gravel Howser Lane. Climb Howser Lane to the College emergency egress road and proceed through the campus and out the main entrance onto Sawmill Flat Road. Turn left to rejoin the loop. Avoids Parrotts Ferry and College traffic on Sawmill Flat, cuts to 8 miles, adds 150 feet of climbing.
Add on Yankee Hill (gravel and very hilly). If you want more and very steep climbing, turn right at Yankee Hill Road (paved) and climb to Cattle Drive Trail. Turn left to travel on gravel and dirt down to Italian Bar Road. Turn left onto Italian Bar to return to the park. Adds 3.4 miles, 850 feet of climbing.
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- Downside—More exposure to traffic than many rides on this site, some alternates include gravel.
- Upside—Short and less climbing than usual for foothills, easy access from town, flexible to accommodate your needs and abilities, see the community and not just the park, can be a warm-up loop for some of the more challenging rides out of Columbia.
- Main loop 8.3 miles, about 800 feet total climb.
- roads: Main loop paved, gravel segments on some alternate loops.
- terrain: moderate.
- tires: road to cross.
- seasons: All, but can be very hot in summer.
- current weather