Oregon Trails

Three Regions, Three Bike Rides

Bend & Central Oregon

Bend, central Oregon's largest city, is the headliner for recreation in the region. Fun-loving people come here to ski, hike, shoot rapids, and take part in more activities than you could imagine. The area's lineup of festivals, events, shindigs, and bazaars goes on and on.

Nestled at the foot of the Cascades, central Oregon is a playground surrounded by natural beauty. Volcanoes have played the largest role in the shaping of the region. The remnants of eruptions that occurred over 45 million years ago dominate the landscape. These cataclysmic events deposited layer after layer of volcanic pumice and ash. We encounter these materials today as we ride the trails. When conditions are dry, the pumice in the soil gets ground into a fine powder. This material is deep like sand, but lighter. With practice, you can ride right through this thick dust. These soft conditions are less of a problem early in the season, before the soils become thoroughly dry.

Perhaps a parallel can be drawn between the quality of the bicycling in Bend and the number of bike shops in town. This place offers some great riding, and a lot of people are enjoying the trails (and keeping their mechanics busy). Bend's bike shops are top-notch. The nice folks who work at these stores are riders, and they know a ton about the biking found here. While doing some business with them, you may wish to make some inquiries about the trails in the area.

A great source of information about mountain bike opportunities in Bend is the local ranger station. It's located on US 97, the main highway through town. A pass may be required for parking at many developed national forest trailhead facilities in Oregon. You can purchase a pass at the ranger station. While you're buying your pass, pick up a copy of the district mountain bike route guide, and ask about trail conditions. (We would also recommend purchasing and carrying the Bend District Map.)

Sisters is a town located 21 miles northwest of Bend. In the summer, Sisters is a busy place; it entertains visitors with its western atmosphere, big summer events, and shopping. The place is also becoming increasingly popular among mountain bikers. Like the trails near Bend, the single-track around Sisters is benefiting from the activities of local riders and the hard work of district forest rangers. Head in any direction from Sisters and you'll find excellent riding.

Ten miles northwest of Sisters is Black Butte. Standing apart, Black Butte doesn't compete with the Cascades in height or bulk. Yet, surrounded by lower, forested lands, this dark-hued symmetrical cone is distinctly recognizable. A view of it, and one of its snow-capped neighbors, will instantly provide you with an idea of your general location. Knowing a bit about the lay of the land won't necessarily keep you from getting lost, but it could prove a handy supplement to other route-finding aids you choose to rely on (like guidebooks).

North of Black Butte is Green Ridge and the Metolius River. The Metolius is famous for its trout fishing. Green Ridge isn't famous for its mountain biking, but you will find good gravel-road riding there (and on Black Butte). A lookout tower on the ridge provides an outstanding view of the area, and the camping along the Metolius is very pleasant. A section of the Metolius-Windigo Trail surmounts Green Ridge. Cyclists considering this trail should keep in mind that it is popular with equestrians and often very soft. Other single-track options in the area include rides at nearby Suttle Lake and Cache Mountain.

Traveling west from Sisters brings you into the McKenzie District of the Willamette National Forest. The area is home to some incredible single-track pedaling. The McKenzie River National Recreation Trail is one of the finest riverside routes in the Pacific Northwest. It parallels the tumultuous river for 27 miles, stumbles past waterfalls, and tests the mettle of hardened riders.

Twenty miles to the east of Sisters is Redmond. Just a few miles north of Redmond is Smith Rock State Park. This park was created to preserve the towering red rock formations of the Crooked River Canyon. In the last 20 years, the park has gained an international reputation among rock climbers for its demanding routes. If you visit the park, bring your bike along. While"The Rock" is not laced with mountain bike routes, a couple of good rides can be accessed from the park.

Most of the riding in Central Oregon is in the Deschutes National Forest. Cultus Lake Loop is in the Forest. The ranger districts throughout the forest have done a great job developing and maintaining their respective trail networks. The involvement of private citizens has helped them get their work done. The Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA) is a regional mountain bike trail advocacy group that promotes responsible riding and trail access for bicyclists. This group's collaborative involvement with land management agencies has been an important factor in the ability of managers to keep trails open.

The Eugene/Oakridge Area

The neighboring cities of Eugene and Springfield are located in the southernmost portion of the Willamette Valley, about 100 miles south of Portland. Lane County, where Eugene and Springfield are located, is bounded on the west by the Pacific Ocean and by the Cascades on the east. Lane County is the most popular cycling destination in Oregon; the riding here is diverse and excellent. Touring is tremendously popular, and the region plays host to some of the best mountain biking in Oregon.

Eugene is home to the University of Oregon, and it is a center of bicycling culture. Riding a bike is a very popular way to get around in Eugene; the city's public buses are even outfitted with bike racks. The number of bicycle clubs, bike advocacy groups, and alternative transportation organizations found here is mind boggling. Group rides, tours, races, clinics, and bike festivals are commonplace events. Eugene is alive with active, bike-riding people.

Single-track experiences in Eugene are rather limited (but not unheard of). The good stuff is in Oakridge, about 40 miles southwest of Eugene on OR 58. The riding is so good in Oakridge that mountain bikers from Eugene give little thought to how far away it is; they just load up their cars and go. The opportunities around Oakridge are gaining a national reputation. Lovers of challenging single-track are making Oakridge a vacation destination. Oakridge locals are getting used to seeing lycra-clad geeks wandering the aisles of their grocery stores. Brice Creek Trail is 25 miles southeast of Cottage Grove, 40-plus miles from Eugene.

Like many communities throughout the Pacific Northwest, Oakridge's economy is tied to the timber industry. In the last ten years or so, timber harvests have slowed dramatically. Lots of people have lost jobs, and towns like Oakridge have undergone some big changes. Of course, not everyone is (or was) employed by the timber industry, but the jobs of nearly everyone in mill towns are linked to the ups and downs of timber.

For decades, tourism has meant a lot to the economy of Oregon. Bicycling is a significant, seasonal component of that industry. In Oakridge, bicycle tourism plays a small role in the local economy. Like other tourists, bicyclists spend money, and towns like Oakridge are benefiting from the increased interest in mountain biking. There is little hope, however, that mountain biking will produce the economies of scale that an industry like timber generated.

The Hood River/Mt. Hood Area

For over a century, Mt. Hood has captured the imagination of Americans. After thousands of arduous miles on the Oregon Trail, emigrants came up against one final obstacle: the massive bulk of Mt. Hood. Today, tourists travel around the mountain on highways, and sportsmen and recreation-minded people flock to its slopes. All who behold it are struck by the beauty of this isolated and majestic peak. In Portland, Mt. Hood is visible from every section of the city. The people lovingly refer to it as "our mountain."

Just an hour's drive east of Portland is the town of Hood River. It sits at the foot of Mt. Hood on the banks of the mighty Columbia River. The steady, intense winds that blow up the Columbia Gorge have made Hood River the wind surfing capital of the Northwest. This young recreation-oriented community also enjoys access to some fine single-track mountain biking.

From Hood River, the Mt. Hood Highway climbs away from the Columbia Gorge. The drive up this two-lane highway is a scenic trip. On either side of you are the apple and pear orchards of the wide Hood River Valley. Before you is the shining volcanic cone of Mt. Hood. To the east, high above the roadway, is Surveyor's Ridge. A trail follows the ridge for 17 miles and offers incredible views of the snowfields and glaciers on Mt. Hood. There are a number of excellent loops and longer rides available in this section of the forest. It is an outstanding place to ride a mountain bike.

Still heading south along the highway, the valley narrows rapidly and gives way to evergreen forests. The East Fork Hood River runs beside the highway; good camping and mountain biking can be found on its banks. Connecting the Sherwood and Robinhood campgrounds is East Fork Trail, which parallels the vigorous river and offers cyclists a short, less demanding single-track experience. A hiking trail leads from Sherwood Campground to beautiful Tamanawas Falls. Knebal Springs Loop is located in the vicinity of Robinhood campground.

Climbing higher, the highway brings you to Bennett Pass. A gravel road leads from the pass to a quiet trail that follows Gunsight Ridge to Gumjuwac Saddle. The ridge provides breathtaking vistas of nearby Mt. Hood and distant views of many other Cascade peaks.

South of Barlow Pass, the Mt. Hood Highway meets US 12 and swings west toward Portland. Here you pass the towns of Government Camp and Zigzag. The resort hotel Timberline Lodge is accessed from Government Camp. The lodge sees many visitors in the winter for downhill skiing and snowboarding. In the summer, it is the trailhead for the popular southside climb of Mt. Hood and the Round-the-Mountain Trail. Good camping and gravel road riding can be found below Government Camp at lovely Trillium Lake.

Head south from Government Camp on US 12 to access rides in the Bear Springs Ranger District, or drive west toward Portland and stop in at the ranger station in Zigzag. All of the ranger districts in the Mt. Hood National Forest supply handouts on mountain bike opportunities in their section of the forest.

Due to its proximity to Portland, the Mt. Hood National Forest is a hugely popular destination. The increased use of mountain bikes has not gone unnoticed by the forest's recreation managers. We recommend that you make a visit or phone call before your trip to check on special conditions that could affect your ride. Some trails are closed periodically to reduce erosion or to lessen user conflicts.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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