The Wallowa Mountains in Oregon’s most northeastern county loom over the vast Zumwalt Prairie, hayfields and picturesque towns tucked into the valleys. The region, so rich in beauty, is also marked with a diverse human history. To share stories often left untold, Cycle Oregon has developed a set of new cycling routes in conjunction with Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland and Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center in Joseph. Travel Oregon is also a partner. Called Connections, the six routes originate from the towns of Wallowa, Enterprise, and Joseph and utilize both paved and gravel roads. Cycling is a sensory experience that allows you to connect more easily with the people you encounter, says Chris DiStefano, marketing and development manager for Cycle Oregon. “When you slow down and look around, it’s pretty cool to discover who’s there.”
Be sure to check out the detailed routes hosted by Ride With GPS for elevation profiles, recommended tire sizes and more. Here’s how to explore.
Mountains, Prairie, Barns and Beer From Joseph
Both of these routes begin and end at the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center in Joseph. The Valley Loop, an entirely paved 15-mile route, takes the cyclist through the county north of Joseph. Begin by heading west; once you cross Hurricane Creek, glance up to the ridge, which was once a traditional Nez Perce village site known as Am’sáaxpa, or Place of Boulders. After purchasing the 148-acre property in 2021, over 150 Nez Perce returned to take part in a special blessing ceremony here. Heading east, be sure to stop for the postcard view of the Wallowa Mountains. Snap some shots of Wallowa County’s iconic barns before gliding back into Joseph.
A more challenging alternative, the Valley and Alder Slope Loop is a 33-mile route that includes significant elevation gain and several challenging gravel sections. Start by pedaling across the Zumwalt Prairie, the largest intact native grassland in the United States. Take a steep, gravel-road ascent up the Alder slope for panoramic views before heading down into Joseph to cool off with a pint at Embers Brewhouse.
If you want to stay in Joseph, consider the historic Jennings Hotel or eclectic Kokanee Inn. (Both offer bike rentals.) Fill up on bacon-stuffed waffles or pepper-topped corn cakes on the cozy front porch of The Blythe Cricket before a morning ride.
A Tour Through the Valley From Enterprise
The longest route in this series, the 43-mile Enterprise/Wallowa Loop utilizes a combination of paved byways and gravel farm roads. From Enterprise you’ll cross the Zumwalt Prairie to the Nez Perce Homeland in Wallowa before looping back along the Wallowa and Lostine rivers. Get ready for gravel on the extremely rugged Wade Gulch Lane, which follows an ancient Nez Perce trail connecting the lower and upper valleys.
It’s worth taking a short detour into Lostine (at either Mile 15.1 or 32.7) to check out M. Crow & Co. General Store. In continuous operation since 1906, the store is also a brewery and a lunch spot.
From Wallowa Into Heritage Lands and Communities
The three routes that originate in Wallowa range from a casual, family-friendly ride through the Nez Perce Homeland to a 29-mile asphalt adventure. The Maxville Out & Back route follows a forested road to the former logging town of Maxville. This is a challenging route on active logging roads but worth it. (Cycle Oregon requests that you save this ride for a weekend, as you are likely to encounter logging trucks during the week.) In the 1920s, the Bowman-Hicks Lumber Company hired Black loggers to work side by side with whites in a segregated town. Descendants of some of the Black loggers, led by Gwen Trice, have been reviving Maxville’s fascinating history, which is curated in the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center in Joseph.
Catch a view of Joseph and Enterprise as you leave the pavement and head south on Sherrod Road. When you cross the Lostine River along Baker Road, you’ll pass a Nez Perce fishing camp known as “Old Town.” Just downriver, where the Lostine and Wallowa rivers meet, the Nez Perce operate a conservation hatchery to ensure the health of the Lostine River’s Chinook salmon.
The family-friendly Nez Perce Homeland route is just 1.5 miles and the terrain is gentle; it can also be enjoyed as part of a longer ride. As soon as you cross the bridge over the Wallowa River, you have entered the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland — a 320-acre open space that includes a longhouse, a sweat lodge and a dance arbor. Look for the interpretive signs placed around the Homeland, or hike up the basalt ridge overlooking the Wallowa Valley. You can rent the Homeland’s facilities or camp on-site, too. While visiting Native sites, be respectful to heed all signs, leave no trace, stay on the trails and be kind to those you meet.
Before or after any of these rides, fill up the giant sandwiches, breakfast burritos, or just a lot of coffee at The Blonde Strawberry in Wallowa.