Living in a fitness-crazed place like Central Oregon can at times be disheartening.
I know mountain bikers who start in Bend, climb to Mount Bachelor, then ride back home to Bend — all in one day.
For most of us, that’s just not an option. We usually decide which trails we want to ride, then pick out an enjoyable loop to ride in maybe a half day’s time. Typically, climbing is required.
But sometimes, mountain bikers want to forgo the fitness for the fun.
That’s where shuttles come in. Find a willing friend or family member to drop you off at a higher elevation, then ride sweet singletrack all the way back, mostly downhill, to Bend.
And if you can’t hitch a free ride, Cog Wild (cogwild.com) offers daily shuttles to Wanoga or Swampy Lakes sno-parks, starting at $15. Once snow conditions allow, Cog Wild will also offer shuttles to Dutchman Flat Sno-park near Mount Bachelor.
While the Wanoga network southwest of Bend has become hugely popular for mountain bikers seeking a more free-ride experience with jumps, banked turns and myriad technical trail features, Swampy Lakes offers the more classic downhill Central Oregon ride.
Last week, a friend’s wife was kind enough to make the 20-minute drive west of Bend along Century Drive and drop us off for the long bike ride back home.
The trails around Swampy Lakes and Wanoga are all snow-free now, but that does not mean the white stuff has stopped falling. We started out in a mild snowstorm, but luckily, it only lasted for about a half hour as we began descending.
Central Oregon weather can remain somewhat unpredictable in June, especially at higher elevations, but the current forecast looks more like summer.
Swampy Lakes is located at 5,800 feet in elevation, so we would enjoy a net elevation loss of about 2,200 feet on our ride to Bend.
From near the sno-park, bikers can take the South Fork trail toward Tumalo Falls, which leads them to Skyliner Trail and the Phil’s Trail network, or head toward Swede Ridge, which will lead them back to the Phil’s system via the Sector 16 and Whoops trails.
After climbing a short stretch of forest road from the sno-park, we turned right onto the Swampy to Swede Tie (SST) trail, a fast and flowing trail, which would lead us to the Swede Ridge Shelter. We cruised around the densely wooded sections and tight corners of the trail, which was mostly packed and smooth, perfect for riding.
At the shelter, we were actually able to use it for, well, shelter from the snow. But the view is also stunning, though we could barely see Broken Top and South Sister through the clouds.
From Swede Ridge, we connected to Sector 16. This trail cuts sharply through thick forest, and for the tired mountain biker, it can seem to drag on and on. But we had plenty of energy remaining, and we enjoyed the gradual descent on a thin ribbon of dirt that in some places took us perilously close to the trees.
From Sector 16, bikers can easily connect to the Upper Whoops trail.
A slightly tamer version of Lower Whoops, Upper Whoops offers lightning-fast singletrack and flowing turns. Riders should be wary of some rutted sections caused by lots of braking.
Upper Whoops connects to Lower Whoops, Storm King and Skyliner trails. Lower Whoops has undergone a transformation over the past few years, much to the delight of high-flying free-riders. Thanks to the efforts of Central Oregon Trail Alliance volunteers, the once-natural dirt jumps have been transformed into a variety of tabletops and other features.
But the fast, rolling trail is a blast even for the less-aggressive biker, who can cruise over the jumps without going airborne and speed around the numerous banked corners. Many areas on the trail also also offer options of smaller jumps or bigger jumps, so riders can take their pick based on their confidence.
From Lower Whoops, we connected to Phil’s Trail, riding through the canyon, then on to KGB, Marvin’s Gardens, and C.O.D. trails into the Tetherow neighborhood and then Century Drive.
We continued on a mix of trails and roads across town to our homes in southeast Bend. All told, we rode about 24 miles in 3 hours, 15 minutes.
According to my Garmin watch, we had about 900 feet of ascent — and 3,000 feet of descent.
Perhaps we traded some fitness for fun, but it was well worth it to enjoy some of the best singletrack in the Northwest in the most thrilling way possible — downhill.