Snow has begun to blanket the Central Oregon Cascades, and soon skiers and snowboarders will take to the hills in search of fresh powder in what looks to be a memorable winter for snowfall.
But mountain bikers might still have a few weeks left to hit their favorite trails west of Bend before winter settles over the Cascade foothills for the long haul.
This past week featured ideal riding conditions after significant rainfall made the trails tacky, firm and smooth. I found time to ride in the Horse Butte and Swamp Wells areas east of Bend, and the Phil’s Trail area west of Bend.
While Phil’s Trailhead is perhaps the most well-known mountain biking area in Central Oregon, another trail just west of Bend offers premium mountain biking throughout the fall.
Mrazek is a 14-mile trail that connects Shevlin Park to upper-elevation areas such as Happy Valley and Trail 99 on the edge of the Three Sisters Wilderness. While those higher areas are now covered in snow, the trail still offers an out-and-back option. Mrazek links to the Shevlin Park trails on the southwest end of the park.
An out-and-back ride along the Shevlin Park Loop and Mrazek trails provides a mix of lush forest along Tumalo Creek — with bright fall colors this time of year — and then a more typical High Desert feel cutting through manzanita and the aftermath of recent burns deep in the Deschutes National Forest west of Bend.
The ride also offers a gradual climb and then a fast and thrilling downhill on the way back to Shevlin Park.
While Shevlin Park is often filled with hikers and runners, Mrazek offers a more remote experience for mountain bikers seeking to escape the crowds.
Last week, I made the drive to a small parking area on the northeast edge of Shevlin Park. I rode paved trails and then doubletrack to the east side of the Shevlin Park Loop, high above Tumalo Creek in the shallow canyon. As I descended into the deep forest of red, orange and yellow leaves along the creek, I made sure to yield to any pedestrians along the way.
I crossed a narrow wood bridge and then turned onto Mrazek, which begins with a sustained climb that leads riders from the forest canopy up onto the High Desert.
The section of Mrazek just above Shevlin Park includes a short segment that is pretty rocky and technical, with jagged rocks jutting out of the singletrack.
After that section, the trail became smooth again, and I continued along the fast and smooth singletrack.
I eventually reached the site of the 2014 Two Bulls Fire, which burned nearly 11 square miles of mainly private timberland west of Bend. The fire charred over about half a mile of Mrazek, and the trail was rerouted months later. The fire opened up views of Broken Top that were not there before. Manzanita has grown back quite thick in the area over the past seven years.
After I exited the burned area, the forest once again grew denser and the trail became increasingly steep.
I decided to turn around after riding about 7 miles.
The descent was fast and sustained over a few modest jumps and winding singletrack that never got boring. And the trail was in perfect shape.
I eventually arrived at a downhill-only section, marked by a Mrazek sign. Designed by Phil Meglasson, of Phil’s Trail fame, this portion of the trail cuts through a ravine, with swooping turns built along a constant section of steep ups and downs.
The descent into Shevlin Park along Mrazek and the ride back along the Shevlin Park Loop trail made for a total distance of about 14 miles with 1,100 feet of elevation gain.
Meglasson was largely responsible for getting Mrazek built, beginning construction of the trail more than 25 years ago. With the help of the U.S. Forest Service, Mrazek was completed up to the Metolius-Windigo Trail about 15 years ago.
It remains an ideal option for mountain bikers seeking premium autumn singletrack before the snow takes over.