HORSE BUTTE

Directions: From Southeast 27th Street in Bend, turn east on Rickard Road. Go 2 miles east on Rickard Road, then turn right on Billadeau Road, which turns into Horse Butte Road. This road becomes gravel and is marked by a Deschutes National Forest sign. Continue until you see the Horse Butte trailhead sign. Turn right and park. The Arnold Ice Cave Trail is just across the road from the parking lot. The Coyote Loop Trail is farther south down the road.

Distance: Loop options of 10 to 30 miles. The Coyote Loop Trail-Arnold Ice Cave Trail loop is about 10 miles; bikers can combine other singletrack and dirt roads for much longer rides, including trails that lead to Horse Ridge.

Elevation gain: Varies widely.

Trail features: High desert singletrack riding among sagebrush and some juniper trees; expansive views of the Cascade Range and other mountains; a few lava caves are located in the area; trails should be avoided in the summer, when they become quite dusty.

Rating: Technically easy, aerobically intermediate.

Season: Fall, winter, spring.

For more Mountain Bike Trail Guides, see bendbulletin.com/rideguide.

For some, mountain biking is yet another way to stay fit while enjoying the outdoors.

For others, it is all about the thrill of flying off jumps and speeding around corners while riding downhill on well-used trails.

And for still others, mountain biking is about the sense of adventure.

Somewhere between Horse Butte and Horse Ridge earlier this week, I found that sense of adventure that is sometimes lacking in modern-day mountain biking.

Horse Butte and Horse Ridge often get confused, and not just because they both have “Horse” in their names. They are also both located southeast of Bend where the ponderosa pine trees of the Deschutes National Forest give way to the sagebrush and juniper trees of the High Desert.

From a small trailhead off China Hat Road just southeast of Horse Butte, I started out through the sagebrush along one of the many singletrack trails that weave through the area.

The mostly flat trail took me through a few rocky sections and became softer and sandier as I rode east.

Horse Ridge rose into the blue sky a few miles ahead, and nothing but sagebrush and sand sat between me and those hills. It felt as though I was the only one around for miles, cruising along through an area in which I had never ventured.

After about 5 miles, I reached the southwest edge of Horse Ridge, where a couple of dirt roads intersected and appeared to go in opposite directions around the ridge. On the other side of the ridge, several miles of singletrack are accessible from U.S. Highway 20.

I headed back the way I had come and rode a quick loop through the Horse Butte area. Trails there were more firmly packed because they get more use from mountain bikers.

All told, I rode about 15 miles, mostly through the remote area between Horse Butte and Horse Ridge.

The two locations are ideal spots to ride during the fall and winter in Central Oregon, when other popular riding areas west of Bend become covered in snow.

While the trails east of town earlier this week were still somewhat sandy, conditions will improve with rain and freezing temperatures.

Also in the Horse Butte area, the Coyote Loop Trail and Arnold Ice Cave Trail (Trail 63) form a loop of about 10 miles that makes for an enjoyable ride in either direction.

A quarter of a century ago there were many more trees in the area, but the 1996 Skeleton Fire burned 17,000 acres, opening up vast views in every direction and leaving behind mostly sagebrush and a few juniper trees.

Mount Bachelor, the Three Sisters, Broken Top, Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson can all be seen to the west on a clear day on the Horse Butte trails.

The trails include little elevation change, and they do not have many rocky areas. Riders should be wary of the occasional rock or thick brush along the trail that can suddenly slam their pedals.

Horse Ridge, about 20 miles southeast of Bend along U.S. Highway 20, offers the same type of desert terrain as Horse Butte, but with more climbing and descents and more rocky technical trails.

Loads of lava rock dot the trail on certain stretches, but riders can avoid the most difficult trails on the west side of Horse Ridge by staying on the east end of the trail system.

As a long, dry summer and early fall finally give way to more typical autumnlike conditions, here are two more areas for mountain bikers to consider exploring in Central Oregon:

Maston

I have heard some mountain bikers complain that the Maston area near Redmond is too flat, but sometimes I like knowing I am going to ride in a place without any difficult, punishing climbs. And it is an ideal spot for beginners and kids.

Located between the town of Tumalo and Eagle Crest Resort west of Redmond, the Maston area includes a network of singletrack bordered by the Deschutes River Canyon to the east and Cline Falls Highway to the west.

Over the past few years the Maston area has become increasingly established as a mountain biking destination, but the Bureau of Land Management has developed separate trails for horseback riders in the area as well. The main BLM Maston Trailhead on the south end of the network includes a large parking area, restrooms and kiosks with maps.

The Maston area features about 20 miles of singletrack with numerous loop options. Similar to the Horse Butte area, the trails at Maston wind through juniper trees and sagebrush. The area includes only one technical trail, a rocky path that parallels the picturesque river canyon.

To the west from Maston, bikers can take in views of the soon-to-be snowcapped Cascades, including Broken Top and the Three Sisters.

Smith Rock State Park

Mountain bikers at Smith Rock can choose a relatively flat ride or one with considerable elevation change.

Riders who stay on the River Trail can wind through a popular, mostly flat area of the park where many climbers can be seen clinging to vertical rock faces. Those riders who climb the grueling Burma Road can access some thrilling singletrack that cuts between Smith Rock State Park and Gray Butte and offers endless views of the Crooked River National Grassland and the Cascade Range.

From the Gray Butte Trail, bikers can connect to the Summit Trail and then the River Trail to loop back around Smith Rock State Park.

As the seasons change on the High Desert, mountain bikers still have myriad options to find a new adventure close to home.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,

mmorical@bendbulletin.com

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