OK, so everybody knows about the Deschutes River Trail: hikers, bikers, rafters, kayakers, equestrians, anglers and birdwatchers.
Tourists crowd the popular Central Oregon trail in the summertime, making weekend traffic jams commonplace on the scenic path.
But fall might be the best time of year to hop on the bike and ride the river trail. Crowds have thinned out, sun-splashed fall colors line the river, and the trail is essentially dust-free.
The river trail might remain accessible for a few weeks yet before the snow settles in.
A popular place for mountain bikers to start is the Meadow Picnic Area just southwest of Bend off Century Drive. But bikers can also ride singletrack from Entrada Lodge closer to town and connect to the river trail near Meadow Picnic Area.
A series of rapids and falls makes up this stretch of the Deschutes. Lava rock stretching all the way to Lava Butte covers much of the east side of the river. The trail runs along the west side through pine trees and along small embankments.
Grueling climbs and technical sections are rare on the river trail, making it a perfect ride for most skill levels.
The trail can be ridden all the way to Sunriver, or bikers can link up to the Black Rock Trail and ride southeast to Lava Butte.
I started from just south of Big Eddy Rapids on a crisp, sunny afternoon.
The singletrack trail was firm and tacky beneath my tires as I ducked into a corridor of green, gold, orange and red colors.
Soon, Dillon Falls surged through the rocks to my left. Above the falls the river was calm, stretching through a meadow with snow-dusted Mount Bachelor poking up to the west. A large grove of quaking aspens lined the far side of the river, their golden hues brilliant in the afternoon sun.
I rolled on to Benham Falls, through a fun series of short ups and downs. Close to the falls the trail can become crowded with hikers and sightseers, so bikers should ride with caution.
The Class V Benham Falls roars white through the terrain with abandon. Above the falls, the trail widens and comes to a wooden bridge. After crossing the bridge, bikers have a choice of heading west (right) to continue along the river trail to Sunriver, or going southeast (left) onto the Black Rock Trail.
I turned onto the Black Rock Trail, which parallels the edge of a lava-rock field. With a quick dismount and scramble up those rocks, bikers are treated to a view that is uniquely Central Oregon: a never-ending field of lava rocks with the snow-capped Cascade Mountains in the background.
Back on the trail, I pedaled my way to Lava Butte. This cinder cone erupted some 7,000 years ago, covering more than nine square miles with lava, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The result is the lava field seen today along the Deschutes River and Black Rock trails.
I turned around at Lava Butte and cruised back the way I came. The trail is mostly downhill on the way back to Benham Falls.
From the falls, I headed back along the river trail to where I began, once again immersed in the color and feel of autumn.