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Outdoor enthusiasts are gearing up for ski and snowboard season this time of year, as snow will soon begin falling in earnest, and Cascade mountain ski resorts will open.

But mountain biking season is year-round in Central Oregon, offering numerous options for long singletrack rides throughout the late fall and winter.

Here are a few destinations for mountain biking on the High Desert during the cold-weather season:

Smith Rock State Park

The memorable side-hill singletrack that cuts between Smith Rock State Park and Gray Butte offers endless views of the Crooked River National Grassland and the Cascade Range.

But to get there, mountain bikers must first climb up the grueling Burma Road from Smith Rock State Park near Terrebonne.

At the top of Burma Road, riders and hikers can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of Smith Rock that is unsurpassed.

From there, mountain bikers can connect to the Gray Butte Trail leading toward the butte. They can then complete the Cole Loop to the east or the Burma Loop to the north. Both rides skirt the summit of Gray Butte.

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.

Horse Ridge

From atop Horse Ridge, about 20 miles southeast of Bend along U.S. Highway 20, the sprawling High Desert stretches in nearly all directions.

Mountain bikers can enjoy views of the Badlands Wilderness, the white peaks of the Cascades and just more and more desert.

An ideal location on a clear winter day, Horse Ridge includes some of the best mountain biking terrain on the High Desert of Central Oregon.

Horse Ridge is fairly technically challenging, with loads of lava rock dotting the trail on certain stretches. Staying on the east end of the trail system is how mountain bikers can avoid the most difficult trails on the west side of Horse Ridge.

Horse Butte

The Horse Butte area, just southeast of Bend, is the perfect place to ride through open sagebrush country on relatively flat trails that are good for all skill levels.

The Coyote Loop Trail and Arnold Ice Cave Trail (Trail 63) form a loop of about 10 miles that makes for a good ride in either direction.

Twenty years 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 do not include much climbing or elevation change, and they do not have many rocky areas. But riders should be wary of the occasional rock or thick brush along the trail that can suddenly slam their pedals.

Maston

Located between the town of Tumalo and Eagle Crest Resort west of Redmond, the Maston area offers a network of mostly flat trails that are bordered by the Deschutes River canyon to the east and Cline Falls Highway to the west.

The Bureau of Land Management has designated Maston as a mountain biking area in the Cline Buttes Recreation Area Plan. Maston includes about 4,000 acres of the plan’s 32,000 acres (50 square miles), where trails are being built for mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders.

Over the past few years, the Maston area has become increasingly established as a mountain biking destination. The main BLM Maston Trailhead on the south end of the network now includes a large parking area, restrooms and kiosks with maps.

The Maston area features about 20 miles of singletrack with various loop options. The trails wind through juniper trees and sagebrush, and some trails include rocky challenges, including one trail that skirts the picturesque river canyon.

Hopping off the bike to take in the vista of the Deschutes River surging through the rimrock canyon is a good idea.

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

When the snow starts to fall and accumulate, mountain bikers can typically still find prime singletrack on Central Oregon’s High Desert.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,

mmorical@bendbulletin.com

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