I’m a mountain biker at heart, but the one thing I love about gravel riding is the diversity of terrain that it can take you through, especially here in central Oregon. Our route took us along world class flyfishing holes on the Deschutes River, sagebrush and native grass plateaus, expansive ranchlands, ponderosa forests and bucolic farmlands.
So it goes with bikepacking and touring – be flexible.
The technology that allows riders to create routes is awesome, but there are always some unknowns, especially when linking together trails, public Forest Service and BLM roads, farm roads, irrigation canals and pavement. That said, our original route was 83 miles, and we ended up riding about 95 miles due to inaccessible roads and some unintended trespassing on private land (oops!).
Hot tip – Dirty Free Hub is an excellent resource for gravel riding in Oregon. They have put together some great loops, from 20 miles to 100 miles. I highly recommend checking them out. For this tour, we used portions of some of their rides and linked them up with our own homegrown routes for this unique tour.
So, what did we do? 95 miles total and roughly 6,000 feet of elevation gain/loss
Day 1: 20.5 miles
Day 1 took us from Madras (another hot tip – the Eagle Bakery has the most delicious cinnamon rolls in central Oregon) on an old double track along Willow Creek, which feeds into the Deschutes River in Warm Springs. We were in high desert beauty immediately, as we wound our way to Simtustus Lake. Keeping any eye out for rattlesnakes, we made our way to Highway 26, and a quick stop at the Rainbow Market on the edge of the lands of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
From there, we hopped on single track on the Deschutes River, affectionately called the Lower D. I have a long-standing love for the Deschutes River and for those in the know, it is literally a world-class flyfishing river for wild trout and steelhead. And we just happened to be there for the quick and epic window of the Salmon Fly Hatch, so we watched fly fisherman gently glide by in drift boats as we cooked dinner in camp. A few sudden afternoon thunderstorms had us quickly snuggled in our tents, but left us with that post-storm light that only dreams are made of.
Day 2: 50 miles
Waking up in the Deschutes canyon is a treat, with cathedral-like cliffs of lichen covered basalt surrounding our camp, and ospreys fishing for their breakfasts. We packed up, and headed down river to Trout Creek, then up gravel roads. The day got interesting early on, as we encountered a road closure that we didn’t plan on. So, up and over we went, through the high plateau farmlands, adding about 10 extra miles on to our planned route.
We then jumped on a part of the Poke the Bear Ride (courtesy of Dirty Free Hub), which took us on some fabulous dirt roads through the massive Hay Creek property, truly beautiful countryside of rolling hills, cool rock outcroppings and green meadows. We enjoyed a tailwind. But you know what that means – we eventually had to turn a corner and ride right into it.
Fortunately (or not?) the brutal tailwind was on slightly downhill paved roads. This did not make it easier, but made it slightly faster. After a few Snicker Bar breaks, hiding under a sage brush to get out of the wind, we made it to camp at Haystack Reservoir. A longer day than expected, but still grateful to be on the bike!
Day 3: 25 miles
The forecast called for more wind for day 3, so we attempted to get packed up and riding early. From Haystack Reservoir, we backtracked back on to the Crooked River National Grasslands, adjacent to the famous rock climbing area, Smith Rock. Eventually we reached farmland, where we had hoped to take irrigation canal roads back to Madras, but some very friendly farmers weren’t too happy about us doing that.
Modifying the route again, we took mostly gravel farm roads, dodging farm dogs and tractors along the way. The bakery was closed, but thankfully there are great post-ride taco and burrito options in Madras!