Go to Hell……………… on a Motorcycle !
Hells Canyon Motorcycle Trip
As I sit here in the winter thinking about a Hells Canyon motorcycle trip, it makes me want to go back again. Dèjá-dèjá-Vu as we made this very hot trip on the 4th of July weekends in 2014 & 2015. We covered some different routes and stops so this post is a conglomeration of both. Getting out on a holiday weekend is generally fraught with crowed highways and already booked hotel rooms, all of which has made me just stay home…..until we bought the motorcycle. Now, it’s a free four day weekend and we’re going somewhere, and while I highly recommend this trip, we’ve had enough and will be looking elsewhere for July 2016.
Eastern Oregon is let’s say remote…..it’s absolutely gorgeous and with so many great motorcycle roads that you have to choose which ones to ride…….it’s a long way from anywhere. The map above is one way to make the loop and from our house that is a little over 700 miles. Herein lies the reason that even on the 4th of July, the roads are sparsely traveled and nowhere is really that busy. Motels are still a bit in demand only because they are few to begin with, nice ones are……well there’s like two of them.
All mileages are from Prineville
Gas – Cafe
Just before you reach town watch for the sign to the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. One of the, “7 Wonders of Oregon” you do not want to miss this quick stop-over. It’s a few miles on decent pavement and then a half mile of so on good gravel. The colors in an other wise drab landscape will blow you away and there is one of our favorite picnic areas with lawn and plenty of shade, water and bathrooms too. It may be years before you come this way again, don’t miss this stop!
Gas – Cafe
Here we’ll be turning North on US 395. On the corner is an unbranded station that has gas (Non-Eth), if you prefer there is a Chevron about a half mile ahead (still on Hwy 26). Come back to 395 to continue.
Gas – Old Time store
Dale is a old-time favorite of mine from childhood and I think it’s worth the stop just to walk through the store. If you want to impress the owner, ask about the, “Mynah bird.” The bird has been gone for over 40 years, but he’s a legend. This is primarily a resupply stop for winter Elk hunters and back in the day the talking bird would say, ” Stupid @#%&ing elk hunters.” I can only guess that’s what the owner said so many times the bird picked it up. The current owner lives just behind the station, and if you’re desperate for fuel, he will probably open up for you after hours. If that’s the case, please tip him well.
Gas – Small Grocery
If you’re looking for a picnic site, Dayville has a nice park on the left before you cross the John Day River. After Dayville is, “Picture Gorge” a narrow twisty canyon section of road that is notorious for rocks in the road and cars crossing the center line, all blind corners. Beware!
At the bottom of a long winding hill you arrive at Long Creek with a gas station and a few snacks. A treeless valley with not much to see, but you’re headed back up and into the forest shortly. I have found if you need to make a call (Verizon) you can stop on near the top of the hill climbing out and get service.
Gas – Small Store – Motel
Ukiah is less than 60 miles to La Grande, on a wonderful road along the Grande Ronde River through heavy canopied trees. The sun can be distracting as you go from bright light to shade and back again. Not a lot to say about Ukiah itself, we’ve never stopped but if you’re running out of fuel, for you or the bike it has a little bit of what you need.
Hell’s Canyon Motorcycle Trip
The Next Phase Begins Here – Basecamp La Grande
I guess most people are going to want to stay up at Wallowa Lake (Joseph) to get the full experience, there are cabins and some motel rooms, reservations are definitely required. We, being semi-locals have chosen to get a room in La Grande and ride out, either way works, it is 75 miles one way to Joseph. Between La Grande and Joseph are several small communities all of which have a 4th of July parade…..we managed to be in most of them. Small town Americana, the people all know each other as they line the main street (Hwy) with lawn chairs……we waived and they waived back, it was kinda cool as we brought up the rear of each parade as we passed.
Lostine holds their big annual event, “The Flea Market” all the way through town. Both sides of the highway are vendor booths, and for about a half-mile it’s a traffic jam 🙂 Otherwise you’re in Nez Piece County, rolling hills of farmland before you start into the Blue Mountains with more forest and streams, it just doesn’t get anymore beautiful.
Grande Ronde River
Bronze Art work lines the main street
We spent an entire day wandering.
Don’t miss the chocolate factory
Or the coffee roaster
Lots of places to eat outside
You can always rent a pedal powered railroad car !
One the largest Bronze foundry’s in the US is in Joseph…..Hey Cowboy
They want everyone to be comfortable in Joseph !
Wallowa Lake from the tram to top of Mt. Howard
Wallowa Lake is either a requisite side trip from Joseph, or it’s your lodging destination.
Motorcycle Only parking is very much appreciated
Hiking trails Top of the tram – Mt. Howard Looking into the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
Highway to Hell
This the motorcycle road you came here to ride ! Click on the link above for a detailed description, or just get on and head out of Joseph. I don’t have GoPro footage, but I will tell you to be on the lookout for that first turn off, we were looking and we still missed it. It’s not well marked and from what i hear most people go right by. If you’re looking you will probably realize it before you go too far. If you go too far you will reach the town of Imnaha, which isn’t a bad ride either. So be watching for the green road sign at a right only intersection. If you decided (on purpose or otherwise to go to Imnaha, you could go to Hat Point (7000′), the highest overlook of the deepest gorge in North America. Yes, Hell’s Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon (it’s still no match), but the road to Hat Point is 24 miles of gravel, it’s very narrow (could be scary for some) and as usual people drive like idiots. It would be highly recommended if you’re on a dual-sport.
The year we made the loop, the main road was under re-construction and we still rode over 14 miles of gravel, so if you really don’t want to get off the pavement check road conditions before you go! Of the paved variety is the Hell’s Canyon Overlook, a short, steep and worthwhile jaunt off the main route.
You won’t see the Snake River from here. Looking across Idaho at, “7 Devils” mountain range.
Oxbow & Snake River or …..
When you reach the “T” at Hwy 86 you can choose to go Left and onto the Snake River, where if you ride for awhile will find Oxbow Dam and can cross the river into Idaho…….it was HOT. This was the year before we decided to buy cooling vests, and we were cooking at around 100 degrees. We went Right and headed for Baker CIty and the Oregon Trail National Monument (Air-Conditioned) venue. The community of, “Halfway” famous from the DOT.COM era for being paid to rename itself, “Half.com.” Back to it’s old self of Halfway, it’s got a store to pick up some cold water.
Behind Karla you can see the Blue Mountains. Below, the original ruts of the Oregon trail are still there.
Don’t miss, the, “Other” museum in Baker City
I can’t say which is better, the National Monument or the museum at Baker, but you don’t want to miss the local one. Well funded and much, much larger than you expect, they have great exhibits. I admit, I have driven by this all my life and never stopped, but now highly recommend this one.
Two floors of exhibits
Rocks under Black Light
So many displays
Everyone loves Baker…..maybe it’s because of having relatives in the area and going there so much as a kid, I don’t see it. But, it is along I-84 so there are lots of services (a few good motels & gas, grocery etc.) for the traveler. It has a very well preserved historic downtown, with the Geiser Grand Hotel as a center piece.
Headed out of town, if you haven’t seen enough history stop by the town of Sumpter and see the dredge. Use caution in the parking lot, it’s gravel and not super bike friendly, but doable.
Photo stolen from www.hauntedmansions.com They say it’s haunted……
See the dredge that once floated over the entire valley, you will then understand why the landscape looks as it does.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Sheep Rock Unit
If you really want to go back in time, visit the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. This working Paleontology Center covers a time from 44 Million years ago to 7 Million years past. Not very big, but interesting to say the least….and it’s the nearest air-conditioning you will find out here in the desert. 🙂
That’s all folks ! Remember, we combined two trips in this post, you can’t see it all on a single 4 day weekend, but go at least once for the highlights. Eastern Oregon is remote, hot in the desert, pleasant in the mountains and beautiful all around.
Life is short – Start living Now
Random dog photo…What I do when I’m not riding, writing or working.