Oregon’s Big Country

  • Distance

    357 Mi.

    (575 KM)
  • Days

    8

  • % Unpaved

    90%

  • % Singletrack

    0%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    9

  • % Rideable (time)

    90%

  • Total Ascent

    18,350'

    (5,593 M)
  • High Point

    8,125'

    (2,477 M)

Contributed By

Gabriel Amadeus - Limberlost

Gabriel Amadeus

Limberlost
Linking up the best of Oregon's Big Country with forgotten wagon roads and rugged overland travel. Cross three mountain ranges, a desert playa, visit five hot springs, and enjoy the solitude of vast empty landscapes.
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One of a kind overland bikepacking route through Southeastern Oregon. After three separate excursions to this corner of the state we’ve unearthed a route that links up all the major highlights of Oregon’s Big Country: Malheur Wildlife Refuge, Steens Mountain, Alvord Desert, Trout Creek Mountains, Virgin Valley, and Hart Mountain. Those three trips each encountered their own cocktail of cement-like mud, electrical storms, relentless sun exposure, and mechanical failures. It’s a harsh country and you need to know when and how to cash in your chips if the cards don’t fall in your favor.

This route is nearly all on dirt, sometimes following an imperceptible path through dusty sage brush. Its rugged nature mandates at least 2.3″ tires and is a perfect romping ground for 3″ plus sized tires. Although it passes through some of the most inhospitable terrain in the state we’ve found secret watering holes enabling you to ride throughout the dry season.

  • Oregon's Big Country Bikepacking Route
  • Oregon's Big Country Bikepacking Route
  • Oregon's Big Country Bikepacking Route
  • Oregon's Big Country Bikepacking Route
  • Oregon's Big Country Bikepacking Route

It’s best approached doing 25-75 miles per day, leaving room for side explorations and midday naps in the shade. The ideal length of this bikepacking trip is 8 days with a small resupply point in Denio Junction halfway through.

Every time we visit this corner of the state we find something new that draws us back. Oregon’s “Big Country” is filled with colorful history, exotic wildlife, and grandiose vistas. And while it’s not filled with many people, if you talk to anyone here they’ll kindly tell you that’s just how they like it.

Route Difficulty: This route was given a 9/10 difficulty rating based on the sheer remoteness of its location and the high potential for trip-derailing weather. In addition, the mud and terrain can be unrelenting and there is a short weather window to ride the route. See Must Know below for more details.
  • Highlights

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • Trail Notes

  • The Historic Frenchglen Hotel and the Diamond Hotel
  • The Hot Springs: Alvord Hot Springs, Willow Hot Springs, Bog Hot Springs
  • Oregon’s Wilds: Malheur Wildlife Refuge, Wild Kiger Mustangs
  • Big Country Views: Steens Views, Alvord Desert Playa, Big Sand Gap, Trout Creek Mountains, Thousand Creek Gorge, Hart Mountain
  • Abandoned ranches
  • Stonehouse Road
  • Bail options are almost non-existent. There are several paved highways, but they can be considerable farther than the dirt route. Be prepared to hitchhike and pay for gas if things don’t go as planned. Editor’s Note: this route was given a 9/10 difficulty rating by the contributor based on the sheer remoteness of its location and the high potential for trip derailing weather.
  • It’s remote. Like real remote. Some sections only see a handful of a people each year.
  • The sun can be unrelenting. Be prepared for sun exposure.
  • The mud/rock/terrain is rugged. 3″ tires are highly recommended. Suspension is not necessary.
  • Very little cell service anywhere.
  • You want to wait until at least May for the snow to melt, and the soil needs 4-5 days after a rainstorm to become passable. The sun makes summer travel very unpleasant.
  • The few people you do meet will probably be very friendly.
  • There are a lot of exploring options and areas you’ll want to just spend some time basking in. It’s not a landscape you’ll want to hurry through.
  • Dispersed campsites are located throughout the area, as well as rustic official sites. All are noted on the map.
  • Frenchglen Hotel and Diamond Hotel are both excellent historic hotels.
  • Alvord Hot Springs has rustic cabins and campsites available.
  • Water is very scarce but reliable springs are pretty evenly spaced throughout the route. Look at the mileage between each and determine how much water capacity you’ll need for each leg.
  • There are very few food options along the route. Pack plenty of dry meals and don’t count on anything. Call ahead to ask what is available. There are hot meals at the Frenchglen Hotel, Diamond Hotel, and Denio Junction. There are small stores with limited snack options in Frenchglen, Diamond Hotel, Alvord Hot Springs, and Denio Junction.
  • 8 Days is an ideal length but you could certainly do it longer or shorter.
  • Use the Funnel Canyon Option to cut the Big Country Route into two loops.
  • There are some long steady climbs and some short steep ones but the overall elevation gain isn’t horrendous.
  • The most difficult part of this route is its energy-sapping ruggedness.
  • Wayfinding can be an issue. The GPS track is accurate, follow it carefully.
  • For more route info, view the RideWithGPS entry.

Check out Brett Davis’ article “Do It Yourself Bikepacking” about this route.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

Tags

  • BK

    With a difficulty rating of 9 – you consider it more
    difficult than Paso Sico in South America (difficulty 7) or the Great Divide in
    Peru (difficulty 8). Where’s the deep sand, strong headwinds and extreme high altitudes?

    I understand that you want to ‘flatter’ your American
    readers but isn’t this a bit ridiculous?

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    I appreciate your scrutiny over the rating system. But, given that logistics and time govern the fact that I nor any other single editor can’t ride every route to make such a judgement, we leave it up to the contributor to provide a rating. As you will notice in the ‘Must Know’ area, I left an editor’s note stating: “this route was given a 9/10 difficulty rating by the contributor based on the sheer remoteness of its location and the high potential for trip derailing weather.” Gabe did mention that prior to this one he’d attempted the route three times and failed due to weather… and Gabe’s a very experienced rider.

  • http://limberlost.co/ Gabriel Amadeus

    To echo Logan, I wish I had the time to ride all the other route’s on bikepacking.com and compare but I don’t. I only have my own experience, and this is the most difficult route I’ve ever attempted. Not because of technical riding, elevation gain, or high altitude, but food and water resource scarcity paired with harsh weather. Compared to my other big route—Three Sisters Three Rivers, a 7—and the Oregon Outback (also a 7) this route is easily a 9. But by all means, come ride it, and then tell me to downgrade the rating.

  • KATE’76

    We may consider this for our ride together in 2017…..hubby and I…..we ride thru Eastern Oregon, John Day going East in ’76……

  • mikeetheviking

    Looks great! I imagine that after finding the 3rd hot spring that I too would have given it a difficulty rating of 9. J/K Good job Gabe! looks great man!

  • Michael Lowther

    I can’t tell you how dreamy this looks as I sit in the office drooling over the details. Get me outta here and on that route! Thanks for the, as usual, inspiring photos and trip report. You guys rock.

  • http://limberlost.co/ Gabriel Amadeus

    Awesome, so much good riding country out there!

  • http://limberlost.co/ Gabriel Amadeus

    Hahaha, the hot springs definitely help you forget the miles, but they don’t help you forget the sunburn.

  • Alan Ardizone

    Have you done this route to even know what you’re talking about??

  • Alan Ardizone

    Hey Gabe-
    I’m always amazed at the harsh criticism leveled against someone’s accomplishments by a person who hasn’t done what it is they’re criticizing. I’ve wandered the Southwest Deserts of America for 36+ years, both on foot and by bicycle. As you well know, make a mistake, and you die. There doesn’t have to be massive elevation gain nor lack of oxygen to make something difficult. Ask anyone who has sailed the Southern Oceans,,,solo. Thanks for your great story…

  • AC

    I’ve hunted some in this area, it would be an amazing ride. Big country is right…. you can see for days.

  • http://limberlost.co/ Gabriel Amadeus

    I mean, I get it, there are issues in any rating scale. I didn’t look at the ratings of those routes BK mentions before publishing, just those that I have ridden. So it’s a subjective, not an objective system. Also a closed system, which is hard to adapt as personal experience increases and technology advances. Now, the Oregon Outback is well known and I don’t find it difficult, but the first time I rode it not knowing what was around each corner? Then it was much more difficult.

  • Alan Ardizone

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Someone once said,”One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”‘ or something like that. I’ve seen some of the toughest outdoorsmen I know brought to tears by circumstances beyond their control. If we could plan for everything that might come at us, it wouldn’t be much of an adventure, now would it?

  • Nate Nykamp

    I think the rating would make more sense if the pictures made it look less awesome. Gabe, next time make sure to take photos that emphasize the brutality of this route. Less photos of people chilling in pools looking boss.

    Seriously though, this looks awesome! Terrific work putting together a very detailed route.

  • http://www.offroute.ca Skyler

    As another route contributor who has dealt with the challenge of giving difficulty ratings, I’d guess Gabriel isn’t going to feel too insulted by the criticism. It’s a fair criticism, even if framed in typical inflammatory internet-speak. It’s pretty damn hard to give a meaningful rating.

    Most of the routes here start at 7/10. This being a closed scale, maybe we all need to go back and review the ratings? Make some room for things to get harder. But maybe it’s just easier to take the ratings with a grain of salt. I believe the “easiest” trip on the site is my 3/10 Chilean route. I gave it a low grade because it’s got almost no singletrack, 2-3 day resupply, plentiful water, and there are people around to help you in an emergency. But, we’ve since had feedback from a few people stating that it was the hardest part of their route across South America, following the Andes. I guess the problem goes both ways.

  • http://www.offroute.ca Skyler

    One thing I’ve learned from a few trips to the American desert southwest is that it’s not to be taken lightly, despite its seeming proximity to huge developed urban centres, when you look at the map. I’ll take altitude and cold over trying to find water in 40C weather any day.

    I haven’t ridden this route, so I can’t comment on the “accuracy” of its rating, but I can say that it’s not particularly surprising that a long route out in that corner of Oregon/Nevada would be very serious.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    I agree. I’d love to see some of the ratings reworked… or at least a bullet point for each explaining how the rating was deduced. Given that Gabe tried the route 3 times before completing it, I can see why it’s a 9 though. P.S. There’s a 2 on here somewhere. I think a 1 would be a rail grade overnighter. 10 requires the likes of fatbikes and packrafts, or a helicopter and bear spray.

  • Isaac

    Great work getting the route out there for the rest of us! Hope to get back out there and maybe climb one of those mountains in the background while I’m there.

  • mikeetheviking

    awesome!

  • http://www.thcbiketours.com THCBikeTours.com

    This is now in my ridewithgps #bucketlist. Great essay and photos from heaven.

  • Andrew

    Inspiring write-up, Gabe. This is lonely country; I’ve driven the Denio Junction « » Lakeview Oregon route a handful of times and just driving that area gives me pause.

  • George Mattera

    looks like an amazing ride.. thanks for sharing

  • Sheens

    Hi everyone,
    Thanks for this information, I am really glad to hear about this route. Just wondering if anyone could advise on the weather in this area for biking in October or November?
    Sheens
    Sheens

  • http://www.gypsybytrade.wordpress.com/ Nicholas

    I love to read about the 2.3″ tire minimum, and 3.0″ tire recommendation. I know a few dusty dirt roads like that… Looks like a great ride!

  • Isaac

    Weather as you climb into the mountains that time of year is hit and miss at best. The earlier you can go the better. Check the local forecast on weather websites for history, but if it’s raining at 3,000 feet it’s probably snowing on those bigger climbs.

  • http://limberlost.co/ Gabriel Amadeus

    Yes, that is too late in the season. As the guide states, the route is impassible when wet and/or snowy. You’re probably good until early October but it would require a few days of dry weather before your trip and no rain during the trip. The soil out there really eats bikes once it gets wet.

  • http://vientodelescarpado.blogspot.com Nicolás Fuentealba

    Hi guys!!!
    I’m planning a trip to the States on early October to see a friend of mine who lives in NJ and do some riding together for some ten to fourteen days.
    We are considering taking a shot at this route in OR, but a couple of issues have us on the fence about it. The first one is if early October might be just a little too late in the season, considering that the weather seems to be a key factor to fully enjoy (and complete) the ride. The second point is if it would be too insensible to attempt the ride with a touring configuration rather than bikepacking (i.e. rear Ortlieb panniers and a handlebar bag).
    We did 500 kms. of riding on Argentinian Patagonia a few years ago, double crossing the Andes from and back-to Chile, mostly with rain and a few other day long rides among the mountains here, so we are kinda OK with dealing with remoteness, harsh weather and tough rides. But it never hurts to ask and plan in advance now doesn’t it?
    Are there any other routes you might suggest, maybe closer to the east coast? The Green Mountain Gravel Growler in Vermont actually appeals to both of us in spades, save for the fact that it seems to be rather short considering we’re aiming for an ideal of 10 days of riding, plus something else to go rest or go on side trips. The prospect of beers, camping in the wild, seeing the fall over there and enjoying a ride that seems well suited for panniers is very appealing. Any help would be greatly appreciated :D
    Thanks a bunch and best regards form Chile!!!

  • shane coolidge

    Hey Gabriel. What time of year are the photos from? Thinking of trying it May 17th, this year. I know its a big snow year in a lot of places.

  • mrfabman1961

    Can anyone tell me if this could be done on a Surly Straggler running Knards. I would love to do this route in about a week. I am not constrained by time. This is a get away, decompress ride for me. Any input would be helpful.