: Courtesy of Outside Walla Walla

Adventure Trails with Views of the Blue Mountains

Hike, mountain bike and volunteer near Pendleton in Eastern Oregon.
May 17, 2024

I feel sweat drip from my brow as I cut away chunks of soil with a pickax, the tool rising and falling in rhythm with the volunteers around me. I’m hard at work improving the Pendleton Adventure Trails Recreation Area, a 290-acre multiuse trail system just northwest of downtown Pendleton. I’ve already seen results of our trail-improvement labor, and I’ll relish it even more when I’m sailing downhill in cool breezes on my mountain bike.

When I first moved to Pendleton in early 2021, my husband and I discovered the trails while familiarizing ourselves with the new territory. Within a 10-minute drive from most areas of town, the trails are a great easy escape. Back then it was apparent that some infrequently used areas had been left to be overrun by clumps of thick and weedy vegetation, with aging ramps and other hazards. Little did we know at the time, though, several Pendleton residents had recognized the need for improvements and decided to step in before their favorite trails succumbed to overgrowth.

One of them, Zack Rock, first explored the trails in 2016, before they would become the official recreation area. He’d heard of new trails up by the Pendleton Airport from another active mountain biker and was intrigued. To call the routes “trails” at that time was an overstatement; they were beaten-down paths with stakes acting as trail blazes. Despite the first ride that left his bike with two flat tires, Rock continued to ride the trails — and began volunteering to improve them. Here’s how you can enjoy the area and help with volunteer efforts.

(Photo courtesy of Outside Walla Walla)

A Network of Inspiring Multiuse Trails

Since 2021 Rock has been involved in trail work, with the goal to improve and maintain them. They’re well worth the effort. With 18 miles of trails winding across grassy hills — some cutting down the hillside in switchbacks, others following the gently undulating terrain above — any hike or ride is inspiring. Many of the trails offer views of the Blue Mountains and the terrain that surrounds Pendleton. 

The system has four trails rated easy for mountain bikers, five intermediate and two advanced trails. As a novice mountain biker, my favorite — an easy loop called James’s Trail — has made me more comfortable with the sport. Following the ridgeline, this trail is relatively flat and takes bikers and hikers around a roughly 1.5-mile loop. The easy terrain makes this loop ideal for beginners with just enough turns and undulation to improve mountain biking skills. As a more advanced rider, Rock’s go-ro rides are Ricky Bobby and Let’er Send. At 2 miles, the former features drops and climbs with rollable jumps, ladder bridges and berms; the latter is less than half a mile downhill but is ideal for the advanced rider with quick turns, berms, gaps, tables and jumps that range from 10 to 25 feet.  

From a hiker’s perspective, any of the intermediate or advanced trails give me a satisfying workout. For switchbacks and diverse terrain, take James’s Trail to Tim’s Trail or QitQit and connect with Zig Zag, a one-way total of roughly 3.5 miles. For those craving distance and sweeping views of the Blue Mountains, combine Zig Zag with Stem Cell to loop the far southwestern section of trails into a 6.5-mile one-way hike. 

(Photo courtesy of Outside Walla Walla)

A History Rooted in Volunteer Efforts

The story of this trail system is worth knowing if you’re interested in restoring other Oregon trails, or coming to Pendleton to help with ours. All it takes is a group of passionate volunteers. The recreation area was founded in 2016 as an agreement between the city and Pendleton on Wheels, a local nonprofit biking club. The decree was that private individuals had to use personal equipment to remove unofficial trail markers and create signs to start, so volunteerism is at the very heart of the trail system. 

In January of 2023, the first trail work party was organized, and 17 eager volunteers showed up to lend a hand. I met Rock and the volunteer group in March 2023, and they became my circle of friends. In July we hosted our first of many events, an evening group run, and volunteers continued to bring trails back to life throughout the summer and fall. I took pleasure in helping to build a new easy route. As I hiked out one day with a collection of tools, I couldn’t help but feel pride for the section of trail that I hoped to carve my mountain bike tires into. The section wouldn’t bear my name or even any record of my involvement in its creation, but I’d left my signature on it in a way. 

(Photo courtesy of PATRA)

How to Volunteer to Maintain the Trails or Join Events

With more volunteers, Rock saw what he’d hoped for back in 2021 come to fruition. Visible change in the trails — thanks to several hundred volunteer hours — brings more and more people to the area to ride and hike trails that are now free of obstructions and constantly being improved. Future projects include improved signage and parking.

During the spring, summer and fall, the volunteer group hosts weekly group runs and walks on Wednesdays and a once-a-month weekend trail work party. Beginner-friendly mountain bike lessons and 5K and 7K runs occur a handful of times each year. To learn how to volunteer or attend events, follow the group’s Facebook or Instagram accounts for the latest news.

About The

Rachael Plunkett
Rachael is an avid outdoorswoman whose passions include hiking, backpacking, road tripping, writing, and videography. She and her husband created Wandering Plunketts, an Instagram, YouTube, and blog where you can follow along on her adventures.