Oregon is full of breathtaking bike routes, from rocky coastlines to winding hills, lava buttes to forest trails.
But nowhere in the state is the landscape quite like the Painted Hills in Eastern Oregon, the dramatic display of high desert foothills with multi-colored ribbons that reflect millions of years of geologic history.
Fall is the perfect time for adventurous cyclists to experience the Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway, the 130-mile route designated by the state in February 2016.
The bikeway is conveniently designed as a hub-and-spoke with loops that connect the five small bike-friendly towns along the John Day Fossil Beds, each worth exploring: Service Creek, Spray, Fossil, Mitchell and Kimberly.
Parts of the ride are quite steep and hilly; other stretches are flat and twisty, with epic views. The weather is unpredictable at any time of year, and the remote locations require careful planning.
Cyclists can find supplies and drinking water in each town, as well as restrooms at parks and interpretive areas along the way. Other than that, it’s just you and your two wheels on miles of low-traffic roads.
So load up, pedal hard and take your time exploring these unspoiled towns along the way:
Find everything you need in the Painted Hills Bikeway community of Service Creek, including a lodge on 26 acres (once a 1920’s boarding house, post office and barn) with six guest rooms, air conditioning and even Wi-Fi. Next door is the Service Creek Restaurant & Store, where you can fuel up with pancakes and biscuits in the morning and grab some fresh fruit and cold sandwiches.
Another teeny-tiny outpost is Spray, population 160, a serious journey back in time. Lone Elk Cafe is located in the back of the grocery store downtown, serving up three-egg omelets and other hearty fare for the road. Stay at the River Bend Motel, right on the John Day River, with seven unique rooms full of rustic charm with their wooden paneling, handmade quilts and bear-moose-wolf-cowboy themes.
In Fossil, take a reprieve from your saddle at the Wilson Ranches Retreat Bed & Breakfast, which offers six ranch-style guest rooms and comfy common space in an old 1910 Sears Roebuck ranch house, on a 9,000-acre working cattle ranch. Or for $5 per night, roll out your sleeping bag at a campsite in Shelton Wayside County Park, which offers 19 campsites for tents, trailers and RVs as well as 44 primitive sites.
The quaint old-timey town of Mitchell, the Mitchell Stage Shop — also called the Little Pine Cafe — boasts the “best burgers east of the Ochocos” and serves up homemade pizza with cold beer and wine to go. To sleep, check out the gorgeous Painted Hills Vacation Rentals — two cozy European cottages surrounded by floral gardens. Make sure to book early, since it’s considered a prime viewing spot for stargazers.
And in Kimberly, it’s worth going the distance for some fresh, sweet local peaches at Thomas Orchards, a third-generation family-owned farm stand that’s been here since the early 1900’s. Get a good night’s sleep at Lone Pine Recreation Site, with five sites for $5 each on a flat along the North Fork John Day River.
In Oregon, a bicycle is legally considered a vehicle and the same Oregon road laws apply. Make sure to practice safe riding guidelines since vehicle traffic, farm equipment and narrow shoulders exist on many Oregon roads.