Highlights include the OC&E Woods Line State Trail, 30 oz. steaks at the Cowboy Dinner Tree, Fort Rock, the Crooked River, the Ochoco Mountains, and amazing views of the Deschutes and Columbia Rivers.
While it’s been done in as little as 28 hours, we recommend spending 5 to 7 days on the route to maximize your opportunities to take photos, dip your toes in cold creeks on hot days, and put down a 30 oz. steak at the fabled Cowboy Dinner Tree.
The season for riding this route is generally spring through mid-summer and then again in late summer and into the fall. Winter brings snow to the mountains and summer brings extreme heat. The wind can be a real pain on this route, especially as you approach the Columbia River Gorge. Unfortunately, the wind only seems to die down as the temps rise into the 90’s. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s worth keeping in mind when estimating your daily mileage and whether this route is within your limits.
Although the prevailing winds might dictate otherwise, we recommend riding the route south to north. This allows the train travelers the opportunity to fully enjoy the experience and a net 4,000 foot elevation loss.
The route technically finishes at the Deschutes River State Recreation Area which has camping and showers but little else. If you haven’t arranged transportation back to Portland and points beyond (one good option is Portland Sag Wagon), riding 18 miles west will put you in The Dalles at a Greyhound station. Or ride back to Portland along several recommended alternatives.
Water is very limited in several sections of the route. There are points of interest (POI) on the GPS link above that note the last reliable water for the most significant sections, the longest of which is ~80 miles. There are several other sections of 50+ miles without reliable water. Much of this depends on the season you ride. Spring and early summer ensure more reliable water sources. Late summer and fall could be hit or miss. Plan accordingly.
We strongly recommend reading the “Using This Site” section where we discuss the need to conduct your own research into available services. We also recommend checking the forum where folks who’ve recently ridden the route can provide updates of what they found for services and water.
It is possible to navigate the entire route with just the Benchmark maps. We do not recommend attempting this unless you are competent with navigation and prepared in the event you get lost.
The OC&E traverses through a variety of topography before climbing up into the Fremont National Forest. The surface conditions change dramatically from section to section and although conditions have improved significantly with the added bike traffic, there are several portions that will sap you mentally and physically. Conditions tend to degrade the further you go, climaxing with the worst section between miles 66 and 72.
The “Red Sauce Forest”, as it’s now affectionately known, is a 20-mile section of the route north of Fort Rock as you pass through the Deschutes National Forest. The only nice thing that can be said about this section is that once it’s over you’ve ridden the worst parts of the route with all the very best sections yet to come. It’ll suck, but trust me, it’ll be worth it in the end…
We see no reason to stray from our standard bike & tire recommendation – a rigid 29er (or similar) with ~2” tires with some tread.
One interesting alternative would be to cut northeast from Silver Lake linking up the town of Christmas Valley, Crack-in-the-Ground, and Green Mountain. We’ve never tried this variation but it at least appears on paper to be easy to link Green Mountain up with the route somewhere near Sand Spring. As with this entire area, water access would be the primary concern and you would completely miss Fort Rock.
Another alternative would be to stay northbound on NF-18 in the Deschutes NF riding past China Hat and climbing up to camp on Pine Mountain. While there is no water available, there is an established campground on the top of the mountain and on clear weekend nights the Pine Mountain Observatory is open to the public. It would be easy to link back up with the route if you headed north to US-20 and then east.
Enough different folks have now ridden this route that there’s not much to add to the collective voice, so we’ll simply share those with you. Our friends over at VeloDirt put together a compilation of photos and write-ups from folks who rode the route last year. Here are more accounts from 2015.
We also highly recommend checking out Gabriel’s photos.