Priest Hole

5 Star Route / Ridden and Reviewed by Gravel Girl & Captain ‘O

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Looking for a numinous (adjective: having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity) connection to nature on one of the top gravel rides in Oregon? Then head to the Painted Hills for the Priest Hole ride, which is not about a father getting into trouble, but is a gravel bike loop from the Painted Hills park to the Priest Hole primitive camping area. It includes a divine climb on gravel … a heavenly paved downhill that cuts through a deep canyon … glorious farmland …. two water holes for taking a dip in and an an angelic ridge that takes you above Priest Hole. And a devious ending … with a few popper hills along the river and rolling uphill to finish off the journey.

For the EXTRA CREDIT you can take a tour of the Painted Hills which is always spectacular. (For us that never happens as we are whipped from the ride and end up straight back at the cars without even enough energy to DRIVE the extra distance. But we are sure that YOU will have the extra energy. Good luck with that!)

Now before you go dashing back to the city life, we recommend that you consider staying at the Spoke’n Hostel which is a cyclists favorite just up the road in Mitchell. 

Adventure / Gravel Route

– Loop: 42 miles / 3500 ft gain
– Mixed route: 2 gravel sectors, 19.5 miles total
– Best ridden: Spring and Fall. (May and early June is best for flowers.)
– Course by: Captain “O”
– Location: Mitchell, Oregon
– Date Published: August 2013 (updated August 2018)


Intermediate. Due to length and some short steep pitches (15+ %) coming out of Priest Hole / John Day river.

The Start

Painted Hills picnic area.  Pit toilets, no water. From Highway 20, take Burnt Ranch road north 5.4 miles, turn left onto into Painted Hills area, go 0.2 miles and turn left again into the picnic area.

Food / Water



Cue Sheet / TCX File


Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road

For help with Ride, GPS files, etc see the “Help with …” page. To learn how to download the routes for free, see “Using Our Routes …” page.

  • Ken deLaski says:

    Did the Priest Hole ride today. Exactly as mapped. Just a perfect ride – really!. Nice 5-mile warmup into the long gradual gravel climb into the morning sun. Then the 6-mile downhill run on Twickenham through the rock canyon is absolutely surreal – with perfectly smooth pavement. When you think it can’t get any better, you’re then riding along the John Day River (with a tailwind no less). All kinds of wildlife and cool birds.

  • Jeremiah Jenkins says:

    Great ride! Finished over the weekend of 9/26/20. Combined this ride w/ Mitch & Walt route to make a multi-day trip. Pit stop at the visitor center for Painted Hills was a nice bonus. We stayed at Priest Hole on night 1, then at Scott’s Camp on Night 2. Had great lunch stop @ Tiger Town in Mitchell and got water from the folks @ Spoke N Hostel. The climbs out of Priest Hole and Mitchell are long and hard. Great job w/ the routing!

    • Kevin / Co-Founder @ Dirty Freehub says:

      Great route! We are working on another version of this, where it starts in or near Prineville, goes up to Ashwood and then catches the John Day River. I think it would be a 2 maybe 3 day route. Thanks for posting!!

  • Aimee says:

    Hi there, Do you think it would be doable to go left onto the gravel section of Burnt Ranch Rd from the start then take the Twickenham Bridge Creek cut off rd back to the start for a shorter loop? Thanks so much!

    • KevinE says:

      Yes, you can ride the route in the opposite direction and at mile 38 (as mapped) take a right onto Twickenham Bridge Creek cutoff road. It makes the route shorter and with less climbing. This is the way we had the route originally mapped when we first published it. It is a very good route with these modifications.

  • Lori Wilson says:

    Hi, Love your website! I was hoping to do this ride next weekend. Do you have any information about this ride for this year? Any road closures, etc…? Thanks for any current info that you have or places that I could look for current info.


    • KevinE says:

      I think the route should be fine … we haven’t heard of any closures or problems. Keep in mind the elevation gain, but all the snow should be gone. Drop us a picture when you are done. Cheers .. Gravel Girl

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