: Russ Roca

Biking the Grande Ronde Farm Trail

How to explore Eastern Oregon’s scenic ranch country on two wheels.
June 16, 2022

Graced by a skyline crowned with the Blue and Wallowa mountains, the Grande Ronde Valley has a long history of agricultural production, with fertile ground tended by Indigenous peoples for millenia. This part of Eastern Oregon was a stop on the Oregon Trail, and some settlers stayed put, creating farms that have been managed by the same family for well over 100 years. 

So why not take a cue from the slower pace of earlier eras and explore the Grande Ronde Farm Trail by bicycle? Two wheels are a great way to slow down and enjoy the scenery as you learn about the region’s gifts, with myriad restaurants, farms, orchards and even a goat dairy for visitors to explore. 

The farm trail route is about a 36-mile loop and can be completed in a day if you get an early start. If you’re looking to up the ante, the farm trail happens to closely follow a portion of the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway — a 134-mile figure-8 route that spans Union and Baker counties.. Plan your journey and call ahead before you visit, as the majority of the farms along the trail have limited, seasonal hours or require booking an appointment in advance. The best time to visit is between May and late September.  

Your first stop should be Mountain Works in La Grande, where knowledgeable staff can assist with route planning, rentals, and any bike tune-up needs or parts. Just down the road, Blue Mountain Outfitters can help you find the right outdoor clothing and gear for the trip.

The self-guided tour starts in La Grande and loops around to the small communities of Summerville, Imbler, Cove and Union. The majority of the surface on this relatively flat route is pavement, with some intermittent gravel roads throughout. Beginners may want to stick to pavement, but keep in mind that some will be busier roads. Wider tires will better accommodate the more slippery gravel terrain.

Two people stand in a small farm looking at the camera
Apple Spring Micro Farm (Photo by Joni Kabana)

Farms, Blacksmithing and Wildlife on the Route

After packing some cured-meat snacks from local butcher Hines Meat Co. in La Grande, head toward the town of Imbler for perhaps one of the most unique stops along the trail. Homestead Springs Farm & Forge is home to the Northwest Skillet Company, which features a blacksmith shop where craftsman Peter Clark forges carbon-steel pans and utensils, as well as a farm where you can purchase grass-fed lamb and pastured pork. Book an appointment before your visit for a tour or demonstration of Clark’s skills. 

From Imbler, fuel up at Nella Mae’s farmstand at the base of Mt. Fanny in Cove, which offers extended-season produce thanks to their large hoop houses, as well as eggs, bread and coffee roasted on the farm. The self-serve pantry is open from April through October and operates on the honor system. Farm trail pro tip: Call ahead to book a tour. A short detour out of town will lead you to Apple Spring Micro Farm, a meticulously maintained micro farm of just over an acre and a half. They take pride in their organic vegetables and flower starts in the spring, as well as a plethora of baked goods for a mid-ride snack.

A small wooded farm stand with an open sign
Nella Mae’s farmstand (Photo by Joni Kabana)

Riding west then south to Union, stop at third-generation Platz Family Farm and check out the produce bursting with farm-fresh goodness, including just-picked salad greens and asparagus, as well as honey and baked goods. Pop into nearby Cats Paw Farm Mercantile to stock up on hundreds of local goods — handcrafted soaps made with milk from their herd of Pygora goats, handmade greeting cards, herbal teas and other provisions. 

Make your way back to La Grande via Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area, famed as the largest remaining wetland in Northeastern Oregon characterized by hardstem-bulrush plants. The 6,020-acre area is rich with birds, such as tundra swans, bald eagles and great blue herons, as well as hundreds of other bird and wildlife species. Part of the Oregon Trail also runs through the area. It’s worth a detour to the Foothill Road Viewpoint, which offers excellent vantage points to view wildlife, open to the public year-round only on Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays. Check Ladd Marsh’s website or call for details on necessary permits.   

A sparkly hot tub sits at the edge of a lake
The Lodge at Hot Lake Springs (Phot by Bill Purcell)

Hotsprings, Camping and Cold Brews

One lodging option is The Lodge at Hot Lake Springs, located between La Grande and Union and overlooking Ladd Marsh. The hotel has recently been restored and offers hot-springs soaking (day passes available), an onsite pub and a movie theater. Another lodging option is in Cove, where you can call to reserve ahead for tent camping or even a dorm stay (except late June through July) at Ascension School, situated on 100 acres in the Blue Mountains. 

If you opt to make the full loop back to La Grande, you can end the day with a small-batch brew and local-beef burger at Side A Brewing. Other options include Mamacita’s International Grill — which serves a globally influenced menu on a lovely patio — or Dining at the Landing, a cozy, chef-led restaurant on the ground floor of the The Landing Hotel. The spot serves breakfast, then transforms into a restaurant serving Pacific Northwest cuisine in the evening. For another treat, stay over in one of the modern rooms in this beautifully renovated historic hotel after your meal, heading home after breakfast.

About The

Jen Sotolongo
Jen Sotolongo is a freelance writer who owns and writes for the popular adventure dog blog Long Haul Trekkers. She lives in Bend with her rescued cattle dog mix, Sitka. You can usually find them trail running, hiking or camping in the mountains. You can follow Jen on Instagram @longhaultrekkers.

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