Motorcyclists interested in “the road less traveled” — free of heavy traffic — will find the sights, curves, forests and rock formations in Grant County a breath of fresh air.
Whether on a Harley Davidson, BMW, Yamaha or Suzuki, riders say they enjoy the friendly atmosphere of the people.
Alice LeBarron, president of BMW Riders of Oregon, sponsors the long-standing Chief Joseph Motorcycle Rally in John Day. She said the group enjoys its rides in the area.
“I hear it over and over,” she said. “The community is so welcoming.”
Jay Bennett leads riders on various tours through the area during the rally. He said one of his favorite routes is the Middle Fork Ride, a 124-mile loop. They start in John Day and head east on Highway 26 through Prairie City and Austin Junction. They turn left onto Oregon 7 and travel 1.1 miles, then turn left onto Middle Fork Lane (County Road 20), motoring for 39 miles alongside the Middle Fork John Day River, which travels through a spot called Galena. At Highway 395, they take a left turn and go 13 miles to the town of Long Creek and another 29 miles to Mt. Vernon, where a left turn is taken on Highway 26 back to John Day, 8 miles away.
Bennett said he enjoys this particular ride for its peaceful scenery and clean roads, generally free of gravel or fallen rocks.
Locals and visitors alike enjoy an 87-mile loop that takes them from John Day, south on Highway 395 up Canyon Creek, 23 miles to Seneca where they turn left on Forest Road 16.
The road goes through Logan Valley on the back side of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. After 25 miles and a bend in the road, another left turn is taken onto Forest Road 62, the Summit Prairie Road. That 23-mile stretch leads to Prairie City. Forest Road 62 becomes Bridge Street where another left is taken on Highway 26 to travel west 16 miles to John Day.
Doug Carpenter of Prairie City said it’s a great ride up through the mountains, and there are places to stop along the way.
“You’re out there, enjoying, relaxing and cruising and looking around,” he said.
As with any route through Eastern Oregon, riders must be on the lookout for wildlife at all times, but especially in the morning and evening hours. Motorcyclists must also start with a full tank of gas.
One ride surrounded by stunning geological features takes riders west on Highway 26 through Picture Gorge. It’s a 31-mile trip to Dayville. After continuing 7 miles, a right turn in Picture Gorge onto Oregon 19 leads to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument’s Sheep Rock Unit. The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, Blue Basin Overlook and Foree trailhead are along the 18-mile route to Kimberly.
Riders can then turn around to return the way they came, or continue the loop from Kimberly on Highway 402, traveling 14 miles to Monument, then another 21 miles to Long Creek. In Long Creek, riders turn right on Highway 395 and travel 29 miles to Mt. Vernon, then left on Highway 26 for an 8-mile trip back to John Day. The 128-mile loop is a favorite for riders throughout the region.