Painted Hills

The Beat on Biking in Eastern Oregon

photo by Memory Lane Photopgraphy

The Beat on Biking in Eastern Oregon

There’s a place in Eastern Oregon where sapphire skies fade into the abyss of the Elkhorn Mountains, and a scenic bikeway meanders along, protected by the geologic giants that tower above. Where the only sound for miles around is the exhale of exertion and the rhythmic meter of pedals. Winding through fields of golden wheat, adventurers are greeted by friendly waves of the whistling wind turbines, eventually finding rest at the medicinal waters of nearby hot springs, a natural remedy for tired legs. The Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway is a place where sacred land meets the open sky and where physical exertion makes way for absolute peace.

Across Eastern Oregon, cycling enthusiasts of all types will discover adventures designed to spark adrenaline and evoke serenity. Whether it’s a peloton on the open road, hardtail on singletrack, or gravel grinding on backroads and byways, Eastern Oregon will not disappoint. The only way to truly digest the gamut of options available to cyclists is to break it down into the four distinct regions of Eastern Oregon.


John Day Territory

Photo by Travel Grant County

Home to the 2022 week-long Cycle Oregon Classic, the John Day Territory hosts a geographically diverse and awe-inspiring adventure for cycling enthusiasts to explore the Painted Hills, the John Day Fossil Beds, the Malheur National Forest, and Twickenham Canyon. The September event spans up to 443 miles across five towns with elevation gains of up to 35,245 feet. This cycling sabbatical offers options for layover days, non-cycling activities, and opportunities within the host communities and encourages participants to bring along family and friends to explore the region.

Road cyclists will find the wide-open range when exploring the Old West Scenic Bikeway or be awestruck by the colors along the Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway. After admiring the Painted Hills, cyclists will find comfort after a long ride at Mitchell’s Spoke’N Hostel. The five-star rated, donation-based hostel is an oasis for cyclists and adventurers alike.

For those who enjoy dirt-ringed ankles and the massaging cadence of a gravel ride, Prairie City begins the route for the Grouse Knob Dixie Pass Gravel Grinder. This route showcases both ends of the spectrum, with a highway that’s part of the Old West Scenic Bikeway, followed by some gravel fun that’s a part of the state few ever see. The 52-mile route includes two demanding climbs, and a total gain of more than 4,000 feet might even see snow into mid-June.

For more extreme adventurers, bike packers sporting gravel or cross bikes with 37c tires will max out their return on investment when riding the trails of Oregon Stampede near Wasco.


Oregon’s Rugged Country

​​Nestled within the Umatilla National Forest, Eastern Oregon’s Rugged Country is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. Miles of rolling hills call cyclists to riverfront adventures along the Columbia River. Home to the western rodeo town of Pendleton, bikers will find Pendleton Adventure Trail Recreation Area. This newly developed trail system, which is excellent for beginners and families, adds just a bit more rodeo to the town’s Wild West spirit. 

Road bikers and leisure riders will enjoy the nearby Blue Mountain Century Scenic Bikeway in Heppner. This 108-mile bikeway is a breathtakingly beautiful loop that starts and ends in Heppner – the gateway to the Blue Mountains. For the ultimate overnight experience, Treo Ranches Inn and Restaurant cater specifically to cyclists. Though their guided bike tours remain paused for 2022, the ranch still welcomes cyclists for overnight stays, and their website provides several route descriptions and maps. 

Competitive mountain bikers won’t want to miss the annual Echo Red 2 Red MTB Race, which occurs annually in March. Hosted by Sno Road Winery, this annual event takes over the historic town of Echo for an epic experience open to riders over the age of 10.


Northeast Territory

Moving east into Eastern Oregon’s Northeast Territory, advanced bikers will find the Elkhorn Crest Trail provides the perfect opportunity for trail riders seeking a little punishment to balance the scenic pleasure. Make it a getaway and soak tired legs at the end of the grueling ride while staying at The Lodge at Hot Lake Springs, or keep things simple with a stay at the Churchill School Ski + Bike Hostel.

For two-wheelers looking for less technical biking adventures, nearby Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort turns from a premier winter sports destination to a summer biking wonderland accommodating a variety of levels with different terrains and difficulties.

Other notable biking experiences include a ride up Mt. Howard on the Wallowa Lake Tramway. Mountain bikers can load bikes onto the gondola for a downhill ride through pine-covered hills, glacial moraines, and along gravel and paved roads and end at the Summit Grill, “the Northwest’s highest restaurant,” whose patio offers breathtaking views overlooking Wallowa Lake and the peaks of the Wallowa Mountains.


Southeast Territory

Spanning the vast territory of Southeastern Oregon, across the Malheur Refuge to the roiling waters of the Owyhee River

 canyon and the deep glacier-carved gorges of the Steens Mountains lies Eastern Oregon’s Southeast Territory. A vast solitude of landscape that’s seen little change over the last millennia, this region offers much to be desired by two-wheeled adventurers. Perhaps most popular in the territory is the Skull Gravel Grinder which begins in Burns. It’s the site of one of the country’s most grueling single-day gravel endurance races, with a route that traverses virtually every type of terrain an adventurous cyclist could hope for.

The Oregon Desert Trail is a 750-mile long route designed to connect people with the diverse landscape of Oregon’s dry side. The route is located on public land and public rights-of-way that stitches existing hiking trails, old Jeep tracks, historical wagon roads, and long stretches of cross-country trails together. Bikers will discover some of the most incredible natural areas east of the Cascades. Be sure to stop at Fields Station as part of your journey for their signature (and world-famous) milkshakes and burgers.


While too numerous to list, the four territories of Eastern Oregon host a multitude of opportunities for recreational and professional cyclists alike. When accompanied by uncharted landscapes and awe-inspiring beauty, an Eastern Oregon road, mountain, or gravel bike trip becomes an immersive scenic and spiritual experience.