Old West Scenic Bikeway
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In Oregon, a bicycle is legally considered a vehicle, and the same Oregon road laws apply. Please “be seen” and practice safe riding. Vehicle traffic, farm equipment and narrow shoulders exist on many Oregon roads, and you may find that construction projects, traffic or other events may cause road conditions or signage to differ from the map results, ride descriptions and directions. For travel options plus weather and road conditions, visit tripcheck.com, call 511 (in Oregon only), 800.977.6368 or 503.588.2941. Routes listed on this website are for informational purposes and intended as a reference guide only.
Here’s a rugged piece of the Old West that you can check out by bike – a route spectacular enough to be designated an Oregon Scenic Bikeway. This two- to three-day route offers a cornucopia of terrain and scenery, from rushing rivers to hot springs to fossil beds – and some attention-getting climbs.
The Old West Scenic Bikeway offers a rich combination of ponderosa-pine forests, scenic rivers, abundant wildlife, fossil geology and sunny climate. A vast majority of the route is in Grant County on minimally used roads. Ten additional rides branch off of the Old West and provide an additional 800 miles of “ultimate road ride” experience.
Examples of some of the must-see stops on this route include:
1. The Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, which preserves the legacy of Chinese who lived here
2. The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, one of the top three paleontology sites in the world
3. The salmon fish run on the North Fork of the John Day River
4. The wild horses on Murders Creek
5. The bald eagle trees outside Prairie City (up to 11 bald eagles have been viewed at one time)
6. The views of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness from the covered wagon wayside (you’ll know it when you see it)
Much of the Old West Scenic Bikeway follows two branches of the John Day River. Support for cyclists on the bikeway is provided by 10 rustic communities, three state parks, five additional campgrounds and two bike hostels. The Grant County Chamber (541-575-0547) has a volunteer who will assist cyclists wanting to plan a day, weekend or longer vacation ride in Grant County.
Start in John Day – the biggest town around these parts – heading east on Highway 26 through picturesque Prairie City, after which you’ll ascend to the turnoff at Austin Junction. Here you’re on truly rural backroads, passing through the tiny but friendly Long Creek, Monument and Kimberly before heading south to the John Day Fossil Beds, where you reconnect with Highway 26 back to John Day, through Dayville and Mt. Vernon.
This works well as a two-day or a three-day trip; there are three state parks, five other campgrounds and two bike hostels along the route.
Motorized Vehicle Traffic: Light on the backroads; moderate on the main highways
Seasons: Spring to fall
The Grant County Chamber of Commerce is happy to help you find services and attractions along this route. Visit their website or call them at 541-575-0547. Or, check out Visit Eastern Oregon for more to see and do in this area.
Order a free copy of the Oregon Scenic Bikeways guide and start exploring the best routes that Oregon has to offer — all from the seat of a bike.
Important Traffic Information: Scenic Bikeway routes often include roads with car and truck traffic. Although the Bikeways are routed on low-traffic and low-speed roads whenever possible, most are designated for cyclists that are comfortable riding in some amount of traffic. For traffic-free riding, please check out the Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway section north of Banks and the first half of the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway.
Please keep in mind this advice from a local and plan accordingly: Many small-town businesses along the route, including restaurants and grocery stores, only stay open until 5 or 6 p.m. and may not be open on weekends. Bicyclists should bring plenty of water and snacks with them. Be prepared to camp out in the event that you come across a small rural town that has nothing open. This ride can be tough — it’s best to be over-prepared!