Cline Buttes trails

Directions: From Tumalo, drive north on Cline Falls Highway. The trailhead is hard to find but is located on the left about 2 miles before the Juniper Trailhead (about 30 minutes from Bend). The trailhead includes a gated cattle guard and some mailboxes, as well as a Cline Buttes Recreation Area sign. The singletrack starts about 100 yards up the dirt road, on the left. For a complete ride description, visit www.mtbproject.com.

Distance: 8-mile loop, or 10-mile out-and-back

Elevation gain: 1,100 feet.

Features: Rolling, narrow singletrack around the buttes and a challenging road climb to the top of the highest butte; three downhill trails that are steep and technical, for advanced riders only; loop includes 1,250 feet of climbing and the same amount of descent.

Rating: Aerobically intermediate to advanced; technically advanced.

Season: Spring through fall.

Information: Other maps and ride descriptions on Cline Buttes can be found at www.mtbproject.com.

More guides can be found at bendbulletin.com/rideguide.

Sprawling High Desert views, thrilling terrain and quality springtime dirt make Cline Buttes west of Redmond a popular destination for mountain bikers. Miles and miles of user-built trails line the juniper-filled slopes in the area.

The myriad trails on Cline Buttes, including a narrow singletrack path that wraps around the buttes and three downhill trails that start from the top of the highest butte, are part of the Bureau of Land Management’s 32,000-acre Cline Buttes Recreation Area. The area is undergoing trail and trailhead developments, including two new trailheads under construction on the north side of the buttes.

“That place has a long history of people doing trail use, whether it’s a horse, a mountain bike or a motorcycle,” says Greg Currie, landscape architect for the BLM in Prineville. “Because it’s never had a trail system, the biggest issue we’ve had is there’s probably about 7 to 8 miles per square mile of routes. And some of them are really steep OHV hill climbs. We have lots of erosion problems. The long-term project is getting that place back to a more sustainable setting that has fewer routes, but higher-quality routes.”

One route I hope is retained in the process is the singletrack that circles around the buttes for an 8-mile loop or a 10-mile out-and-back ride.

The trip is an ideal way to kick off the spring mountain biking season in Central Oregon.

The current “trailhead” on the south side of Cline Buttes is not well-marked and could eventually be closed as the BLM reroutes some existing trails and builds new ones, according to Currie. Trails will be built to separate mountain bikers/hikers, equestrians and off-highway vehicle riders. About 24 miles of mountain biking trails and 14 miles of horseback riding trails are expected to be built. There are currently no trail names or maps for the existing trails.

On Monday, I started out rolling through juniper trees and sagebrush as the singletrack trail became steeper along the south butte. The trail went from dusty to rocky, and became increasingly narrow as I climbed.

I turned left onto a rocky road, then picked up the singletrack again to the right after climbing a few hundred yards.

The singletrack narrowed to almost 10 inches in spots, and to my right was a fairly treacherous drop-off. Redmond, Smith Rock State Park and the snow-covered Ochoco Mountains sprawled out to the east, and soon I turned west as I wrapped around the north butte. A few deer stared at me from across a gully, making sure I was harmless before continuing to forage.

The trail transitioned downhill as a I headed to the west side of the buttes, where a cluster of enormous homes have been constructed on the hillside to provide a staggering view of the Cascade Range.

Snow-covered Cascade peaks dominated the horizon, and the rain shadow was in full effect on this sunny Central Oregon day, as thick clouds from the west butted up against North Sister and the other mountains.

The singletrack on the west side of Cline Buttes is special, not only because of the view of the Cascades towering over an endless expanse of juniper trees, but also because of the rolling, side-hill character of the trail.

“It’s interesting,” Currie says. “There’s not that much public land on those buttes. There’s a good chunk of state land, there’s BLM, and then there’s quite a bit of private. But, on the other hand, what public land is up there is incredibly special. It’s a pretty important piece of trail opportunities regionally.”

The issue of private land on Cline Buttes has been a sticking point since the Cline Buttes Recreation Area plan was completed in 2009.

“People are riding on the private property up there,” Currie says. “But we can’t design a trail system to make use of or connect to that. So one of the challenges for us is to design a trail system with public land. At some point something will happen with the private land that will make it not amenable to continued recreation use.”

The trail continued around and eventually connected to a gravel road that leads to the summit. Surrounding the summit of the butte, at 4,067 feet, is a barbed-wire fence that protects a radio facility, and three extremely technical downhill trails can be found after riding for a bit to the right of the fence.

The downhill trails are for advanced riders only, and riding the original singletrack as an out-and-back route is an option for those who want to avoid the challenging downhill. Those downhill trails might also be closed or rerouted as the BLM implements its plan, according to Currie.

“We also did some shifting around to provide trail opportunity for both horses and mountain bikes,” he says. “A lot of that work will have to get a second look, because after the plan was done, we found an eagle nest up there as well. We’re going to be looking at where trails are routed, and potentially some seasonal closures on trails.”

I have ridden to the summit and tackled the downhill trails before, but this time I decided to head back the way I had come along the pristine singletrack.

The ride back was fast and tricky, as I had to negotiate the narrow singletrack and the steep drop-off to my left. I made it back to my car about two hours after starting, fairly tired but up for more. So I crossed the highway and headed to the Maston area — a mostly flat network of singletrack and also part of the Cline Buttes Recreation Area — for another 45 minutes of riding.

Currie says the goal for this year and next year is for the BLM to work on building additional trails on the far west portion of the buttes.

But for now, prime riding can be had on the thrilling ribbon of singletrack that wraps around Cline Buttes.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318, mmorical@bendbulletin.com

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