Catherine Creek State Park and the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway

Why the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway is a must if you’re into cycling.

 

Russell and I ride bikes. Russell and I ride bikes a lot. On almost any day of the week you can find me pushing pedals around the Boise roads, adding some miles to my tires and some peace to my mind. I feel incomparably free when I’m flying down hills and traveling distances not possible by foot. There’s something electric about those skinny bits of rubber propelling me along. I would consider myself an avid cyclist, but what’s most important is that Russell and I just love to ride.

 

On a few occasions we’ve taken weekend trips in hunt of new pavement, following internet recommendations to places that never turn out quite like we had hoped. In a perfect world there would be endless stretches of designated bike paths without a car in sight, but what we often find are highways and roads with bike lanes painted in where emergency lanes probably use to be. Not the worst option when you’re desperate for a change of scene, but we’re no beggars and we were looking for better.

 

When we got a dog, we thought it was fitting to get him a hitch trailer so that he could come along on rides. For the most part he does alright (aside from some intermittent whining we’ve deemed as “yodeling”), but the new purchase sparked in us the desire to find a new place for cycling. Our search for great cycling spots near Idaho brought us to the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway, or what I like to consider Biker’s Heaven.

Doggyride mini bike trailer for Pippin the mini dachshund

Doggyride mini bike trailer for Pippin the mini dachshund

 

In essence, the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway is a series of roads that traverse a total of 134 miles in the northeastern part of Oregon. In a stroke of sheer genius, Oregon realized that its citizens really liked riding bikes, and dedicated certain roads to cyclists - thus the name “bikeway”. While cars are still permitted to use the roads, they are bike-first territories, which means that drivers are the ones to yield, and at this point they seem used to it.

 

There are coastal rides, mountain rides, rides near cities and some near farms. If you did the entire 134 miles you’d probably be in for a scenic treat. Russell and I didn’t have time for that though, so we chose one of the bikeway’s easily navigated segments for some casual exploring. I instantly wanted to check out the coastal route or the one that begins just outside of Bend, Oregon, but we had a weekend and wanted to get the most, so we chose the Catherine Creek State Park section, which was the closest to Boise.

 

It was a three hour drive northwest; not unattractive, but not the lush Oregon environment I’m used to, either. The last few miles were through undulating desert hills, nothing but beige sand and thirsty shrubs as far as we could see. Just when we started to wonder if we’d made a wrong decision in coming here though, the road took us down a hill and right up next to Catherine Creek. Soon sage was replaced by towering ponderosas, and a mountainside covered in the low ferns and verdant leaves I’d expected. One breath of the clear air told me we were right in picking.

Warm sunset light casting on the bridge that crosses Catherine Creek State Park

Warm sunset light casting on the bridge that crosses Catherine Creek State Park

 

It was relatively early in the season for tent camping, but the weather was pleasant and the other sites were far from empty. Other people itching to get their bikes out on the open road, no doubt, but a few people that told us they were on a continuous journey across the United States, uncertain of exactly where they would end. We set up tent a few feet from the creek and enjoyed a night full of warm fires and conversations, and stars that twinkled brightly for us out in the desolation.

A 21 minute long exposure at night out at Catherine Creek State Park campground in Oregon

A 21 minute long exposure at night out at Catherine Creek State Park campground in Oregon

 

We visited Catherine Creek State Park in early May, and I think our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I imagine that during more popular times of year the twenty spaces fill up quickly, but we more or less got pick of the litter. The creek was high, and offered a serene white noise for the background of our stay. On our first evening there we took Pippin onto the adjacent hiking trail, his tongue lolling happily as Russell and I admired the fauna we lack in our desert home. During the night it got cold, but not unbearable, and the days sat at around 80 degrees; I’m not sure if you could ask for better riding weather.

 

The road that leads into Catherine Creek State Park is actually a part of the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway, so access was as simple as carrying our bikes across a grassy recreation area. Beyond that it was just us and the open road. Just a couple of bikers and their operatic dog.

 

I was actually surprised to see how many other cyclists passed us while on our ride. Quite often we’d be moseying along when a coordinating peloton would zoom by, giving us polite waves and admiring our furry passenger. Russell and I hadn’t set out to cover any kind of great distance, so we rode until we’d had our fill and then headed toward the campground again.    

 

In the end the trip provided satisfactory camping (with flush toilets and running water for the princess-campers like myself), a wonderful maiden voyage on the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway, and an overall enjoyable experience. It’s close to home, but even if it wasn’t I think we’d go back. Sure we’ll probably trek around Bend next, and hopefully get a chance to feel that sea air on our sun-kissed faces eventually, but I think Catherine Creek might become one of our regular camping spots.