The journey starts in California, on the stretch of road that leads up to the Oregon border and the town of Lakeview:
Plum Valley Campground to Lakeview and Chandler State Park (85km)
Shops: Davis Creek (corner shop), Lakeview (supermarkets)
Accommodation: New Pine Creek (camping), Lakeview (RV parks, motels)
It’s an easy run into Lakeview, the first major town in Oregon and also the highest town in the state in terms of altitude. The road runs mostly flat or downhill all the way to the state border and then rolling hills take you into Lakeview.
Stop first at the Bureau of Land Management office, just outside of town, to pick up handy maps for the road ahead, then go to the visitor centre in the Chamber of Commerce for more tourist information from the friendly staff, cold water and free internet access. Double check which services are available on Route 395 as things can change quickly and could make a big difference to you, the cyclist, in this difficult terrain.
One interesting thing to note about Lakeview is the number of churches: there are 25 in this small town of just 2,500 people and only 1 bar! That tells you something about the local character.
Enjoy your time in Lakeview because up ahead on the 395 is a particularly desolate, dry stretch of road. When you leave the town, one of the last vestiges of green forest is found in the Chandler State Park, about 25km out of Lakeview. There are picnic tables, bathrooms and water here (but don’t count on the water, it was brown when we visited). It’s day use only but you may be able to tuck your tent away to the side of the park on National Forest land.
Chandler State Park to Wagontire (105km)
Shops: Valley Falls (small shop), Wagontire (restaurant)
Accommodation:Valley Falls (RV park), Wagontire (motel & RV park)
From Chandler State Park, the road runs straight to Valley Falls, your last chance to fill your water bottles before you veer right for the lonely and remote 395 to Burns.
The road weaves along the edge of the Abert Lake – a salty, alkaline body of water that attracts birds with its healthy population of brine shrimp – while the rugged cliffs of the Abert Rim tower above you. From here on in, the scenery gets increasingly dramatic so have your camera ready.
You climb gently to Hogback Summit at 5,033 feet and then cruise down the other side to the Highway Well rest area, with toilets and good quality drinking fountains. By now, you’re totally surrounded by BLM Land, which means you can camp anywhere so somewhere in the vicinity of the rest area would give you easy access to water.
From Highway Well rest area, the landscape gets more and more arid until sand dunes appear just after Alkali Lake, noticable for miles around by the gleaming salt crust on the dried up bed. There’s a Department of Transportation base here, where you could get water in a pinch but it’s fenced and not generally open to the public so consider this an emergency measure only.
A further 22 miles brings you to Wagontire, where the restaurant and motel have recently reopened under new management. The owners are kind and although they’re not really set up for tents (there are no separate shower blocks or toilets), they’ll do all they can to accommodate passing cyclists. They also make a mean apple pie with ice cream, just thing after a hard day on the road!
Wagontire to Burns (90km)
Shops: Riley (small shop), Burns (supermarket)
Accommodation:Burns (RV park, hotels)
From Wagontire, the road drops down to the junction with Route 20 and the dot on the map that is Riley. There’s nothing more than a shop here, with basic supplies and a nice wall filled with pictures of quirky travellers who have come through in the past.
Burns is a rundown lumber town that could do with a good fix-up. Nonetheless, there are a few decent hotels here and truck stops, where you can get a shower and do laundry. There’s also an RV park with shaded areas, just north of Burns on the 395.
Burns to John Day (118km)
Shops: Burns (supermarket), Seneca (small shop), John Day (supermarket)
Accommodation:Burns (RV park, hotels), Seneca (RV park, lodges), John Day (hotels, RV park at fairgrounds), various U.S. Forest Service campgrounds (no water!)
The road climbs gently out of Burns, through a canyon and along the Poison River to the Devine Ridge Summit at 5,340 feet. Near the summit is the Idlewild Campground ($10/site) with a nice picnic area and fire pits but no water.
The road dives down towards the open plains around Silvies and then twists its way to Seneca, a small village with a shop and a small lodge and RV park with cabins. Another easy climb out of Seneca leads to the next summit, where you’ll find Starr Campground ($6/site) but once again there’s no water.
Better value for the night is found in John Day, 15 miles downhill, where you can camp at the fairgrounds for $5 per person, including a shower and electricity. The descent is glorious and it really is downhill all the way to John Day so it’s easy if you’re pooped by the time you get to the summit.
John Day to Ritter Butte Summit (75km)
Shops: John Day (supermarket), Mt. Vernon (small shop)
Accommodation: John Day (hotels, RV park at fairgrounds), Clyde Holliday State Park (12km outside of John Day), Long Creek (hotel).
The flat terrain out of John Day only lasts past the Clyde Holliday State Park (hiker-biker sites, electricity and showers as well as teepees!) to Mt. Vernon, where the 395 turns immediately uphill towards the first of 3 peaks on your path, Beech Creek Summit at 4,708 feet. It’s a steady and moderately strenuous climb, with a few shaded areas where you can pull over and recover.
The forests open up into plains around Fox, a village that’s a shadow of its former self with decaying buildings, a solitary church and a long-since closed shop. From Fox it’s straight up to another peak and then down again into Long Creek. Until recently there was a cafe and shop here but both have closed and unless the community regenerates all you can count on finding is a post office and some water.
From Long Creek, the road bobs up and town, topping out at the Ritter Butte Summit, where a small county road leads off to the left. The land around this road isn’t fenced and it offers some of the best possibility in the area for free camping, with a fine view of the valley that plunges towards the John Day River.
Ritter Butte Summit to Ukiah (50km)
Shops: Dale (small shop), Ukiah (several small shops)
Accommodation: Meadow Brook (RV park just after the peak), Ukiah (state park 1 mile from town, motels in town)
You’re off to a flying start from the peak at Ritter Butte all the way down to the gushing John Day river, a drop that lasts 6km. Over the next 10km you recover all the height you lost to arrive at Meadow Brook Summit and coast into Dale.
Butch and Charlene run the shop in Dale and you’ll find a friendly welcome here as well as a willingness to help with whatever you need or just have a good chat. There are some basic groceries here and a pot of coffee is always on the go.
The scenery is at its best between Dale and Ukiah, on a road that winds its way along the river and beneath towering hills and cliffs. Keep an eye out for deer, antelope, bears and cougars. You’re almost certain to see a deer and catching a glimpse of bigger game isn’t out of the question.
Just before Ukiah is the Ukiah-Dale State Park, where primitive campsites cost $8. There aren’t any showers but there’s plenty of water, wood and fire rings so it’s a nice place to stop and relax before the final stretch to Pendleton. If you need supplies, Ukiah town is about 4km away and you’ll find a few shops and cafes there, as well as a U.S. forest service office.
Ukiah to Pendleton (85km)
Shops: Ukiah (several small shops), Pendleton (supermarkets)
Accommodation: Pendleton (hotels, motels, Mountain View RV Park, $18.75, Brooke RV Park $10)
It’s a quick and mostly downhill run into Pendleton on the last of Route 395. The only significant hill in your way is Battle Mountain, shortly after Ukiah, and once over the top you’re leaving the cool forests behind for the dry plains as you descend steadily.
It can be pretty hot out here during the summer and there’s no water after you leave Ukiah so fill your bottles and cover up before you head out.
The bad news for campers is that the RV parks are dire. The cheaper ones are very basic and, frankly, dodgy, while the KOA campground at the top of the hill near the interstate is little more than a big, treeless parking lot. On a hot day, you’ll fry out here. At least it has decent showers and free wireless internet access. If you’re going to splurge on a hotel, this might be a good place to do it.
Pendleton to Walla Walla (65km)
Shops: Pendleton (supermarkets), Athena (small shop), Milton-Freewater (supermarket), Walla Walla (supermarkets)
Accommodation: Pendleton (hotels, motels, Mountain View RV Park, $18.75, Brooke RV Park $10), Walla-Walla (RV park, motels, hotels, B&Bs)
For the first day in a long time, you leave Route 395 and turn instead onto Route 11 towards Walla Walla. Traffic levels are a bit busier than the 395 but there’s a good shoulder and so it’s all very manageable.
The road dips and dives a bit into Milton-Freewater, a town that’s taken the humble frog as its symbol. You’ll see frog statues all over town.
From here, it’s a really quick run into Washington State. Just as you approach the border, watch for Stateline Road on your right. Take that, then the first left on Pepper (turns into Peppers Bridge). Make a right turn on Old Milton Hwy. Stay on this road as it curves north and becomes Plaza Way. Go right on Prospect, left on Howard and that will take you into the downtown on fairly quiet roads.
Walla Walla is a fun town, with a few good bike shops and a lively downtown. Relax and enjoy!
Want to carry on reading? Go on to the Washington & Idaho section of the notes.