Oregon’s Big Country
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.
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.
357 Mi.(575 KM)
% Rideable (time)
- Must Know
- 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.