Oregon will always hold a special place in the bikepacking corner of my heart (which, as it turns out, is a rather large corner). Oregon is where I first cut my teeth on dirt road bikepacking, leaving paved highways for an endless web of dirt roads under a wide-open sky. Those early solo rides offered an air of giddy naïve adventure that’s sometimes elusive after years of experience, especially now that I use tubeless tires (damn you, goat head thorns of Central Oregon, I have not forgotten!).
But it’s more than just personal attachment and potent memories; Oregon is a truly world-class place to bikepack. From the scenic coastline over the alpine Cascades to the sprawling high desert and scrubby outback of the east, the state has scenery to suit every taste.
Just over half of Oregon’s land is federally owned, mostly in the form of USFS and BLM land where dispersed camping is welcome. A number of geological wonders surface unexpectedly from volcanic landscapes, and quaint small towns abound for your resupply pleasure. And then there’s the town of Bend: official bike and beer capital of the known universe. If that isn’t the perfect canvas for some premium bikepacking routes, I don’t know what is!
So here, for your trip planning inspiration and bikepacking day dreams, is a selection of top-notch Oregon bikepacking routes to suit every style and experience level. Some I’ve ridden, some I’ve overlapped while criss-crossing the state on other missions, and a couple are still on my constantly growing bucket list.
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If I had to recommend an ambitious but accessible “intermediate” bikepacking route, one that packs a big punch of adventure but requires no technical or super-remote riding, the Oregon Outback is at the top of my list. Starting in Amtrak-accessible Klamath Falls and heading more or less straight north to the Columbia River and Washington border, the route bisects Oregon on a path through everything from scrubby high desert (the “Oregon Outback” landscape which lends the route its name) to peaceful forests.
There is nothing technical to speak of on this route, though that doesn’t mean it’s all easy. The first 50ish miles on the OC&E Woods Line Trail can be frustratingly bumpy and dotted with cow pies, the red dirt in Deschutes National Forest can be a soft slog, and some of the gravel can be washboarded. About 25% of the route is paved, with a big chunk especially around Prineville, but these roads are generally very low traffic. This route is perfect for a rigid mountain bike like the Salsa Fargo, or a sturdy gravel bike or light hardtail.
Oregon Timber Trail
No collection of bikepacking routes in Oregon is complete without a nod to this challenging border-to-border mountain bike epic. The Oregon Timber Trail manages to traverse the whole darn state, border to border, on a route that’s 78% singletrack! Though it’s been divided into four “tiers” to promote section riding, tackling even a part of this burly backcountry route is a big accomplishment. This is a route for a full-suspension mountain bike, or at least a hardtail, and the riding skills to go with.
The landscapes along this route are a true sampler of Oregon’s natural beauty. Riders spend lots of quality time above 6000 feet, even ascending over 8000 feet, and cross the Cascades twice while taking in views of Mt. Shasta, the Three Sisters, Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Hood. Expect lakes and streams, dry basins, towering forests, and volcanic formations, all connected by ribbons of backcountry singletrack punctuated by beer and burgers. One day, when my technical mountain biking skills are up to the challenge, this ride will definitely be on my bucket list.
Steens Mountain Loop
Length: 276 miles
Style: pavement and some gravel
When to ride: late summer for the mountain climb, spring or fall for the rest
Learn more: route description
If the Oregon Timber Trail sounds too technical for your taste, consider this smoother and logistically simple loop involving faraway desert horizons, hot springs and ice cream, and a mega-climb to the top of 9700+ foot Steens Mountain. The small towns of Fields and Frenchglen offer tasty resupplies and cold drinks, which you’ll need in this area where temps top 90+ F. You’ll ride quiet highways and gravel roads through the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the Alvord Desert before turning skyward on rougher gravel toward the jaw-dropping views from the summit.
Besides the burly 4000+ foot climb, this route challenges riders with hot temps and scarce shade. You might need to carry lots of water and choose your timing carefully. The road to the summit is typically only open in late summer, when weather can be scorching. For a cooler and easier (but perhaps anticlimactic) ride you could do the loop, minus the summit climb, in spring or fall. Though the gravel can be washboarded in places, this is a perfect route for bikepacking on a gravel bike or a sturdy touring bike.
Also in the area is bikepacking.com’s Oregon’s Big Country route, a MUCH more challenging and remote expedition that might appeal to experienced riders.
Three Sisters Three Rivers
Length: 325 miles
When to ride: summer
Learn more: route description
This challenging singletrack-heavy ride connects the dots between several legendary Oregon trail systems, including those surrounding the famous mountain bike destinations of Sisters, Bend, and Oakridge. As you might expect by now, Oregon’s scenic diversity is on display with a mix of dry high desert, lush river valley, volcanic geology, and alpine views.
Though a point-to-point ride can be set up with a shuttle, astute map readers will notice that this route intersects with the Oregon Timber Trail. Though it would mean skipping the lovely southern half, connecting the two makes for a tempting loop out of Bend. The departure from Bend is also the start of The Big Lonely (see below), which happens to overlap with the Oregon Outback (see above) and the Central Oregon Backcountry Explorer (below)… In other words, this area of Oregon is an absolute dream for bikepacking.
The Big Lonely
Length: 347 miles
Style: mostly gravel, some singletrack
When to ride: mid-summer through early October, depending on when snow arrives to the high sections
Learn more: event page and ride reports
For those who want to dabble in the fun and wacky world of bikepack racing, The Big Lonely is a fantastic place to start. It’s a small and relatively new event that fills up fast every year, but if you can snag a spot you’ll surely enjoy the beauty, challenge, and camaraderie it offers. The event is held in early October, a time when inhospitable weather is likely to be factor, and a solid mid-pack time would be around 3 days. For a more leisurely experience you can ride the route at your own pace anytime during summer or early fall.
The route is essentially a loop out of the legendary beer and bike paradise of Bend. The riding is mostly gravel, some connecting pavement, and a bit of generally high-quality singletrack climbing out of Bend and descending from Paulina Crater. It’s a great route for folks most comfortable on gravel but wanting to dabble in some singletrack riding; a rigid mountain bike would be the perfect steed.
Stops in the towns of Sisters, Madras, and Prineville make for well-spaced resupply. Riders experience scenic Lake Billy Chinook, the tiny town of Ashwood, miles alongside the Crooked River, stunning Paulina Crater and its miles of secret backcountry singletrack, and abundant sage brush and pine forest.
If I were going to tour this route without participating in the race, I would consider linking up with the Central Oregon Backcountry Explorer (see below) to extend the route between Ashwood and Prineville. This addition takes riders down to the unique geology of the John Day River, past views of the Painted Hills, and through the small town of Mitchell where a stop at the Spoke’n Hostel is not to be missed.
Central Oregon Backcountry Explorer
Length: 152 miles
Style: mostly gravel, some pavement
When to ride: summer, spring or fall if the highest point isn’t snowy
Learn more: route description
Finally, an Oregon bikepacking route I feel comfortable recommending to beginners! Though many parts of this route feel satisfyingly empty, you’re never too far from a helpful rancher if something goes wrong. The loop is logistically simple and resupply and camping are easy enough. Beware though, I strongly recommend tubeless tires for this one. It was while overlapping a section of this route that I made the decision, after fixing twelve thorn punctures in a few miles, to acquire a better bikepacking bike with tubeless-compatible rims.
The first fifty miles of this route overlap the Oregon Outback leaving Prineville, including a stop in the small town of Ashwood, a friendly place accustomed to cyclists. Then the Backcountry Explorer turns southeast and drops to the John Day River through mesmerizing geology and sparsely populated ranch land. Primitive Burnt Ranch Campground is a great place to spend the night before continuing to views of the Painted Hills. The folks at the donation-based Spoke’n Hostel in Mitchell are memorable for their hospitality, which will get you fired up for a big gradual climb and descent through the Ochoco Mountains and back to Prineville.
This route would ride well on a gravel bike, sturdy touring bike with gravel tires, or a rigid mountain bike.
Pavement Touring Routes
Oregon’s endless low-traffic dirt and gravel riding are not to be missed, in my opinion. But if your idea of bikepacking is to throw a seat bag on your road bike and hit the pavement, Oregon has some lovely options. You can ride these as standalone tours or use them to get from the larger towns like Portland and Eugene, which have bike-friendly Amtrak stations, out to the start of a more remote bikepacking route.
Bike Nonstop US: Technically a race, but the goal of crossing the US on low-traffic backroads will also appeal to casual tourers who want to follow the same route on their own schedule. The route begins in Portland and has changed since I rode it in 2019; it now follows more of the Trans America Bike Route from Eugene. I really liked the original version that headed more directly east through towns like Maupin and Shaniko, and I would guess it’s lower traffic. Learn more: event page and ride reports.
TransAmerica Bike Route: A classic cross-country route beginning in Astoria and passing through Eugene, Prineville, and Baker City (among others) en route to Idaho and eventually the east coast. This route is known for its increasing vehicle traffic and not everyone will find it relaxing. Learn more: route description and ride reports.
Scenic Bikeways: Oregon has a lovely system of “scenic bikeways,” mostly low-ish traffic highways that can be used to connect between small towns, link multiple bikepacking destinations, or create your own routes.
Make Up Your Own Route
Established routes are wonderful for maximizing your bikepacking “bang for buck” in a short period of time, especially if you don’t enjoy route planning. But if you do enjoy route planning — the process of perusing maps, musing aloud “I wonder what’s the best and most scenic way to ride from here to there,” and then finding out for yourself — Oregon is the perfect place to exercise your route planning muscles.
Oregon’s network of USFS and BLM roads, low-traffic highways, and rural towns is very forgiving in terms of low-traffic options, especially in the less populated areas east of the Cascades. You can find your way between almost anywhere on suitably quiet roads, and you might find some surprises along the way too. For example, here’s a route I made up between Klamath Falls and Bend on which I “discovered” Paulina Crater and the Swamp Wells singletrack trail, as well as lava tube ice caves, totally by accident.
If this sounds like fun but seems a bit intimidating, see my guides on route planning resources and planning a bikepacking route on public land to get started. The Oregon Benchmark Atlas is the best map I’ve found for the area, and extremely helpful for figuring out what kind of roads to expect and whether an area is public or private. There are definitely some areas of central and eastern Oregon where water is scarce, so be sure to identify reliable sources and use caution when striking out through remote and dry areas.
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Getting there: The Coast Starlight Amtrak train, which runs between LA and Seattle, makes several stops in Oregon and carries unboxed bikes with an advance reservation. Only stations with checked baggage service can load or unload a bike, so unfortunately the smaller stations like Chemult (often the best-positioned for getting onto remote roads ASAP) aren’t an option. Klamath Falls does offer bike service, as does Portland, and many of the larger towns between (Eugene, Salem, etc).
I hope these Oregon bikepacking routes have whet your appetite for big views, lush forests, sage-covered hills, and everything in between! Oregon is one of my favorite bikepacking destinations, and I think you’ll love it too.
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