Oregon Stampede

Bikepacking Oregon’s iconic gravel route

Overview

This the classic route that put our compadres at VeloDirt on the map and can in its own way be credited for what you’re reading right now.  Bikepacking this route over a weekend has always been on our radar and it’s gaining popularity.  Starting in the Deschutes River State Recreation Area, you’ll get to climb high above the Deschutes enjoying mountain views from Rainier all the way down to the Sisters along some of the least traveled and most beautiful gravel roads anywhere in Oregon.

Highlights along the route include several of the nicest little towns Oregon has to offer, exploring the historic buildings in Friend, roughing it through the White River Wildlife Area, White River Falls, Sherar Falls, and a healthy supply of tumbleweeds to add character to your trip photos.

At a glance

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DISTANCE (MILES)
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ELEVATION GAIN (FT)
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RECOMMENDED DAYS
Difficulty
Commitment
Navigation
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GRAVEL

Map

Details

Route

Some of us simply aren’t strong enough to ride this route in one go and some folks are smart enough to know that this route is better experienced over a couple easier days.  Just for you folks – here is everything you need to know to make this route your own.

The route begins and ends in the Deschutes River State Recreation Area, which has dedicated overnight parking ($5/night), camping and showers. They also sell firewood and ice in the high season, making an overnight here at the beginning or end of your trip an easy option.  Be warned that this is a pretty busy campground and packs solid most weekends in the summer, especially when the fishing is good.  We recommend making reservations online if you can.

We think the route is best ridden over 2 days in order to take advantage of the best camping options in the White River Wildlife Area. If you’re interested in stretching your trip out into 3 days we also provide details below on your options.

We altered the route slightly from the VeloDirt version taking out the Grass Valley detour near mile 95. See below for the reason, but at this point you will have to leave the GPS route in order to take advantage of any remaining east-side services.

This is a really poor route choice if it’s super hot or super windy. We suggest checking the wind forecast for several points along the route on NOAA’s website, as the ridges on both sides of the Deschutes River are frequently wind blasted.  No matter which way the forecast says the wind is blowing it’ll pretty much always be directly in your face or knocking you over from the side, so don’t expect killer tailwinds.  There is also very limited shade along the route, so avoid high summer. Fall and spring are the best times for this route, but these can also be the windiest times.   As folks who’ve ridden the route know –  it’s hard to time the weather and the wind perfectly, but it’s worth it when the stars align.

Winter is also decent time to ride the route if you can tolerate cold temps.  Check for snow in the higher elevations first.  If it’s clear, go for it.

Check out the route forum for the most up to date information

Services & Water

Services are no longer as evenly spaced as when this route was first created.   Dufur is still perfectly situated with a great little grocery store at mile 40 and Tygh Valley still has their little convenience store at mile 67. But hard times fell on the little deli/convenience store in Grass Valley and it closed for good. All that is left in Grass Valley is a small café that closes in early afternoon. We strongly suggest confirming the café is open and its hours if you plan to rely on it.

The only other potential option for services on the route is in Moro near mile 106. Moro has a small convenience store and bar with food. It will require a slight detour off route, but it may be necessary if only because there is no food or water anywhere along the route once you cross over the Deschutes River at Sherar Falls.

Potable water is available in Dufur, Tygh Valley, the White River Falls State Park (mile 71.4), Grass Valley (hose bibb at the small park), and Moro. You can also filter/treat water from several creeks in the White River Wildlife Area near miles 56.6 and 58.7. I would not drink from the Deschutes River regardless of how much you filter it – water filters do not remove agricultural chemicals.

Depending on your carrier, cell service is generally good along most of the route.

Camping

Camping options will largely dictate your daily mileage.  These are the only options we know of for camping along the route:

  • Mile 40 – Dufur:  Dufur has a small city park with camping and showers.  We’ve never camped here so we cannot comment on it, but for those who intend to ride the route over 3 days this is probably your best bet for night 1.
  • Mile 57-61:  White River Wildlife Area:  We tagged the few decent primitive camping spots along Jordan Creek on the GPS route.  One of these will be your best bet if you plan on doing it as an overnighter.  These can fill up with hillbillies and their 4×4 trucks on busy weekends, so just be warned.  Click here for a downloadable map from the state that shows campsites, etc.
  • Mile 65:  Tygh Valley:  The fairgrounds aka Hunt Park on the left as your rolling into Tygh Valley has tent and RV camping.  Showers, shade.  We cannot comment on whether this is a good option as we’ve never stayed here before.
  • Mile 75.1:  Sherars Bridge:  Although they are technically off route, there are campgrounds up and down the Deschutes River just after crossing the bridge at Sherars Falls.  Here is a link to all the BLM campgrounds in this area.  Be advised that none of them have drinking water available.  The road south towards Maupin is paved, the road north towards Macks Canyon is gravel.

Note that there is no camping at the White River Falls State Park at mile 71.4.  There is a park host in residence between Memorial and Labor day.

There are no good camping options once you climb up and out of the Deschutes River after passing Sherar Falls.  There are a couple possibilities, but none are particularly useful, including the RV park in Moro.  At that point, you might as well just finish the route.

Navigation

Navigation is not particularly difficult and generally speaking a GPS is not necessary.  We recommend using the Benchmark Oregon Road & Recreation Atlas.  In addition we provide the following to simplify route finding:

  • Cue Sheet.  Please note that the cue sheet has not been updated in several years and may no longer be accurate.
  • Map
  • Note that both of these are of the old version that went through Grass Valley.  Given the services issues noted above, you may want to skip this option.

Navigation in the White River Wildlife Area can be difficult.  We do our best in the cue sheet to point you in the right direction, but know that it’s confusing and folks frequently get lost.  If you are concerned, please use a GPS to navigate this section.

Bike & Tire Selection

We think a lighter rig is appropriate for this route – a cross bike or touring bike with 35-40c tires will probably be just fine for most folks.  Our standard bikepacking rig (rigid 29er, or similar, with ~2″ tires with some tread) is probably overkill.

The only real area of concern is the White River Wildlife Area.  There is one extremely rough, technical descent that many people end up walking.  There is no cell service in this area and vehicle access is difficult, so this isn’t the place to get hurt.

Route Alternatives

Although there are a lot of great roads in the area that we enjoy, we only suggest the following two alternatives:

The first includes an alternate route out of Dufur, bypassing the main section through the White River Wildlife Area and camping on Postage Stamp Butte.  Unfortunately this will require a night of dry camping.  The big draw is camping on top of of the butte where the old fire lookout tower used to be.  The views are amazing.  As a minor warning, the descent down from Postage Stamp Butte is long, steep and ends at an 8’ fence with an unlocked gate.  Once you exit this gate you are on private property.  Per the sign, you can legally pass through this area as long as you stay on the road that twists down to the main highway.  You may have to hop the cattle fence once you get to the pavement.

The second recommended alternative is primarily for those planning to do this over 3 days.  Basically the route is stretched out to include riding through Maupin and camping along the Deschutes River as you loop back around to rejoin the route at Sherar Falls.  This adds about 10 miles of pavement and a bit of climbing, some of which is on US-97.  The highway isn’t great but there’s a nice shoulder.  The big advantages of this alternative are the full services available in Maupin (groceries, restaurants, etc.) and being to load up on water before cruising down the Deschutes River Road to find a place to camp (see above).

Highlights, History & Other Resources

These days this route tends to get overshadowed by its big brother, the Oregon Outback.  But we love it so much it hurts and we simply cannot recommend it enough.  If you’re interested in the route, we encourage you to check out some of the photos and stories that have come out of prior VeloDirt runnings of the route.  Of particular mention is Ryan King’s writeup in XXCMag No. 15, Ira Ryan’s writeup, Matt Haughey’s photos, and Ryan King’s photos.

One other note worth mentioning is that the White River Wildlife Area is open to hunting and can get relatively crowded in early fall.  But later in the fall, winter and early spring the gates are locked to car traffic and you’ll have the place completely to yourself.