Derek and I first rode this mixed gravel/paved route back in 2016 and loved it. Since then, Dirty Freehub has produced a modified route that adds on a section down to Priest Hole and around. It’s a great route but not for novice gravel riders. If you are new to gravel I’d stick to the main Twickenham loop and not add on the Priest Hole part because the gravel is thick and chunky. Our loop was 42.2 miles with 3654′ of climbing.
Under brilliant blue skies and warm temps we set off from the John Day Painted Hills Visitor Center on our gravel bikes for a great ride. The first part is a gentle paved climb back towards Mitchell, OR with Bridge Creek running along beside the road. The first gravel section comes around 5.7 miles and lasts for a few miles. Again, the climb isn’t steep and this section bridges over to highway 207. Sure it’s a highway, but there is VERY little traffic through these pasturelands.
The next part is my favorite. After turning left at Girds Creek Rd we twisted and turned down this narrow road that blasts down the canyon. It’s amazing scenery with small, rugged cliffs and jagged rock wall formations the whole way. I’ve ridden up this canyon several times and that at least affords you even more time to admire the beauty of the area but bombing down is sooooo fun!
Eventually we reached the John Day River and the next long gravel segment. The views of the river are excellent and the rolling hills seemed to go more quickly than I remember and we turned right to get down to Priest Hole. The gravel here is rough so I’d recommend skipping this section if you aren’t comfortable on loose chunky gravel. The water level down here was lower than we had ever seen but still worth the look. The climb out is a steep in spots and rough as you climb up and away from the river.
Eventually we met back up with Burnt Ranch Road and finished off with the ride with some fast gravel sections along more farmlands. Afterwards we headed up to the overlook to get some more pictures of the painted hills. Last time we did this ride it was spring so our pictures were really different.
Overall, this ride was as fun as remembered!