Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway named Oregon’s 15th official route

Posted by on February 24th, 2016 at 2:29 pm

Treo Bike Ranch trip Day 2 - John Day River Valley-36

A section of the route just east of Spray on the John Day Highway.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

A state parks advisory committee that met in Salem today voted to officially designate the Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway. The new bikeway becomes the 15th route in the scenic bikeways program which is administered by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

The 130-mile route is made up of a loop and three spurs bordered by the John Day River on the east, the Ochoco Mountain to the south and the Warm Springs Tribal Area to the west.


(Photo: Travel Oregon)



Here’s more from the route description:

The Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway meanders through the multi-colored John Day Fossil Beds on 130 miles that connect the small communities of Fossil, Service Creek, Spray, Kimberly and Mitchell and the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Viewed from your bicycle seat, you can see millions of years of history revealed in the layers of earth, one color at a time.

The hills get their name from the delicately colored stratifications in the soil—ribbons of yellows, gold’s, blacks, and reds formed millions of years ago by shifting volcanic islands. The ancient plant and wood fossils found here reveal 50 million years of animal evolution. You’ll ride through land were early cousins of elephants and rhinos once roamed.

The Bikeway is a loop made up of a series of hilly, remote out-and-back rides through high desert. One stretch runs along 20 miles of the John Day River, and another treats you to views of the Sutton Mountain Wilderness Study Area.

You can start and end your ride in any of the communities on the Bikeway; each has amenities and supplies, plus a small town to explore. Many parks and interpretive areas along the route have restrooms and drinking water. The moment you leave town, you’ll savor the solitude – it’s just you, your bicycle, the sounds of the birds and the glorious views.

If you’ve never visited the Painted Hills area, now’s the time to plan your trip. And with a bikeway designation you’ll have all the info you need to do it by bike.

The scenic bikeways program aims to highlight the very best bike routes in Oregon as a way to promote regional tourism and economic development. Each route comes with detailed maps, camping and service information, and route-finding signage. Learn more at

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

BikePortland can’t survive without paid subscribers. Please sign up today.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

20 thoughts on “Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway named Oregon’s 15th official route”

  1. I rode that last year! I’ve been out to Shaniko before but never PH. So much fun.

    The roads in PH are gravel, so I tossed the fredbike on my, ah, support vehicle.

    1. Avatar Scott says:

      Speaking of gravel, this route is a loop with three arms. I’m not familiar enough with the area to know, but I wonder whether there a gravel routes to turn those arms into more loops.

      1. Avatar SilkySlim says:

        Definitely worthy of investigation. Also, this route is “adjacent” to the Old West Scenic Bikeway, which is a loop itself.

        I think it is very clear what I’m doing this morning over coffee (not work!).

  2. Avatar Tim says:

    Twichenham is one of my favorite rides of all time. Got to love the name too.

    Don’t miss the pie at Service creek.

  3. Avatar Granpa says:

    Be aware that during the weekend of June 17-19 the BMW motorcycle riders of Oregon hold their annual rally in John Day. About 700 motorcycles will be plying the roads in this area and many ride briskly. I have confidence that these are aware and skilled operators, Cyclists might be surprised by the quiet thumbing of a rapidly approaching, and quickly passing German touring motorcycle.

    1. Avatar SilkySlim says:

      Good heads up. In my years of touring, motorcycle riders have proven to be unfailingly friendly on the roads, but they can be loud in packs of 100+!

      1. Avatar Granpa says:

        Harley Davidson motorcycles are annoyingly loud and the riders have a herd mentality. BMW motorcycles are quiet and packs of riders are usually small.

  4. Avatar Jrdpdx says:

    Not going to be spending my money in the county that elects Sheriff Glen Palmer. Beautiful area that is off my list now

    1. Avatar Scott says:

      This ride is not in Grant County. It is in Wheeler Country.

      1. Avatar Jrdpdx says:

        Dang, please ignore my mistake, good to know

  5. Avatar Mike Quiglery says:

    ***Comment deleted. Mike, we value your comments but please refrain from stereotypes and insulting labels. Thanks. – Jonathan.***

  6. Avatar spencer says:

    $5 / night camping in mitchell city park, bar closes early

    1. there’s also a private Service Creek Campground, which is a great place to stay. It was a ghost town last year- the owner lady lives up the highway a little ways, we only saw her once. There was one other couple in the park, so about two dozen empty spaces. Kinda nice.

      Up the hill a few miles from the Service Creek intersection.

      1. found it. Big Sarvice Corral. (yes, Sarvice). Number 5 on the Painted Hills campground map. $10 or so a night, bathrooms and water; tents go on gravel (it seems). There’s a covered facility with fridges and stoves and a picnic table, we didn’t use it.

  7. Avatar Emily says:

    Is there somewhere along the route that would be the ideal starting point? Somewhere where it would be ok to leave a car for a few days? I am thinking of starting in Richmond and doing each spur, other than the top spur to the Clarno Unit. Can anyone advise?

    1. You could definitely leave it at Big Sarvice. But honestly you could probably leave your car ANYWHERE, especially if a local knows it’s your car.

  8. Avatar Evan says:

    I’ve ridden most of that and can report it is fabulous. I would add that the ride from Kimberly to Long Creek is KILLER. And the woman who runs the hotel in Long Creek is super nice.

  9. Avatar ER says:

    A question – are any sections of this amazing ride ‘kid friendly’? We will be camping in the area and wondering if we should bring our bikes. Not too keen on riding on highways with a trail-a-bike. Thank you

    1. The purple sections from 28 to 48 are good, it’s a backroad with little traffic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *