A challenging century ride, from fertile valleys into deep forest and back again
In the middle of the 19th century, the Blue Mountains were a formidable obstacle on the Oregon Trail – often the last mountain range American pioneers had to cross before reaching southeast Washington or passing down the Columbia River Gorge to the end of the Oregon Trail in the Willamette Valley. The range is located in the high, dry and much less traveled country of northeast Oregon.
While pioneers traversed this challenge on horseback, today you can ride the Oregon Trail on your two-wheeled steed. Besides the breathtaking views of the Blue Mountains, the well-maintained roads with barely any vehicle traffic make this Bikeway a cycling paradise.
The 108-mile Blue Mountain Century Scenic Bikeway is a breathtakingly beautiful loop that starts and ends in Heppner, a full-service community with secure places to leave your vehicle while you ride.
The route is rich in history — Heppner was founded by Irish immigrants in 1887 — and initially follows the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway. As you head out from Heppner, crest the first climb and look back on Willow Creek Reservoir and the town; it’s the last gathering of civilization you’re going to see for a while.
From there, follow Willow Creek as you roll through fertile swales and valleys before climbing east through the Umatilla National Forest; you’ll come upon Cutsforth Forest Park just about when you thought there was nothing out here. Continue climbing in the deep forest, listening for some of the sounds you don’t get in your daily life.
After you’ve done the work to reach the summit, indulge yourself in the gravitational joy of a long, smooth descent to Highway 395 – but be ready to hit the brakes for the interpretive site nestled in the aspen trees just before mile 35. When you hit 395 you’re quite near the community of Ukiah; it’s an easy mile into town from the intersection. Here you can find overnight accommodations, a grocery store and a cafe.
When you continue north on 395, the landscape transitions from forest to rangeland, but not until you pass through the Battle Mountain Forest Scenic Corridor, which offers water and restrooms. Eventually you’ll head east along Highway 74 through more of Eastern Oregon’s rolling hills and back to Heppner.
This route offers plenty of climbing — the top of the Umatilla Forest section is more than 3,000 feet above Heppner. But while the hills are long, they’re not that steep. Take your time and enjoy the ride, because you’ll have plenty to look at.
Note: A “century” ride may imply that it can be ridden in one day; this Bikeway is not that kind of century. While a very hardy rider can finish this route in one day, most cyclists should plan to finish it in two days. Because lodging is scarce, plan ahead carefully.
Find restrooms and beautiful wildlife viewing at Battle Mountain Forest State Scenic Corridor, on U.S. 395 nine miles north of Ukiah.