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Take a ride on the ‘Grande Tour’, Oregon’s newest Scenic Bikeway

Posted by on April 9th, 2012 at 10:34 am

Grand Tour: From La Grande to Cove

Riding the new Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway.
(Photos by Kristin Dahl/Travel Oregon)

In case you missed it, the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department released their ninth Scenic Bikeway last week. The Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway is a 134 mile, figure-eight loop between Baker City and La Grande that winds between the Wallowa and Whitman National Forests in eastern Oregon.

The Scenic Bikeway program was made into law back in 2008 and the first route, the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, was designated a year later. These routes, while they don’t come with physical infrastructure changes, are the backbone of Oregon’s larger effort to become the premier bicycle touring destination in America.

As part of the route selection committee, Kristin Dahl with Travel Oregon got a sneak peek at the Grande Tour route back in June of 2010. She’s given us permission to share some of the photographs she took on that ride…

We’ll start out heading south from La Grande into the sweet little town of Cove, Oregon (pop. 594 or so)…

Grand Tour: From La Grande to Cove

From La Grande to Cove
Grand Tour: From La Grande to Cove

Welcome to Cove!

Grand Tour: Entering Cove

Outside of Cove, the route winds on to the town of Union…

Grand Tour: From Cove to Union

Onward to Baker City, the land becomes forested through Catherine Creek…

Grand Tour: From Union to Baker City via Catherine Creek

Chatting with a local in Pondosa…

Grand Tour: From Union to Baker City via Catherine Creek

Wide open spaces and skies are what eastern Oregon does best…

Grand Tour: From Union to Baker City via Catherine Creek

For cue sheets, camping details, maps, and more info on this and all the other scenic bikeways, spend some time on OregonScenicBikeways.org.

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  • dan April 9, 2012 at 10:51 am

    nice eastern oregon stoke, thanks!

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  • A.K. April 9, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Do they pick these routes based on (the lack of) vehicle traffic? How many cars would you expect to see on these types of routes? I’d love to do a few this summer…

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    • Alex April 9, 2012 at 4:26 pm

      Scenic Bikeway criteria filters for the most bikeable and scenic roads. The highest average daily traffic load (the way ODOT measures these things) you will find on the Grande Tour is 5,000 cars a day in La Grande. Most of the roads are the route are far less, about 1,500 average daily traffic load. In comparison, highway 30 near Troutdale is 3,000-5,000. All that to say you won’t see much traffic out there.

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      • A.K. April 10, 2012 at 9:37 am

        Thanks for the info!

        Does ODOT make traffic counts they do for all roads publicly available in some sort of semi-convenient manner?

        I spend a lot of time looking at roads in Google Maps wondering if they are high volume or nearly deserted, with no real way to tell.

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  • Cary Mallon April 9, 2012 at 11:31 am

    The fantastic riding in this area isn’t limited to this route. I’ve had the pleasure of both touring and racing in this area. The traffic can be pretty light.

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  • Cary Mallon April 9, 2012 at 11:38 am

    I almost forgot, if you go out that way make to stop at the Oregon Trail Interpretive center near Baker. You can see wagon ruts made by the pioneers.

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  • GlowBoy April 9, 2012 at 11:55 am

    My understanding is that these routes are indeed chosen partly based on low vehicle traffic (and/or adequate shoulders to ride with moderate traffic, something most Oregon highways sadly lack).

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  • oskarbaanks April 9, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Any thoughts on clockwise or counterclockwise with this loop? I want to o ride it midweek. thanks.

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    • Alex April 9, 2012 at 12:34 pm

      The cue sheet and mileage markers on the maps are placed counterclockwise so that might be the easier way to ride- no need to “convert” that way. Either way should be a great ride.

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  • adventure! April 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Good to see that you posted this again, as your initial mention last week got overwhelmed by the NPR piece.

    I’ve done a little riding out here, and most of the roads are low traffic due to I-84 sucking up most of the through traffic. Beautiful area! I loved having the Elkhorn Range of the Blue Mountains on one side and the Wallowas on the other. La Grande and Baker City are small cities that have all the services a bike tourist would want, including bike shops and a nice food co-op in Baker City.

    What would make it better? If we could get Amtrak to reinstate service through this area. It’s been fifteen years since they discontinued the Pioneer, which went from Seattle/Portland to Salt Lake City and onward to Chicago. It would be great to be able to hop on a train from Portland’s Union Station and get off in either Baker City or La Grande. It’s great that we’re getting more great bike touring options in this state. Now if we can get ways to get to them other than driving…

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    • jram April 9, 2012 at 12:47 pm

      my thoughts exactly. if i could ride the train, i’d put that ride much higher on my to-do list. It looks beautiful though. carpooling isn’t a bad option, but there’s something about doing bike touring trips car free that makes it great.

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      • Andyc April 9, 2012 at 1:32 pm

        Whoa! that PIONEER line sounds great. Guess I just missed ever riding that. I know for one I always bemoan driving somewhere out of the city, and looking at rails right next to the highway, as we make our way with our bikes.

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    • Bill April 9, 2012 at 1:58 pm

      Greyhound does have daily service to both La Grande and Baker City. Not that they have the best bike policy, but it is an option…


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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 9, 2012 at 2:09 pm

        I see a great biz opportunity for someone in La Grande or Baker City… Set up a bike rental shop near the Greyhound station maybe?

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        • adventure! April 9, 2012 at 7:30 pm

          I don’t think there are true “Greyhound” stations out there, at least not in Baker City. I didn’t use it, but I met a fellow cyclist there who needed to cut his trip short due to knee issues. The Greyhound depot was the typical “meet in front of the gas station off the Interstate” scenario. As for bringing the bike on board, he was told he needed to box it. Since there was no “station” there, he had to get a box from the bike shop a couple miles away. And the bike shop opened less than an hour before his bus was to depart. Talk about quandary.

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    • Chris I April 9, 2012 at 2:10 pm

      This train would also serve the Gorge. It could stop in Hood River, The Dalles, etc. If it were timed properly, it could link up with the California Zephyr in Salt Lake City, and operate with two small trainsets.

      Depart SLC at 1:00pm (Zephyr gets in at 11:05pm) – Arrive PDX around 2pm the next day. Continue on to Seattle, and overnight there.
      Back down from Seattle in the morning, depart PDX at 10am – Arrive SLC at around 11pm (Zephyr gets into SLC at 3am).

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  • GlowBoy April 9, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Ooh, Baker City has a food co-op? How come I didn’t know that?

    The Pioneer was a great route, and I was bummed that I never got to ride it. Beyond Baker City, it continued on to Boise, and Salt Lake city, and ultimately Denver (and possibly beyond? can’t remember). Talk about some great possibilities.

    I’m fortunate to have a folding bike suitable for touring, but you’re still not getting me on The Dog.

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  • Tim April 10, 2012 at 8:49 am

    We spent a week riding in various parts of eastern Oregon last September. Great very low volume roads with wide dry skys and mountains.

    Along with this route I recommend the the Elkhorn loop from Sumpter to Anthony lakes to Baker and loop back to Sumpter. It could be combined with the Grande Tour for some extra climbing.

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  • Evan April 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    I’ve ridden the Baker City-Union-Catherine Creek loop many times. It’s the same as the Friday route for the Elkhorn Classic. Outside of the towns you could do the whole 85+ mile loop and see less than 20 cars.

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  • Brad Hawkins April 10, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    I grew up on a farm between La Grande and Union. It’s a magical place. While in Cove, go the public pool where it’s heated by a spring and there are rocks at the deep end instead of concrete. In Union, an original Andrew Carnegie library forms the center of town right by Catherine Creek (pronounced “crick” out there). On the way, back, if you don’t mind a little gravel, turn left after Union and take Foothill Road out Union, turn left at Hot Lake Hotel, then follow it around the edge of the valley. It will be about 6-8 miles of two-three rutted gravel but you will see elk and plenty of coyotes and goes through a wild life refuge.

    Medical Springs HWY will be a high point of the trip. It’s lovely.

    You can also take the Summerville road north to Elgin and then cruise south to Lower Cove Road if you want to go longer.

    When I was kicked off the school bus for bad behavior, my parents would make me ride my bike to school, about 8 miles along Pierce Lane. that’s a nice, flat road too.

    I don’t know the North Powder-Baker section but I’m looking forward to riding that part this summer.

    This will be so much fun and you can expect to take kids on most of it

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