Swede Ridge Loop
Directions: Head 10 miles west of Bend on Skyliners Road to Skyliner Sno-park on the left.
Length: 14 miles, two to three hours.
Elevation gain: About 1,000 feet.
Rating: Technically intermediate and aerobically strenuous.
Trail features: Challenging climbs and fast descents along singletrack, with numerous mountain views along the way. The Swede Ridge Shelter offers a midride pit stop.
Season: Mid-summer through fall.
More rides can be found at bendbulletin.com/rideguide
A butterfly here. A dragonfly there. Then a flurry of giant bumblebees, mosquitoes and whatever else was buzzing around in the high country.
It seemed I could not escape the insects on a recent ride along the Swede Ridge Loop west of Bend. Just after the snow melts, the bugs can be pretty pesky at higher elevations.
Luckily, I was mountain biking and not camping.
As long as you move fast enough, they won’t bother you much. But every time I stopped, I got attacked, giving me good motivation to keep pedaling.
As the snow continues to melt, numerous higher elevation trails are becoming accessible west of Bend. Tumalo Falls Trailhead and vehicle access to the trailhead via Forest Road 4603 reopened to the public May 28. It had been closed since March 2014 because of a city of Bend water pipeline project that is nearing completion.
The reopening is good news for the fat-tire crowd, because the area surrounding Tumalo Falls is a mountain bike paradise with many loop options available summer through fall.
I checked Bendtrails.org and saw that the North Fork Trail was still covered with choppy snow, so I decided to avoid North Fork and instead ride the 14-mile Swede Ridge Loop along the Tumalo Ridge, Swede Ridge, South Fork and Tumalo Creek trails. The loop is a classic high-elevation ride in the trail system west of Bend.
On a mild and partly cloudy morning last week, I drove 10 miles west of Bend to Skyliner Sno-park (just a couple of miles from Tumalo Falls). From the sno-park, I started out along the Tumalo Ridge Trail, which quickly transformed from a relatively flat path to a steep, switchbacked climb.
From near the top of the climb along Tumalo Ridge, the forest opened up and I could peer down at Tumalo Creek far below and look eastward all the way to Bend.
The trail soon rolled through a downhill stretch and I picked up speed as the tight singletrack weaved through thick manzanita. Mount Bachelor and Tumalo Mountain came into view to the west, as did Broken Top and South Sister.
Soon thereafter, the singletrack turned to doubletrack as I started the long, slow climb toward Swede Ridge Shelter. Along this climb, looking northwest, I could see Tumalo Falls from about a mile away, a bright splash of whitewater in the middle of the dark green Deschutes National Forest. It was an interesting vantage point from which to view the popular waterfall.
After about 1,000 feet of elevation gain, I ate my sack lunch and rested at the Swede Ridge Shelter, located at about 6,000 feet.
I took in the unobstructed Cascade peak views from the shelter, but I soon grew weary of swatting away the bugs and hopped back on my mountain bike for the 2-mile stretch along the Swede Ridge Trail. That trail led me to the Swampy Lakes Shelter and from there connected me to the South Fork Trail.
The South Fork Trail does not feature any man-made jumps or banked turns, but to me, it remains one of the most thrilling downhill stretches of mountain bike singletrack in Central Oregon. The trail has several switchbacks, but you can maintain your flow while catching air over natural obstacles like roots and rocks. The 1,100-foot descent over 3 miles took me roaring back down to the Tumalo Creek Trail.
Along the Tumalo Creek Trail, which is one of my favorite spots in Central Oregon, a rugged cliff wall provides a stunning backdrop to the babbling brook that is Tumalo Creek.
I picked up speed and cruised along the flat, mellow path that eventually led me back to Skyliner Sno-park and my car.
After three hours of riding, I had forgotten about the swarms of bugs and was simply excited that the high country was once again snow-free and accessible for mountain biking.
Editor’s note: Mountain Bike Trail Guide, by Bulletin sports and outdoors writer Mark Morical, features various trails in Central Oregon and beyond. The trail guide appears in Outdoors on alternating Wednesdays through the riding season.
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,