The Oregon Outback

  • Distance

    364 Mi.

    (586 KM)
  • Days

    6

  • % Unpaved

    75%

  • % Singletrack

    1%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    7

  • % Rideable (time)

    100%

  • Total Ascent

    14,376'

    (4,382 M)
  • High Point

    5,224'

    (1,592 M)

Contributed By

Donnie Kolb - Velo Dirt

Donnie Kolb

Velo Dirt
What's considered by some as the best bikepacking route in Oregon, the Outback starts in Klamath Falls near the California border, and traverses the entire state on lightly traveled, mostly unsurfaced roads. This includes a slice of the route’s namesake area – the Oregon Outback – a dusty, remote portion of the state populated by not much more than coyotes and rattlesnakes.
Share Facebook 0 Twitter Pinterest Google+

Words by Donnie Kolb, photos by Brent Knepper

The Oregon Outback route links up a handful of must-see, but rarely visited parts of the state while simplifying the logistics of cross state travel as much as possible. The route starts in Klamath Falls, the southern-most full-service stop in Oregon on Amtrak.  From K-Falls, you’ll get to enjoy 70+ miles of car-free bike trails before hitting lightly trafficked roads for the next 290 miles or so. Eventually the route wraps up at the mighty confluence of the Deschutes and Columbia Rivers.

Expect desolation, extremely limited water and services, and some of the most beautiful riding in Oregon. But don’t expect it to be easy; the Oregon Outback is a difficult, committing route. While it’s been done in as little as 28 hours, we recommend spending 5 to 7 days on the route to maximize your opportunities to take photos, dip your toes in cold creeks on hot days, and put down a 30 oz. steak at the fabled Cowboy Dinner Tree.

#LeaveNoTrace

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Trail Notes

    signpost

  • OC&E Woods Line State Trail: Oregon’s longest linear park is 109-mile, rail-to-trail conversion is built on the old rail bed.
  • 30 oz. steaks at the Cowboy Dinner Tree
  • Fort Rock, a National Natural Landmark rises high out of the barren, immense flatness of Oregon’s high desert.
  • The Crooked River, a scenic tributary of the Deschutes River.
  • The Ochoco Mountains, and amazing views of the Deschutes and Columbia Rivers.

When to go

  • The season for riding this route is generally spring through mid-summer and then again in late summer and into the fall.
  • Winter brings snow to the mountains and summer brings extreme heat.
  • The wind can be a real pain on this route, especially as you approach the Columbia River Gorge. Unfortunately, the wind only seems to die down as the temps rise into the 90’s. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s worth keeping in mind when estimating your daily mileage and whether this route is within your limits.

Logistics

  • While it’s been done in as little as 28 hours, we recommend spending 5 to 7 days on the route.
  • Although the prevailing winds might dictate otherwise, we recommend riding the route south to north. This allows the train travelers the opportunity to fully enjoy the experience and a net 4,000 foot elevation loss.
  • The route technically finishes at the Deschutes River State Recreation Area which has camping and showers but little else. If you haven’t arranged transportation back to Portland and points beyond (one good option is Portland Sag Wagon), riding 18 miles west will put you in The Dalles at a Greyhound station. Or ride back to Portland along several recommended alternatives.

Conditions affecting bike choice

  • We see no reason to stray from our standard bike & tire recommendation – a rigid 29er (or similar) with ~2” tires with some tread. However, it can be done on various other bike type. Below are a few factors to consider…
  • While the route primarily links up decent dirt and gravel roads, there are two sections of the route that are particularly loose, shitty and soul crushing: 1) portions of the OC&E Woods Line State Trail; and 2) the “Red Sauce Forest”.
  • The OC&E traverses through a variety of topography before climbing up into the Fremont National Forest. The surface conditions change dramatically from section to section and although conditions have improved significantly with the added bike traffic, there are several portions that will sap you mentally and physically. Conditions tend to degrade the further you go, climaxing with the worst section between miles 66 and 72.
  • The “Red Sauce Forest”, as it’s now affectionately known, is a 20-mile section of the route north of Fort Rock as you pass through the Deschutes National Forest. The only nice thing that can be said about this section is that once it’s over you’ve ridden the worst parts of the route with all the very best sections yet to come. It’ll suck, but trust me, it’ll be worth it in the end…
  • There are great camping options spread out all along the route.  We put a few on the GPS map above, but there are many, many more.
  • The Benchmark Oregon Road & Recreation Atlas will show most of the established campgrounds.
  • If you’re into bush camping, options abound when in BLM and National Forest land.  Please be respectful and don’t trespass or camp on private land.
  • The route technically finishes at the Deschutes River State Recreation Area which has camping and showers.
  • Services and water are extremely limited along the route.  There are several POIs on the GPS map above, and you can also get the full route info including mileposts with services here.
  • Water is very limited in several sections of the route.  There are points of interest (POI) on the GPS link above that note the last reliable water for the most significant sections, the longest of which is ~80 miles.
  • There are several other sections of 50+ miles without reliable water.  Much of this depends on the season you ride. Spring and early summer ensure more reliable water sources.  Late summer and fall could be hit or miss.  Plan accordingly.

Navigation

We recommend using a GPS and the Benchmark Oregon Road & Recreation Atlas.  Most of the route is easily navigable.  The only sections that seem to give people problems are as follows:

  • Mile 52.7 – stay left when the OC&E trail splits
  • Mile 71.7 – turn left when you finally hit pavement
  • Mile 108.2 – turn right off the pavement onto a small gravel road. You will be going downhill and it’s easy to miss. This is the turn for the Cowboy Dinner Tree. If you miss this, you’ll roll on paved roads down to Silver Lake where you’ll meet back up with the route and you’ll miss the CDT altogether.
  • Mile 167.6 – stay straight through the intersection at Sand Spring
  • Mile 247 – stay roughly straight at the top of the big climb, taking “2725” downhill.
  • Mile 252.4 – turn left just after crossing a bridge over a creek after a long downhill section
  • Mile 257.4 – stay right (going left would mean hopping a gate with clear “no trespassing” signs – don’t)

It is possible to navigate the entire route with just the Benchmark maps.  We do not recommend attempting this unless you are competent with navigation and prepared in the event you get lost.

For map geeks, we suggest adding in the Upper Klamath BasinDeschutes NF, and Ochoco NF maps.  All are excellent and provide much more detail than the Benchmark maps.

The route technically finishes at the Deschutes River State Recreation Area which has camping and showers but little else. If you haven’t arranged transportation back to Portland and points beyond (one good option is Portland Sag Wagon), riding 18 miles west will put you in The Dalles at a Greyhound station. Or ride back to Portland along several recommended alternatives.

Alternative Routes Back to Portland

The following are a few recommended routes back to Portland for those of you finishing up the Oregon Outback.  These options start in The Dalles.  For those of you not quite there, here’s the short 19-mile route to get to The Dalles from the state park.

Option 1:  100 miles, 7,500 ft climbing, 95% paved.  This route will take you along the historic Columbia River highway and the Mosier Twin Tunnels bike path to Hood River before climbing up and over Lolo Pass to Portland.  We ended the route in Gresham at the MAX light rail and will leave the rest up to you.  Click here for the GPS route.

Option 2:  ~100 miles, minimal climbing, 100% paved.  Another option is to take the historic highway back to Portland from Hood River.  We don’t recommend this version as it requires riding 14 miles on the shoulder of I-84.  If this floats your boat, you can download a map here and search the web for more information.

Option 3:  ~130 miles, ~10,000 ft climbing, 50% paved.  This option involves adding in parts of the Gunsight Ridge route and Barlow Trail route, climbing up Skyline from The Dalles, riding Gunsight Ridge to Bennett Pass, and then dropping down Still Creek Road to Zig Zag before taking pavement the rest of the way into Portland.  See Option 1 above for the best pavement option from Zig Zag to Portland.  This would be the hardest of the hardcore ways to finish up your Oregon Outback route… We won’t bother to map this out for you – if you’re into it, you can easily piece the route together with what we’ve provided.

Additional Info

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.

  • John May

    Love this route. My brother and I did it over 6 days around Labor day weekend in 2015.

  • Jack Nolan

    This is on my list for later this summer. Thanks for the resources!

  • KATE’76

    We are thinking of doing it this summer- we did part of BikeCentennial in 76.

  • Nice! Have fun!

  • KATE’76

    Any bears? How do you keep food safe at night?

  • Seth May

    We didn’t have any problems, and I really wouldn’t worry about bears. If you were up in the Cascades, I would think more about it. The worst we experiences were some chipmunks that stole sunglasses during the night. Water could very easily become a major issue (September of a drought year), although we planned around it well and never problems. This really is a must-ride route. http://bit.ly/OregonOutback2015

  • KATE’76

    could we do it in less than 6 days?

  • Seth May

    Absolutely. It’s been done in as little as 2. From other people, 5-6 is pretty ideal if you want to enjoy it rather than hammer on the miles. 3 days is head-down, racing. 4 would be a long grind. We were originally looking at a 5 day. We opted to shorten a couple of days down from 80-90 miles to 60ish. Our day 3 (Silver Lake to Crooked River) at 80 miles farther than I could take. Those were some of the roughest roads (washboard) and deep lava dust, and made for a very long day.

  • Also, check out the pace Chart here if you are unsure about daily distances: http://www.bikepacking.com/bikepacking-101/when-to-go/

  • KATE’76

    perfect- tytyty!

  • KATE’76

    great help…thanks, Seth!

  • KATE’76

    we are considering either 4th week of August or 3rd week of Sept? Any thoughts?

  • Devin Cardoza

    Anybody done this route North to South? Looking to modify it as part of a Portland -> SF trip in late May/early June. So far I’m gathering that we’d be looking at more climbing than the traditional approach. If anyone’s done it I’d be psyched to get any helpful insights on the North to South approach.

    Thanks in advance to any obliging souls!

  • Elizabeth Vidana

    We’re looking to do a section of this hauling a two kid trailer (I know, it’s ridiculous but so are we). Is this possible and are there sections better suited? Thanks!

  • Don

    How is cell service on this route?

  • James Miller

    Anyone know what the road conditions might be like in mid-March? My concern is that the more remote parts of the route (forest roads) will have quite a bit of snow, either packed or not, and will be either very slow going or impassible, even with 3″ tires, which is be the widest I could go. Thanks!

  • KATE’76

    What if we had a medical emergency on this route? Help near? Just covering all bases….

  • Kevin Machtelinckx

    We just finished this route a couple weeks ago (5/26-5/31) over 5 days. The roads are in great condition. 2″ tires were perfect, maybe even overkill. The OC&E portion is pocked by gopher holes, but entirely manageable. The “red sauce” is currently not bad. Some sections of washboard but, again, not overwhelming. Something to note: the little store in Beatty closes at 6pm, as does the General Store in Shaniko. The portion in the high plains from Ashwood to Antelope is exposed if you’re riding during a thunderstorm (ask us how we know), but good god is it beautiful up there. Stunning. Epic route. Here are a few photos.

    The entire album is here:https://www.flickr.com/photos/kevin_machtelinckx/albums/72157681609578304

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0a6aac9abf20a258d7c69e779883e5c7f67050da781835dbad714399f45bb0db.png https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6fc5f2d555237bd66ecccb04b3342d91c80c2e9d7ad4965e94832f1f4f0c03dc.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fef7c96d3c2cfe91733b8d76bf7051edfa0fdcb41062ad726edd0573ceab1a23.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7bfbe1d8ba12e28d2e8adfbfbfbd0f894e6d412a685897ad02d46533d6384e83.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/266780707b8331f48badfef4c6eb29721264ecf7b6a6c0d5f8501ab7359b5889.png https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a744dbf01447e971eb996fcfb815e94d4518dc441431eb48dc4ccb4650ab894e.png https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/25797bc63541199c77a98aa5953fd94507f8d10965f01742640021b5f13d80d5.png https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/84b60ebb6240ddc479e3e32e242262b352275e1e9e56d2b612d1bee0fc638f50.png https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3f31791b76544e034263c8e0f6c15e23e70db731e7d6aaecb270a5c43df872a1.png

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6ca2665068caa41cd277740e96bb0544d48d9ef90b47e7e036a32f88a34f0d4c.png

  • Michael Lopez

    Heading out in a couple days with some buds, but I’m taking 7 days. Anything you wish you had more time to devote to?

  • Kevin Machtelinckx

    Not really. I was pretty happy with our pace while still having time to stop and take photos. We spent the entire afternoon and evening visiting Shaniko. We took a long 1h30 lunch in Antelope taking in the eerie feeling of the place. Silver Lake didn’t have much to offer, so we headed off to Fort Rock, where a rather shit-faced bunch of locals harrassed us for a while at the pub (good burgers though!), so we continued riding into the Deschutes until night fell. I guess I maybe would have liked to explore the actual Fort Rock formation, but that’s ok.

  • Beau Eastes

    Finished up the Outback on Thursday. I’ll echo what Kevin said, the Red Sauce wasn’t bad and the scenery around it was beautiful. We took mini Tenkara fishing rods. If we did it again, I’d spend more time on the Crooked River. Couple nice surprises: Silver Lake has a great mercantile store you can buy anything you forgot or need. Also, there’s a couple in Antelope that has a big corner lot with a faucet and they let bikers camp there for free. One of the better decisions we made was to camp there and save our legs for the climb into Shaniko the next day. Have fun, phenomenal route!

  • martin hulth

    God god those are some fantastic photos. Thanks for sharing. If all goes well, I plan on doing this end of August. I’ll definitely take your advice into account. If you don’t mind, did you bring an additional camera with or did your phone whip out those shots? Thanks again!

  • Kevin Machtelinckx

    Glad you like them! These were all shot with a Sony a6500.

  • Amazing photos!!

  • Modoc Jack

    I want to do this….new to the whole bike riding thing but i got me a mountain bike and im looking to get on it and go for a ride like this. would mountain bikes be ok or do you recommend a touring bike?

  • DeanB

    Excellent photos of your trip. Planning to do the bottom third in the spring. Ending at the the Cowboy Dinner Tree in Silver Lake. You missed a 30oz steak or whole chicken for dinner. Bravo!!!

  • whoops. sorry. Missed this before. Yes, mountain bikes are perfect for stuff like this, IMO. Check out the Bikepacking 101 section.

  • We usually recommend a Spot tracker with emergency beacon if this poses a concern…