Bikepacking Oregon’s Deschutes River Trail

The Deschutes River Trail is a great place to start bikepacking.

Bicycle Adventurers: LeeAnn made this solo adventure to test drive the route for an “Introduction to Bike Touring and Bikepacking for Women” presentation for her local chapter of the Outdoors Women’s Alliance.

When: Spring 2017

Accommodations: Dispersed camping

Distance: An easy, relatively flat 12 miles out and 12 miles back with options for the tour to be shorter or longer.

Bonus tip for this adventure: No cars, fun side hikes, explorations of the old Harris Homestead ruins, petroglyphs, spring wildflowers galore, salmon fishing, and the stunning views from within the Deschutes River canyon!

Day One

Recently I’ve been feeling the need to unplug from life and people and do some solo soul searching. I don’t know why, but I very rarely see women bike touring, let alone doing it by themselves. While I’ve done plenty of solo mountain biking, hiking, and international traveling, I haven’t done a ton of solo bike touring. Since I was getting ready to give a presentation introducing women to bike touring and bikepacking, I wanted to make sure that I had firsthand experience of all the beginner-friendly routes I was providing in the presentation. 

The Deschutes River Trail, located at Oregon’s Deschutes River State Recreation Area, was highlighted by Oregon Bikepacking as the quintessential beginner bikepacking route, so I decided to make it a solo, sub-24-hour, bikepacking trip. It did not disappoint. While the terrain is about as easy as dirt road touring gets, the spring flowers were exploding in the canyon and everything glowed green in this usually brown desert landscape. Even the weather gave me a break ... I had encountered hail and torrential downpours on the drive up and stubbornly trusted the weather forecast which said it would only be “cloudy and windy.” I managed not to get rained on at all and even had a few glorious stretches in the sun. 

The route is basically a double-track dirt road with railroad grades that follow the Lower Deschutes River. It is mostly compacted dirt with some rocky bits that a front suspension would have smoothed out. Overall, really lovely, easy riding. I had a fair amount of company in the form of hikers and backpackers, which thinned out around seven or eight miles in. It wasn’t until much later that I saw two other bikepackers, one with dog in tow in a trailer. 

Depending on the source you read, this trail runs about 17 or 19 miles one way. So around mile 12, I decided to start looking for a nice spot to camp. I wanted to spend the afternoon losing myself in a new book and just enjoying the solitude. It wasn’t too long until I found a nice flat spot right along the river. 

A few hours later, I emerged from my book, made a simple dinner of soba noodles with mushrooms and seaweed, and snuggled into my tent. I drifted off to sleep and had one of the best sleeps I’ve had in a very long time.

Day Two

Dawn came early and the birds gently woke me up as the first light came over the canyon. I took my time to pack up and roll out. I chuckled as I passed by another campsite just half a mile down the road from mine ... there was a sexy touring bike next to the tent, its occupant still snoozing. Then a few more miles down, another bike tourist was towing his pup in a trailer back towards the trailhead. I settled easily into the rhythm of working my way back to the trailhead and made it back in no time at all.

Your favorite local bike shop? Dalles City Cyclery, 121 E 2nd St., The Dalles, Oregon 97058

Bike overnight tips and tricks? 

  • The overnight parking area is right at the entrance of the Deschutes River State Recreation Area, but the self-pay station is where you pay for campsites. The trailhead is right off the overnight parking area. 
  • There are more luxurious campsites maintained by the BLM with pit toilets in the first seven or so miles of the trail, but I wanted to get away from people. These sites are also often used by rafting companies. There is a map at the trailhead which marks where all the camping is, and where the ones where pit toilets are. Speaking of which, check the boater schedule if you relish peace and quiet. Overnight raft trips run from Maupin and share the same campsites. 
  • Bring extra bike tubes and/or a patch kit ... I saw multiple warnings about the infamous puncture vine both in write-ups and on the trail. I was lucky but also being aware of staying away from any pokey looking plants. 
  • I carried all my own water for this overnighter. The Lower Deschutes River contains agricultural runoff and is generally not fit for drinking even with a filter except in an emergency!

Keep up with LeeAnn at kungfubykride.blogspot.com. And check her earlier submission from Oregon: Classic Car-Free Cascades: An out-and-back overnighter in Oregon’s Cascade Range.

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HOW ABOUT YOU? Inspire others by submitting your own bike overnight adventure!

1 response so far ↓

Bobby Mo - Jul 16, 2017 at 2:51 PM

Great photos & story! Thanks.

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