The Oregon Outback: Bend Edition

Descending to the Columbia River

The Pacific Northwest. Winema National Forest. The Columbia River. Ochoco. Deschutes. The names conjure images of wide open spaces, endless stretches of pristine forest, dramatic summits and raging rivers. Reality does not disappoint.

Route Map

NOTE: The entire image gallery from this ride can be found here.

One experience in this part of the world is not enough, it seems, so I found a couple friends with as much disregard for their comfort as myself and we made a go at The Oregon Outback for a second year in a row. Last year ended unexpectedly in Bend and this year I intended to reach the north border of Oregon and the promised land of the Columbia River.

Winding it’s way through the foot hills and high desert of the eastern Cascade Mountains, our route followed the OC&E Woods Line State Trail from Klamath Falls to it’s end near Beatty. We were graciously allowed to camp at the local church, the Beatty Valley Gospel Mission, which provided soft grass to camp on and excellent water to drink.

David Riding a Trail Bicycles at Cowboy Dinner Tree

Continuing through cattle pastures and placid ponds we rode the transition between the Winema and Fremont National Forests and followed National Forest Road 288 into increasingly remote territory. Late in the afternoon the water situation was getting dire. It had been an incredibly dry year and every marked stream and creek was nothing but dust and rock. Fate smiled upon us, however, as we finally crossed Long Creek, which seems to be spring fed and flows all year. A conveniently placed beaver dam made a great spot to rest, filter water for drinking, and of course take a frigid dip. We eventually made camp just south of the Thompson Reservoir, also dry.

Leaving the Fremont National Forest we rolled into Silver Lake quite earlier than planned. A quick stop at the laundromat and we were off to a reservation at the Cowboy Dinner Tree. A wonderful little place ten kilometers south of the middle of nowhere that serves your choice of exactly two things; a 32 oz. steak or an entire rotisserie chicken. No sharing allowed.

Sunrise Near Fort Rock, Oregon Fork Rock, Oregon David Riding on a Gravel Road

Being who we are we ordered four dinners for three people. I took half my steak and a baked potato for the panniers.

Full of steak and pink lemonade we ground out a few more miles on County Road 5-13 into Fort Rock where the local bar, The Waterin’ Hole, provided some Deschutes beer and a place to camp by the pump house.

We continued north. Skirting Paulina Peak on our way toward Bend we found an acceptable camp site in the Willamette National Forest. The evening was spent playing hide and seek with the local fly and bee populations which were drawn to any hint of moisture in the dry conditions, including the sweat of our bodies. I spilled about a tablespoon of water outside my tent and spent the next hour fighting off 30-50 bees intent on sucking up any of the water they could find.

Justin and his Surly Ogre Near Prineville, Oregon A Building in the Mountains David and Sanjiv Riding

National Forest Road 18 eventually spit us out into Bend where we spent the next 36 hours or so availing ourselves of motel rooms, proper showers and local breweries.

Leaving Bend we pedal east to meet up with State Highway 27, taking ample time to swim in the Prineville Reservoir then chase the Crooked River into Prineville itself. The Crooked County RV Park is quite nice and we even took time to sample the wares at Ochoco Brewery.

North of Prineville we make our way toward Ashwood. Mid day included a stop at the Nye Ranch where Mike, the manager, had invited us to top off our water and even delivered a shoe that David had dropped. Nice guy. We pass through Ashwood and camp in the hills on the ascent out of town.

Up and up we climb through the rolling foot hills of the Cascade Mountains, eventually delivering ourselves to Shaniko, a burned out little ghost town with one over priced convenience store and an ice cream shop. The local sheriff, who was also the man that empties all the trash cans in town apparently, assured us that the town used to be much bigger. The staff of the ice cream shop was kind enough to allow us to camp in the green space next door.

The Deschutes River David Riding a Muddy Gravel Road Storm Clouds Over the Prarie

The last day of riding dawned with a huge cold front moving through the area and projected winds in excess of 80 km/h. Thankfully it was usually a quartering tail wind and we made great time for the first half of the day. Cresting Gordon Ridge, however, it was alternately a cross wind or head wind and some of our party were forced to walk their bikes for a bit or risk being blown into the Deschutes River canyon. We were later told that the wind on the Pacific coast was gusting to 145 km/h so I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky.

We were eventually delivered to the Columbia River by a glorious down hill, losing about 600 meters of elevation in 15 km or so. We rolled into Deschutes River State Recreational Area to camp for the night and were picked up by the Good Doctor Hal the next day, making our way back to our respective homes by way of Portland.


  • Jimmy @ Beatty Valley Gospel Mission
  • Mike, Ranch Manager @ Nye Ranch
  • Roger @ Antelope, OR
  • Hal Sessions III @ Beaverton, OR