Gravel Road Heaven in the Columbia River Gorge

A 60-mile, mixed pavement and gravel route complete with wineries, orchards, replicas of Stonehenge, historic Oregon Trail sites, campgrounds, solitude, and Columbia and Deschutes River vistas galore.

When: early spring 2018

Bicycle Adventurers: solo bike tour to break in my new touring bike (I call her Kung Fu Panda.)

Accommodations: Columbia Hills Historical State Park

Distance: 60 miles over two days

Bonus tip for this adventure? Check out the infamous and twisting Maryhill Loops Road, but ride it downhill, preferably. The beautiful thing is that it is usually closed to cars. Be aware that it does close to public on certain days and you can check out the Maryhill Museum’s website for information on that.

Day One

I drove from Bend, Oregon to the Deschutes River State Recreation Area close to Biggs Junction, Oregon Saturday morning and was rolling by about 11:00 AM. After a slightly stressful crossing from Oregon to Washington on the narrow Highway 97 bridge, it was blissfully empty roads for the rest of my tour. After an early detour to Waving Tree Vineyards and Winery and a tasting of a lovely award winning Sangiovese with Terrence, I made my way up the big climb to get to Columbia Hills Historical State Park where I planned to camp. It's easy to get distracted on this route by historical sites, views of the Columbia River Gorge, and exploring the scale replica of Stonehenge built by Sam Hill as a WWI memorial. 

Columbia Hills Historical State Park is a gem with hiker/biker campsites and petroglyphs. Well, at least there used to be petroglyphs until tourists vandalized them and they were moved to protect them. Now all that remains are petroglyph replicas. Make sure to check the website for the park closely as this park is closed seasonally and sometimes has sites available by reservation, and sometimes does not.

Day Two

After a restful sleep with nothing but the sounds of occasional trains passing through and a bright full moon to keep me company, I woke up with the sun and set off to finish the loop. I descended into The Dalles and made it back to Oregon with little traffic due to how early I had started my day. I spent the better part of the morning in rolling bucolic farmland, complete with turkey farms, more orchards, and not a car to be seen. I careened back down to my car which was parked at the confluence of the Deschutes and the Columbia rivers and made it back to Bend by Sunday afternoon.

Your favorite local bike shop? SPR Bicycle Shop, The Dalles, Oregon

Bike overnight tips and tricks?

  • I rode this loop counterclockwise because I wanted to camp at the Columbia Hills Historical State Park, which has a few hiker/biker campsites and the mileage and climbing worked out well for that. This is primarily because I already knew there was safe overnight parking at the Deschutes River State Recreation Area and didn't feel like researching my options in The Dalles. 
  • Keep an eye on the weather ... this area can get a lot of wind and there is nothing worse than 30 mph headwinds and a tent that flies away. 
  • The two major bummers of this trip are crossing the Columbia River at Biggs on Highway 97 and again in The Dalles on Highway 197. Luckily, they are over quickly, but if you don't like having to take the lane and holding up traffic because there is no shoulder, it would be easier to create loops that just stay in one state or the other. 
  • While this route is beginner friendly, folks must be comfortable with steep climbs and steep descents on gravel. Most of the gravel, about 30% of the route, is in excellent condition, but a few spots have deeper areas of gravel that could cause wipeouts. 
  • Other camping options along the route include the Deschutes River State Recreation area and Maryhill State Park, which is just a hop and a skip away from the excellent winery, Waving Tree. Biggs and The Dalles are two great spots to stock up on water and food, but you could get away with just packing everything you need and not make any stops at all!

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