Fall is the prime time for mountain biking in Central Oregon.
Most of the tourists are gone, leaving uncrowded trails, and the singletrack that was sandy and dusty in late August is now firm and tacky from precipitation and cooler weather.
Here are a few options for autumn mountain bike rides throughout Central Oregon:
New Sunriver trails
Volunteers with the South Deschutes County chapter of the Central Oregon Trail Alliance have been hard at work building about 14 miles of new dirt singletrack trails in Sunriver.
The trails are accessible from Sunriver via the Cardinal Landing footbridge and from Forest Road 41, and connect to the existing Wanoga trail network southwest of Bend.
The new trails are primarily cross-country singletrack, with a few technical trail features woven into the design. The trails range in difficulty from easy to moderate, with one advanced trail in the works, and are popular among hikers and trail runners, too.
Last month I rode about 15 miles from Sunriver, completing a loop of the Roundabout Trail, and an out-and-back on the Afternoon Delight Trail.
The singletrack in Sunriver should remain ridable well into November, before significant snow will likely arrive.
Madras East Hills
Combine the efforts of visionary mountain bikers and forward-thinking land managers and the result is the Madras East Hills trails, the latest playground for mountain bikers in Central Oregon.
Located just east of Madras near Juniper Hill Park, the trail system includes 14 miles of mountain biking trails and 6 miles of horseback-riding trails.
Led by the Madras Chapter of the Central Oregon Trail Alliance , trail work on Madras East Hills began in 2019 and has transformed the area into a true destination for cyclists coming from Bend, Redmond and even Portland.
Because the trails are located on land owned by the city of Madras and other private entities, wood and concrete features are allowed to be built in the system.
That is not the case on most other trails in Central Oregon, which are mostly located on federal land, including the Deschutes and Ochoco national forests and Bureau of Land Management land.
Madras East Hills can get extremely sandy during the summer, but the trails should become increasingly firm and ridable as we get deeper into fall.
While e-bikes are prohibited on most national forest and BLM land, they are allowed on the network near Madras.
The plan is to eventually link the Madras East Hills system to trails in the Crooked River National Grassland to the east, including the Gray Butte area near Smith Rock and trails near Prineville and the Ochoco Mountains.
McKenzie River Trail
The 26.5-mile McKenzie River National Recreation Trail can certainly be completed in one day by a motivated mountain biker. But in my experience, the ride is much more enjoyable when the technically demanding upper portion is skipped.
The McKenzie River Trail, which straddles the border of Lane and Linn counties on the western flank of the Cascades, is known for the clear, rushing water of the river, spectacular waterfalls and towering old-growth Douglas fir trees.
It starts out easy around the west side of Clear Lake and becomes extremely technical over the rugged lava rock near the Sahalie and Koosah waterfalls all the way to Trail Bridge Reservoir. From the reservoir, the trail becomes a smooth path of flowing singletrack down to the McKenzie Bridge Ranger Station at its south end.
The trail is located pretty much halfway between Bend and Eugene along state Highway 126.
One constant along the trail — and what makes it so different from any trail in Central Oregon — is the lushness of the Willamette National Forest. Bright green ferns, moss-covered Douglas firs and endless deciduous trees line the trail and provide a nearly constant canopy.
In the fall, those deciduous trees provide a burst of red, orange and yellow to make for a visually stunning leaf-peeping ride.