The Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder is the third leg of the Oregon Gravel Grinder Series; this “Grand Tour of Gravel” is a five-day event that will challenge and reward racers and adventure riders alike, not only on the epic days in the saddle but the celebration of the gravel tribe each night at camp. This unique experience offers a fully supported race-vacation experience covering approximately 350 miles and 25,000-33,000 feet of elevation gain over mixed terrain through the Cascade Mountain Range in five days and four nights. There are two different rider-type classifications for this event: either difficult rides for each day or you can register as Pioneer or Settler. Pioneers usually ride up to 10 miles more and climb 500-1000 feet more daily than the Settler. Each night celebrates the riders at various campsites. Event registration includes all support, tents, food, and nightly entertainment. There are even professional massages available for participants. The event starts and ends in Sisters, OR, a full loop through the Cascades where each day has difficulty classified as Moderate, Hard, or Very Hard. There are aid stations along the way to keep all riders fueled and hydrated for hundreds of miles. This event is for you if you want a great multi-day cycling experience. In 2023 there will be a Tag-Team category open to 30 teams. You decide which days you want to ride while your partner rests and relaxes at camp- then you switch!
Starting in the scenic western town of Sisters, Oregon, Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder begins with a bang on Stage One. Immediately riders hit gravel after a quick 7-mile stint out of Sister, Oregon, onto some of the gravel roads on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Gravel Range. At about mile 10, riders will engage with the Santiam Wagon Road, portions of which have not been touched since the original pioneers crossed the Cascade Mountain Range. The gravel roads on the east side of the Cascade typically are looser and a bit more challenging as riders ascend up over Cascade Mountain Range proper. At the very top of the mountain range, riders will pedal by alpine lakes, and scenic and spectacular vistas of the Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson, and Mount Washington abound. At the very top of the range, riders enter the technical section that is the old historic Santiam Wagon Road in its original 1800s state- ruts, rocks, and obstacles are everywhere. Once through this section and beginning to descend on the western slopes of the range, roads turn into the most beautiful and hardpacked gravel to be found anywhere. The additional moisture and mineral content in the roads makes them exceptionally fast. Add to this the long descent and negative elevation gain; it allows riders to finish strong and provides an exciting conclusion to Stage One.
Stage 2 departs, immediately crosses the McKenzie River, and then heads up to the lush and dense forest of Willamette National Forrest. Here, rain comes in significant amounts, and moss and ferns rule the landscape. Large stands of old-growth timber can still be found along the course route, and views of far-reaching mountains and scenic vistas can be seen along the route. Riders will then descend to the South Fork of the Willamette River before climbing once again up and over the Huckleberry Mountain and into the old logging town of Oakridge. The campsite is one of the most spectacular along the route, providing not only miles of green lawn and old-growth trees for tenting but also an incredible swimming hole right next to camp.
Stage 3 of the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder is our “easy” or light day. For Settlers, it is a tour around Hills Creek Reservoir- keeping the route flat and short, allowing you to shake out some of the kinks and soreness from the previous two day’s efforts. The scenery is still at the utmost splendor for riders as they tour around the reservoir. This day is your day to ride or even rest. For the Pioneers, riders will start the day by touring around the reservoir before hitting Aid Station #1, where we will have the start an uphill race. Competitors will race this uphill segment, have a 2-mile, neutral ride, and then hit Aid Station #2, where lunch will be offered, music, beverages, and an opportunity to regroup with your friends. After refreshing, riders will then take on the second segment of the day- the downhill leg- descending on the tight, technical logging roads back to the Hill’s Reservoir. Both timed segments will apply to the overall GC, and time bonuses will be offered for both. Stage 3 will start later, with a 10 am start time, due to the short nature of the courses and the fact that there is no camp transfer that day. Friday is a great day to rest and relax those tired legs in the Willamette River or head into the town of Oakridge and check out some of the restaurants and watering holes.
Stage 4 is the Queen stage of the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder and truly one of the most spectacular days of gravel riding in all of North America. Starting at 1,200 feet in the town of Oakridge, riders will proceed on a 20-mile initial climb up into the heart of the Cascade Mountain Range. Riders will peak at around 6,000 to 6,500 feet over mountain tops with spectacular views for miles. Dense forests, old-growth trees, and a certain level of isolation that you can find in very few locations throughout the country provide a dramatic and scenic backdrop. At over 90 miles with close to 10,000 feet of elevation for the Pioneers and over 80 miles with 6,500 feet of elevation for the Settlers, this is the toughest and most monumental day of the Oregon Trail. Crossing the height of the Cascade Range is the Old Oregon Military Wagon Road, built back in the 1800s. This special road winds and twists through the scenic backcountry of the Diamond Peak Wilderness area and Summit Lake before descending down to Crescent Lake and on to the day’s next campsite in La Pine, Oregon. Riders have the unique perspective of transitioning from wet, tempered rainforest to high alpine terrain and finally to the high deserts of Eastern Oregon.
The final day, Stage 5 of the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder, starts from bike camp in La Pine, Oregon, and heads due north to the final destination of Sisters, Oregon. This stage starts with riders weaving in and out of the Eastern Oregon forest, consisting of large pines and open terrain and vegetation. Riders get a chance to warm up and shake out their legs with moderate elevation gains for the first 20 to 30 miles. After that, the course goes uphill as riders begin the ascent into the high country near Mt. Bachelor. After reaching Mt. Bachelor, it is a fast descent into the scenic Tumalo Creek Drainage and once again back up to the highest point of the five days, on the old 370 Forest Service Road. FS370 takes riders within a stone’s throw of Broken Top in the Three Sisters Peaks. Massive mountain views, alpine lakes, and scenic beauty abound as riders approach the 7-thousand elevation mark. The timed portion of the race concludes near Three Creeks Lake. It s highly suggested that riders take the extra 3/4 miles from the timing finish and head up to the lake to dip their legs in the cool lake water and take in the scenery before rolling to the finish on the fast descent back into Sisters, Oregon, where the post-race festivities begin. Back at the beautiful Village Green City Park in Sisters, riders can enjoy their final meal on the Oregon Trail, partake in amazing beverages, and relate some of the incredible stories of their journey with their fellow riders before departing for home.
The Oregon Trail Stage Race is part of the Oregon Gravel Grinder Series produced by Breakaway Promotions, which operates several other top single-day and multi-day gravel events. The full event line-up includes Gorge; Cascade, Oregon Trail; and Ochoco. There are discounts when riders register for three or four at a time. For all multi-day riders, this is your chance to experience some of the best gravel rides Cascade Mountain Range and the national parks of Oregon have to offer in the spring and summer.
Best Gravel Cycling Events in the Northwest 2023