This route highlights many of the unique features of riding gravel in Madras. The Baldwin Hills. Hay Creek. The Crooked River National Grasslands. The farming community of Gateway. Lake Simtustus. Dry Canyon.
This is an excellent early season training route. Moderate distance with many small climbs, but nothing long and arduous. More pavement than gravel. A nice flat stretch of 6 miles, just beyond the halfway point, to spin some energy back into your legs for the Pelton Hill climb at mile 45. 1.3 miles at an average gradient of 11%.
The route starts at the Madras Aquatic Center. Let the front desk know you are here doing a Dirty Freehub gravel bike route and they will usually allow you access to the locker rooms without a fee. (After the ride, I like to use the hot tub and take a shower. This will cost you a day pass, but it goes to a really good cause. Do it!) **Click to Read More
After leaving the aquatic center, you roll up on pavement for a couple of miles. Then a quick, speedy downhill leads into the longest gravel sector of the day, 15 miles. The riding is through the scenic Baldwin Hills and skirts the National Grasslands. It is up and down (more down than up), with some technical bits.
When you see the Highway 97 in the distance and Richardson’s Rock Ranch on your right, your close to the left hand turn onto Old Highway 97. This road sees little traffic and little upkeep. Suitable for a road bike, but much more fun and comfortable on a gravel bike. At ~ mile 20 cross Highway 97, go straight. Old Highway 97 continues. Still paved, but broken pavement and some really nice view of Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood.
This theme of big mountain views continues for the next 18 miles as you make your way east to west across Agency Plains. This is generally the area of farmlands within the Madras Y (the Y formed by Highway 97 to the east and Highway 26 to the west).
At ~ mile 24 there is a sign denoting the Meeks Wagon train tragedy of 1845. At ~ mile 26, you make a left on the edge of the farming community of Gateway and then climb one of the Gateway grades. A hill of less than a mile at 5% gradient. From here it is relatively flat for the next 11 miles with the exception of one bump at mile 31. This is your chance to spin and rejuvenate your legs. The crux of the ride is yet to come.
The sign for Barry Ranches (Herefords & Angus), marks the end of the farming flats. Get ready for a moderately steep gravel descent with a couple of big sweeping S turns with great photo opportunities. As you bottom out, the road becomes more narrow and passes between a set of buildings and a house. It will almost feel like your on a private drive to a home. You are not! You are on a public road. (Just in case somebody stops me, I carry with me the attached photo that shows the road as a public right away.)
Soon, the gravel ends with a left hand turn onto Pelton Dam road. Enjoy the short, winding section along Lake Simtustus as you are about to be smacked by the crux of your ride day. 8 miles of effort. A steep short kicker hill, the Pelton Hill climb of 1.2 miles with an average gradient of 11%, and a long false flat climb to the junction with Belmont Lane.
From there it is more downhill than up. A drop through Dry Canyon, west to east through Madras, and past the bear and redtail sculptures.
Even though the route is more pavement than gravel, larger width tubeless tires are a must for this route. In the ride I led, we had one puncture and one sidewall cut. 40 mm tires worked great, 35 mm is probably doable with good bike handling skills.
Lastly, in keeping with the mission of Dirty Freehub, “having a positive economic impact where we ride”, I encourage you to drop some coin at one of the brew pubs or eateries in town.
Adventure / Gravel Route
Moderate. Due to distance / elevation gain.
When we like to ride this …
In the spring when the fields are green and the grassland flowers are in bloom. The route rides well most of the year, even in the winter. Look for times when the snow levels are high and the desert is dry. On hot summer days or windy days, I would avoid this route – it is just too exposed.
Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road
For help with GPS files, the RideWithGPs mapping app and to learn how to download our routes for free, see the “Using Our Rides” page.