Mountain Bike vs Gravel for local rides on the West side

I’m wanting to try some trail riding with my 9-year-old son who loved a visit to Gateway Green. I’m out of shape and have no experience.

We live in downtown Hillsboro and I am thinking about trying trails at Hagg Lake, Chehalem Ridge, and Stub Stewart.

I also see gravel options: CZ, Reehers, and Tillamook Forest.

There are also plenty of paved country roads, multiple scenic bikeway options, and the paved car-free Banks-Vernonia trail.

If we can get in shape, I am dreaming about a bike-camping trip to Stubb Stewart.

For myself, I think my interests are likely gravel bike: I want to “hike” through the woods on a bike. I also have dreams of bike touring and bike camping. I want to go off road, but I’m not particularly keen to go really fast or jump.

However, I am sure my 9-year-old boy definitely wants speed and jumps. I would like to be able to ride with him and make this a shared adventure.

My question is: do any of these places (especially Hagg and Stub Stewart) require a mountain bike? Would a gravel bike prevent me from being able to tag along with my son for the kind of riding that interests him? Or could I manage okay with a gravel bike at these parks? I would hate to get a gravel bike and then realize I can’t ride at these nearby parks.

I was thinking a gravel bike might be more multi-purpose…I could use it comfortably on the paved scenic bikeways and Banks-Vernonia trail?

Or … should I just look for the cheapest old mountain bike I can find, to try it out?

Recommendations for bike shop to purchase recommended bike?

And lastly…after I buy a bike…how do I start? I was thinking we’d head out to Gateway Green to practice? And maybe I could ask other 10-year-olds for lessons…

The dirt trail around Hagg is NOT for gravel bikes. It isn’t hard, but there are some rooty section that would not be fun for average people on a gravel bike (am sure there are people who do it, but they are experienced). Similarly, Stubb has plenty of roads and trails you could ride around on, but the MTB trails are too much for most gravel bikers.
CZ great for gravel bike, my son liked that when he was little.
I kind of think a hardtail MTB is better for “hiking in the woods” on a bike. From the things you say you want to do, I would 100% recommend a hardtail MTB. There are a ton of them on sale right now. Marin bikes has bogo sale on an entry level bike.
Stubb is great as it has some dirt easy trails and it has some insane hardcore jumps and everything in between.

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So exciting to read that you’re into expanding your adventures to the off-road realm Shannon. I think MTB’ing is one of the most underrated family sports. It is just so fun and good for the soul in so many ways.

Your question is why so many bike people have so many bikes! Once you get into this stuff, you’ll find that specific bikes for specific purposes really helps increase enjoyment. I agree with @Dave that you will not enjoy Stub with your boy on a gravel bike. You would want something with suspension and flat bars for sure.

Thing is, type of bike really depends on the rider’s experience level. A very skilled off-road rider can take a gravel bike into Stub and have a great time. But generally, the more of a beginner you are, the bigger the bike you want. Big bikes (with big tires and shocks on the front and bike) erase mistakes and allow you to tackle more difficult terrain with more comfort. So if you are just starting out, I would definitely recommend a MTB.

Keep in mind that even full-suspension MTBs can be fun and fine to ride on gravel roads… but a gravel bike won’t be fun to ride on singletrack MTB trails that have rocks and roots and drops. That being said, a “gravel bike” with big fat tires can be super fun on dirt roads and smooth dirt trails. It really depends on your riding confidence and the type of terrain you expect to do most.

If you have bike-camping in mind, a hardtail (front shock only) MTB would be great! That way, you would have a bike you could take comfortably on lots of singletrack.

And practicing at Gateway Green is a great idea.

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To wit: Here’s a fun video, wherein an extremely skilled MTB rider terrifies himself by riding a gravel bike on MTB features.