The ODT is ripe for bikepacking. There are stretches that will need bike alternates, but with some creativity and time investment I think we could have a Bend to Idaho (Snake River, or maybe even Boise) route that mostly parallels the current Oregon Desert Trail.
I’m gonna lay out my thoughts on the current ODT path & it’s viability for a bikepacking route. This is a bit freeform, I hope it’s not too confusing… Feel free to contact me for clarification, comments, or questions!
My ODT bikepacking route thoughts:
ONDA has released their ODT guidebook and maps. They are certainly hiker focused, but are a good resource and starting point. There are only two wilderness areas along the route, the Badlands & the Steens. Hart Mountain NWR has bike restrictions, and the rest of the off trail sections are mostly not bike-able. Alternates would need to be found for about half of the current Oregon Desert Trail in order to make a Oregon Desert bike route. This is a new trail and is far from perfect! It is still in it’s fledgling stage and there is a lot of room for us to make it into a great adventure for bikers and hikers alike. Maybe if we put some thought into it now we can avoid the hiker/biker adversity that seems to crop up on some multi-use trails.
The start of the ODT is pretty sandy, and might be more suitable for fat bikes or for seasons while the sand is wet & a little more consolidated (winter and spring). I was impressed with the Horse Ridge area trails and views. The off road vehicle area between Horse Ridge and Pine Mnt. was neat, but SUPER sandy in June when I walked through. Between Pine Mnt. and Christmas Valley I found a mixed bag of riding surfaces, current conditions can be found at the Millican Valley OHV site. Some places were so sandy I could barely stay upright, some were super rocky, and others were good consolidated trail and road. There isn’t much water in this area, so my bike was pretty heavy with 1-2 day water loads.odt – 120
I re-routed off of the designated ODT quite a bit during this first 200 miles in order to find better riding surfaces and water sources. There is a maze of roads and trails in this region, and it will take some time to figure out which ones are the best for bikepacking.
Lost Forest, Burma Rim, and Diablo Peak were all neat features to visit. Anyone going out to these sections needs to be prepared to carry water for 50-75 mile chunks, and deal with challenging riding surfaces. The ODT goes through Wilderness Study Areas in this region, but they all have active roads through them at the moment. Even if wilderness designation comes to this area there should still be some access roads that are not reclaimed. I don’t know a ton about the wilderness plans for this area, but for now it is open to bikes.
Another option to start this bike specific route could be cutting the Badlands/Diablo Mountain out of the picture and following the Oregon Outback route from Bend to Silver Lake. Hooking up with the ODT in Paisley and heading up onto the Fremont National Recreation Trail seems like it would make for a great ride. I think there is a dirt road that travels up on Winter Rim from Silver Lake to Paisley, and it looks like the FNRT starts up near Silver Lake, but I have no idea what the conditions are like.
The FNRT is steep & rugged, but beautiful! I imagine a rider at my skill level (pretty beginner) would be walking my bike for a good chunk of it, but a more advanced rider could probably have a great time out there. South of Moss Pass the trail was not very well maintained last June. There were lots of downed trees that would have made it pretty hard to bike through. Eventually, if the FNRT gets more attention and traffic, hopefully some trail maintenance will happen out there & open the whole thing to bike traffic. For now it would probably be best to re-route on to one of the bazillion dirt roads out there and head east, reconnecting with the ODT at the Sawmill trailhead on the east side of hwy 395.
The off trail section of the ODT on the Abert rim would not be bikable, and the Colvin Timbers area is CRAZY rocky. It seems like staying to the south of Abert Rim and the Coyote Hills and taking a dirt track in to Plush would be the way to go.
Hart Mountain NWR isn’t a wilderness, but they do exclude bikes from the trails. There has got to be a good dirt road from Plush through Fischer Canyon up into the refuge, but I haven’t found it yet. This area provided great riding and there was enough water to drink and hot springs to camp at. With a bit more map research I bet we could create a desirable and legal route through here.
Between Hart Mountain and the Steens the ODT stays north of the main road to French Glen, and parallels Orjana Canyon. This section was bikeable, but not super remarkable. The best thing about it was getting to French Glen for the dinner at the hotel!odt – 169
Coming up with a fun route around the Steens shouldn’t be too hard. Looks like Velodirt took a sweet trip around the range. I have heard a rumor that there is a ranch road from the top of the Steens that goes down to the Alvord Desert, but it would go through some private land if it exists. Staying on the gravel and paved roads here would still provide a scenic ride, and it would be cool to add a spur trip out to Mickey Hot Springs, Alvord Hot Springs, the Alvord Desert dry lake, and Borax Lake.
The Pueblos have some dirt roads that travel through them, though the ODT is mostly off trail here. I met some guys on a dirt road motorcycle tour from the Owyhee through the Pueblos and back to Bend while I was out there. They told me their route in the Pueblos took them by an old plane crash site & popped out at a hot spring near Denio. Sounded cool! I wonder if they have their route published somewhere? Going into the mountains here would be a highlight of the route. It’s hard to get a sense of the Pueblos from the main Fields/Denio road.
The Trout Creeks are full of dirt roads, good views, and a surprising amount of water even though they got torched by the Holloway fire in 2012. The ODT along the crest of the trout creeks is all on old two tracks and dirt roads, but an alternate would need to be found to enter and exit the range.
McDermitt is a good resupply town before dropping off into the Owyhee country. The Ideal Market had almost everything I needed to resupply, and the owner, Ken, was super stoked on hearing about my adventure. There is a small post office there with a really nice post master who was willing to hold onto my general delivery package for a good while. The dining options weren’t too shabby, especially the fry bread taco special from the Shake Shack!
The Owyhee Canyon area has a lot of back roads, and I’m sure at least one parallels the canyon all the way from McDermitt to Lake Owyhee. I bet it would be possible to camp at the river every night, but the rim is pretty harsh, waterless, & shadeless. North of Rome the ODT follows an old road that drops down to the river near Bogus Creek. This area is very cool, as are Leslie Gulch, Birch Creek, Three Fingers, and Willow Gulch. Finding a connecting road or trail in this area might mean doing a lot of out and back riding. The roads go down the canyons in this area & don’t seem to interconnect.
The main road from Lake Owyhee State Park to Adrian is paved, but was an enjoyable ride along the riverside, and there is even a hot spring about half way to town. I could not get to the confluence of the Owyhee and the Snake, as far as I could tell it was surrounded by private property. It was pretty interesting to walk the Owyhee all the way from it’s headwater springs down to where it became a wide, brown, tame irrigation ditch. Though a bike route would wind up being on the rim a bit more, a rider would still get to see the “life” of the Owyhee from start to finish.
Adrian is a pretty neat little town, complete with the funny little Owyhee Grocery to buy a celebratory ice cream on your way to the end of the Owyhee. The Snake seems like a good spot to call a terminus for the ODT, but Boise is easier to get to & might be a logical extension for a bike route.