Fall is full of splendor for all outdoor enthusiasts in Central Oregon — perhaps especially for mountain bikers.
The singletrack becomes tacky and dust-free, the crowds are long gone and the leaves turn a brilliant blaze of red, orange and yellow.
Last weekend after some rainfall, I said goodbye to the sandy trails of late summer and hello to the “hero dirt” of fall.
The trails southwest of Bend were in prime condition for a half-day ride through the scenic Deschutes National Forest.
So, just where exactly to ride this fall? Because higher elevation trails have yet to receive snow, the options are numerous in early October.
Here are some ideas for routes that take advantage of autumn’s awesomeness:
Swede Ridge Loop
This 14-mile route is a classic upper-elevation ride in the trail system west of Bend, allowing fall mountain bikers to take advantage of trails higher in the mountains that remain accessible.
The route features some epic climbs, stunning views and hair-raising downhill that riders often seek.
The loop starts 10 miles west of Bend at Skyliner Sno-park, just a couple of miles before Tumalo Falls, and takes riders up the challenging Tumalo Ridge Trail. The views of Tumalo Creek far below and across the narrow valley to the cliffs on the other side are dramatic.
After climbing to the Swede Ridge Shelter, located at about 6,000 feet in elevation, cyclists can take in vistas of Broken Top, South Sister, and Tam McArthur Rim.
The loop then leads riders to the Swampy Lakes area and to the South Fork Trail. After ascending 1,200 feet in 8 miles, riders can then descend that same distance in just 3 miles along South Fork.
South Fork does not include any man-made jumps or swooping, banked turns, but it is still one of the most thrilling downhill stretches of mountain bike singletrack in Central Oregon. South Fork is a two-way trail, so riders must use caution and watch for other bikers or hikers who might be climbing the trail.
South Fork takes riders through the deep, green forest to the Tumalo Creek Trail, which they can then ride back to Skyliner Sno-park to complete the loop.
Deschutes River Trail
Central Oregon is not exactly famous for its fall foliage. But if there is one place where we can count on seeing the glowing yellows, reds and oranges of autumn, it’s the Deschutes River Trail from Meadow Picnic Area — just southwest of Bend off Century Drive — to Benham Falls.
Among mountain bikers and hikers, the trail is one of the most popular in Central Oregon, so riders should try to avoid the trail on weekends and always yield to hikers and trail runners.
The trail extends from Bend southwest for 15 miles to Sunriver. Aspen Camp, a popular place to take in the season’s colors, features yellow and orange aspens that line the trail.
Just past Dillon Falls, more colorful aspens crowd the river on the east bank. Along the section just north of Benham Falls the rapids begin to surge and the fall colors increase in intensity as the trail takes mountain bikers high above the river.
The Deschutes River Trail attracts mountain bikers of virtually every skill level. Beginners can easily tackle short stretches of the trail, while more experienced riders can enjoy a smooth 30-mile trip from Bend to Sunriver and back.
Middle Fork of the Willamette
The 30-mile-long Middle Fork of the Willamette Trail cuts through green meadows, moss-covered Douglas fir trees and numerous creeks. The northwestern terminus of the trail at Sand Prairie Campground is located about 12 miles from Oakridge, the mountain-biking mecca about 40 miles southeast of Eugene and 100 miles from Bend on state Highway 58.
In the fall, the numerous deciduous trees along the Middle Fork make for an engaging array of color.
The Middle Fork springs from the ground near Timpanogas Lake just south of Diamond Peak, 43 miles southeast of Oakridge. At about 5,000 feet in elevation, Timpanogas marks the southeast terminus of the Middle Fork Trail, and its highest point.
Many trailheads and campgrounds are located along Forest Road 21, which runs south and east from Oakridge. So bikers can opt for an out-and-back ride from Sand Prairie Campground, about 2,000 feet in elevation, or shuttle up to a starting point of their choosing.