Murderers Creek (The Ranch)
Note: This is a 5 Star Route, meaning that it is a highly curated, premier riding route.
We will be the first to admit that driving out to Eastern Oregon to start a route in Dayville and that ended at Murderers Creek Ranch sounded more than a bit sketchy. Would we run into the ghosts of the 8 prospectors who were murdered along the creek beds during the 1860s?
But we discovered just an amazing place to ride a gravel bike. Dayville is “cute as a button” in terms of towns, with super super welcoming locals and wonderfully preserved old buildings, a coffee shop, nice RV parks, and a cute downtown park. The route itself is an out and back that heads out through lovely farm lands that then slides through an amazing rocky canyon. (This borders the Black Canyon Wilderness.) When you turn towards the ranch, you hug Murderers Creek until you reach the the ranch, which includes picturesque old barns and cattle.
It’s all on relatively easy pitches …. There is washboard in the first few miles that quiets down quickly when you reach the national forest just a few miles out of Dayville. Overall, this is gold mine of a route, one that left us grinning for days. (We saw TWO cars on our four hour adventure!)
Adventure / Gravel Route
Technical Difficulty & Risk[what this means]
Moderate. Due to (a) the rocky / chunky terrain leading to the Ranch [~ miles 17 to 22], (b) limited cell phone reception, (c) open cattle grazing, and (c) the remote locale. On our ride [mid-week in September], we saw two vehicles the entire day, and those were within 5 miles of Dayville.
When we like to ride this …
This is a ride that “goes” mid-spring through late fall. In the spring you get the creeks running full, flowers blooming and green fields. But … with the creeks running full you will need to take the high road options along Murderers Creek. In the fall you get the trees changing color and beautiful light.
The Murderers Creek sector of this route [miles 14 to 25] is closed February 1st through April 14th for wildlife migration within the Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife refuge.
Dayville City park. Flush toilets and water. A donation is suggested, we offered up $10. Well worth it!
Lat / Long: 44.466747, -119.534019
Food / Water
Dayville makes for a great place to basecamp for a few days. It has:
- an Inn and two RV parks (Fish House Inn and RV Park and South Fork RV Park)
- the Dayville Merc for groceries and general supplies
- the Dayville cafe
- South Fork Mini Market and Gas
- and a bunch of things to do besides riding your gravel bike!
Ride Details**Click to Read More
Miles 0 to 9 / County Road 42 / Gravel (mostly)
From the parking area cross the John Day Highway [Hwy 26] and pick up Grant County Road 42 [paved]. The road is lined by farms with hay fields and grazing cattle. Hills pop up to your left and right and the South Fork of the John Day River is to your left. We saw a gang of wild turkeys here.(Micro-video)
This gravelled Back Country Byway parallels the Wild and Scenic South Fork John Day River through its incised canyon for a distance of 50 miles from its northern terminus at Dayville to the northern border of Malheur National Forest to the south. This drive takes visitors through deep canyons of Columbia River Basalts, through stands of old growth ponderosa pines, Douglas and white fir, and willows that line the road. The river itself contains beautiful rapids and the Izee Falls, which drops 56 feet vertically.
Along the way, you’ll pass the Aldrich Mountain Wilderness Study Area as well as the Black Canyon Wilderness, two areas with ample opportunities for hiking, hunting and wildlife viewing. The Murderer’s Creek area has plentiful wildlife, including deer, elk, black bear, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and upland birds. [Bureau of Land Management]
At ~ mile 1.5 the road turns to gravel. It is wide, two lanes, with some loose gravel overlay. This sector of the ride probably sees the most traffic due to the ranch houses and thus, is a bit washboarded. With a bit of effort you can usually, not all the time, find a good line.(Micro-video) The road gradually climbs as it is heading up river.
Miles 9 to 14 / Black Canyon / Gravel
Just after mile 9, the road splits. County Road 42 goes to the right and NF 17 goes left. Go left, climb a short pitch. The road surface changes dramatically. It is now a hard packed brown, clay based road with just a smattering of gravel. No washboard. The riding is fast and scenic.
Soon you enter a box canyon with black rock walls jutting up on both sides of you.(Micro-video) The road twists and turns following the river. At mile 12 is a trailhead leading into Black Canyon Wilderness area.
A remote 13,400 acre wilderness offering solitude and hillsides dominated by mixed conifer and stands of park-like ponderosa pine. Ridge-tops are predominantly open sagebrush with some mountain mahogany. Deer and elk are common year round. The lucky observer may also see bear, coyote, mountain lion, or possibly wolverines! Beware of rattlesnakes, especially in stream bottoms. [US Forest Service]
Miles 14 to 20 / Murderers Creek Basin / Gravel
At mile 14.5, make a 90 degree left onto a single lane dirt road. The turn is marked by a sign for the Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife Area (Murderers Creek access). Initially the road hugs Murderers Creek and is bounded by steep walls of several hundred feet high.(Micro-video) A fire swept through the area in 2011, as marked by many of the trees being charred black.
The Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife Area provides winter range for mule deer populations and year-round habitat for elk, deer, and bighorn sheep. Native habitats include sagebrush shrubland, riparian, ponderosa pine forest, western juniper woodland and mixed conifer. The riparian areas along the South Fork John Day River and Murderers Creek provide excellent habitat for many birds. [Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife Area]
About a mile in, there is junction. The roads re-join is 0.5 miles. The left hand road [the one that climbs] is the safe bet in the spring as it avoids several seasonal creek crossings. The right hand road, is our road of choice in the fall. Just after this first option, there is a second. The same logic applies.
After the roads come together again, the steep looming walls move out and away revealing a large flood plain, Murderers Creek Basin. Trees are scarce and the riding is in the open and exposed … but gorgeous! It is 3 more miles to the Murderers Creek Ranch. As you get close to the ranch, you pass through a gate. Be sure to close it, and keep the cattle in the appropriate grazing areas. [Yes,there are cattle on this ride who may want to share the road with you!(Micro-video) At the ranch, be sure to sure to explore the out buildings. The inside texture and light is special.
Get re-fueled and ready to turn around.
Miles 20 to Finish / The Return / Gravel (mostly)
The ride back out goes like this … lumpy, rock terrain, more than you remember riding in on … the awesome Black Canyon section … and the last 9 miles of scenic county road with some annoying washboard [it really isn’t that bad!].
If you are looking for a shorter ride, start at the 9 mile mark where there Grant County 19 and NF 47 split. This will shorten the ride to 21 miles with 1000 feet of gain.
40 mm tires work well for 75% of the ride. For miles 17 to 22 some may prefer 50 mm tires. We did the route on 40 mm and 38 mm tires.
This area is likely goathead territory, those thorny things that stick in tires and cause flats. We had no issue with goatheads until we explored beyond the ranch. Go with fresh sealant in your tires and maybe carry a bit of extra sealant with you. Our go to solution for this is: fresh sealant, tubeless tires with CushCore [you can ride this setup without air in an emergency], and to carry extra sealant.
If the fall, this is an active hunting area (bow and rifle). We recommend riding in a hi-viz kit.
Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road