SKYLINER SNO-PARK —
Tumalo Falls trailhead is packed this time of year with tourists and sightseers. Most of them do not venture far past the top of the falls, just a short hike from the parking area.
But what local mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners know is that the area — just 10 miles west of Bend — is teeming with trail possibilities well beyond the falls.
The North Fork Trail (uphill-only passage for mountain bikers) features seven waterfalls along Tumalo Creek in a deep, green forest and is a challenging climb. The Tumalo Creek Trail offers a relatively flat, easy trail along the rushing creek that is ideal for families.
According to bendtrails.org, the North Fork Trail still had some lingering snow patches on its upper end as of Tuesday. That trail will be free of snow soon, but for this week, I settled on a different ride in the Tumalo Falls area: the Swede Ridge Loop.
The 14-mile route is a classic high-elevation ride in the trail system. While it does not include free-ride jumps and features like the Wanoga area (also west of Bend) that might appeal more to the modern mountain biker, it does feature some epic climbs, stunning views and hair-raising downhill that riders often seek.
I made the 10-mile drive to Skyliner Sno-park, just a couple of miles before Tumalo Falls, on Tuesday.
Andrew Williams and I started out on the Tumalo Ridge Trail, which would take us up a rather steep climb above Tumalo Creek and the Bridge Creek Burn area. A fire in 1979 tore through the area and opened up dramatic mountain views of Broken Top, South Sisters, Mount Bachelor and Tumalo Mountain.
The climb up switchbacks was difficult, but we reached the top of the ridge in just a half-hour or so. We glanced down at Tumalo Creek far below and across the narrow valley to the dramatic cliffs on the other side.
The trail soon rolled through a downhill stretch and we gained speed as the tight singletrack weaved among towering ponderosa pines and Douglas fir trees. Eventually we arrived in a clearing along thick snowbrush and manzanita, with sprawling views of Cascade peaks to the west.
Soon thereafter, the singletrack turned to doubletrack and we began the long, slow climb toward Swede Ridge Shelter. This might be the toughest stretch of the loop, as the climbing seems endless along the dirt road. But we finally arrived at the shelter, located at about 6,000 feet in elevation. There we ate a quick snack from our packs and took in the view of snow-covered Broken Top, South Sister, and Tam McArthur Rim.
We noticed the mosquitoes beginning to find us so we did not linger long. Snow melting in the high country in late spring and early summer can make for lots of bugs. Applying insect repellent is a good idea for bikers, hikers and runners in the area.
Back on our bikes, we rode the 2-mile stretch along the Swede Ridge Trail, rolling singletrack that is mostly flat but includes one long, steep climb that we could not quite tackle without dismounting our bikes.
That trail led us to the Swampy Lakes area and to the South Fork Trail. We had ascended about 1,200 feet in 8 miles, and now we would descend that same distance in just 3 miles.
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. The trail has several switchbacks, but riders can keep their momentum while going airborne over natural obstacles such as roots and rocks. 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 led us through the deep, green forest to the Tumalo Creek Trail, which we rode north to check out Tumalo Falls. The trailhead was packed with cars and day hikers, and after a short while we headed back along Tumalo Creek, escaping the crowds as we returned to Skyliner Sno-park to complete the loop.
As more and more high country west of Bend becomes free of snow this summer, riders will have increased opportunity for upper-elevation rides on the cusp of the Cascades.