My Favorite Route

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My Favorite Route – The Painted Hills

The My Favorite Route series has been a look back at the memorable and iconic routes of Cycle Oregon events but with the dawn of an eagerly anticipated New Year we’d like to offer a look at what’s hopefully to come. To clip in and roll off into 2021 let’s look ahead to someday in the future at Day 5 of the “Ride the Painted Hills” Classic. It’s a layover day with three ride options, community projects and leisure time in Mitchell, or just a quick ramble from camp to take in all that geologic color. On a cold, quiet day in between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and following strict social distancing protocols, we hopped aboard a gravel e-bike to spend the day chasing the winter color of the Painted Hills.

Burnt Ranch Road is paved for the first 6 miles en route to the Painted Hills Unit from Hwy 26. Undulating rollers and curves abound with smooth, fresh pavement and light traffic. If you’re in a hurry to see the Painted Hills you’ll be able to rocket down this road.

To add a further twist, we’re not going to look at an entire day’s route but rather a segment shared among the routes and certainly a location everyone will flock to, Burnt Ranch Road. Just under a two-mile pedal from camp, Burnt Ranch Road starts as smooth, fresh pavement with an undulating but fast-riding profile. At The Painted Hills Unit intersection with Bear Creek Road the journey on Burnt Ranch Road beyond is gravel.

A little over seven miles from camp is the turnoff for the Painted Hills viewpoint. To the left of this sign Burnt Ranch Road turns to gravel as it parallels Bridge Creek to the John Day River. To the right is smooth asphalt and undulating curves back to Hwy 26. Bear Creek Road is gravel leading up to and all around the Painted Hills viewpoint.

Now, “gravel” in contemporary cycling culture can mean a myriad of different conditions and here you can expect a well-maintained, mostly compacted dirt surface. Sections of loose gravel are common and washboard braking bumps crop up preceding curves and descents as one might imagine. Unlike many rural gravel roads, though, Burnt Ranch Road is very wide and flat across the grade, offering multiple lines, and has good line of sight. It’s important to have good equipment here, 32c tires or larger in our opinion, and to have some experience riding off pavement. If gravel is new for you, the route to the Painted Hills Overlook and nearby viewpoints will be a great way to experience leaving the pavement.

The Painted Hills by bike is a truly exceptional experience and not just from how it stirs the soul. There’s that extra special something from the look on people’s faces at the Overlook viewpoint as you reply with a simple “Yes” to their seemingly crazy question of “Did you really ride here on a bike?”. Cycle Oregonians know that look, it’s just how we roll, right? Best way to see Oregon, no doubt.

Bear Creek Road heads Southwest to the main Overlook, Painted Cove Trail, Leaf Hill Trail, and Red Hill Trail access points. It’s a pleasant grade with big views on either side.
Drink it in, those views never get old.
Red Hill Trail is aptly named for what you can expect to find.
Along the route to Red Hill Trail are these stunning yellow and gold hills. On a winter day these colors just might stand out as the most memorable.
There’s likely no better platform for electric pedal assist than a gravel bike and on a winter day the boost is a big help in supporting cold muscles to go farther. Stay tuned for more reporting on this subject in 2021.
Sure, the main viewpoint is the picture postcard image but scan the horizon as you roll along and you’ll find incredible sights all over. The small circle in the center of this hill was alive with a rich, colorful kaleidoscope gradient. There are subtle colors present here in winter not seen in the popular summer months.
This has got to be what the person who first created the hashtag #roadslikethese had in mind. Even on a savagely cold day the road called to keep going and it never disappointed with what was just beyond.
Twickenham-Bridge Creek Cutoff Road connects to Burnt Ranch Road from the Northeast along a stunning route of picturesque turns.
Even on a seemingly average part of a Bear Creek Road the color of a random hillside amazes the eyes.
Mitchell is a bike-friendly town year round.

Travel Oregon’s Places to Go: Mitchell, Oregon

Travel Oregon Destinations: The Painted Hills

Spoke’n Hostel / Mitchell, Oregon

Cycle Oregon Classic


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