Editor’s note: Mountain Bike Trail Guide, by Bulletin outdoor writer Mark Morical, features various trails in Central Oregon and beyond. The trail guide appears in Adventure Sports on alternating Fridays through the riding season.
Once merely a lone trail with a small loop on the south end, the Peterson Ridge Trail network near Sisters has recently evolved into a vast network of trails to entice mountain bikers of any skill level.
Three years ago, I stood with John Rahm of the Sisters Trails Alliance as he pointed out potential sections of trail and explained his vision: adding 20 miles of singletrack to an existing 10 miles.
A year and a half later, that vision became reality. Now, Peterson Ridge is becoming increasingly popular among the fat-tire crowd in Central Oregon, with 30 miles of expertly designed singletrack and myriad loop options.
This Sunday, the second annual Sisters Stampede mountain bike race will host some 500 riders at Peterson Ridge.
Rahm, who lives just a few hundred feet from the trailhead in Sisters, makes sure to keep the Peterson Ridge kiosk stuffed with detailed maps that show every numbered junction in the network.
“I was out there last weekend and I saw more people than I’ve ever seen,” Rahm said this week. “I’m really happy to see it getting so much use. It’s really well ridden in. It’s like a mature trail.”
Last week, on what so far this spring has been a rare warm and sunny day, I drove to Sisters to find the small parking area at the Peterson Ridge trailhead nearly full of cars.
The trail network consists basically of two main trails — Peterson Ridge Trail West and Peterson Ridge Trail East — with about a dozen smaller trails that connect the two sides.
I decided to ride the east trail up the ridge and the west trail back down for a ride of about 18 miles and 2 1⁄2 hours.
The trail starts out flat and easy, and the east trail becomes increasingly dynamic as it climbs the ridge. It includes banked corners and a series of up-and-down dips through an old canal.
The west trail includes ridgeline riding with majestic views of Middle Sister and North Sister. From the far overlook to the middle overlook, the trail gets rocky and technical in spots, but it feels like you can reach out and touch North Sister.
“That’s the signature piece of trail, if you ask me,” Rahm said.
Rahm, 60, is vice chairman of the Sisters Trails Alliance and the man who instigated the Peterson Ridge Trail Extension project and led every work party for 18 months.
Now he enjoys the fruits of his labor. Rahm likes to ride up the west side and down the east side.
“If you’re riding hard and you’re gonna ride down the west side, it’s the technical side, so you have to pay attention — you can’t really enjoy the view,” Rahm observed. “The east is smooth and rhythmic and really fun to descend. The connectors are a lot of fun, too.”
He recommends the Summer Range and Twist and Shout connectors. Signs at every trail junction display the names of the connectors.
Most of the trails in the Peterson Ridge area are not technically demanding or particularly strenuous. Rahm claims that most mountain bikers do not need to shift to their little ring on any section of trail in the entire system.
But Rahm and other trail builders in Sisters have added a couple of short technical sections — two half-mile loops called Eagle Rock and Hawk’s Flight.
“We’ve got a little gang of trail builders out here,” Rahm said.
Spring and fall are the best times of year to ride at Peterson Ridge, as some of the trail becomes dusty in the summertime, much like the Phil’s Trail network west of Bend.
“It gets dusty, especially close to town,” Rahm said. “But once you go up a ways, there’s really no sand issues. When the ground is firm and damp, you can fly.”
I did just that as I cruised down the west side of Peterson Ridge among the towering ponderosa pines, as the Cascade peaks became shrouded from view by the thick forest.