Trails near Cultus Lake

Directions: From Bend, take U.S. Highway 97 south to the main turn into Sunriver (South Century Drive). After 22 miles on Forest Road 40 (Spring River Road), turn left onto Cascade Lakes Highway. Turn right onto Road 4635 at sign for Cultus Lake. Turn left on gravel road 4630 to Little Cultus Lake. Turn right at the fork in the road. The Deer Lake Trailhead is half a mile down on the left. The drive is about one hour from Bend.

Trail features: An intermediate out-and-back ride that skirts three lakes. The trail includes densely wooded sections as well as open vistas of Cultus Lake.

Length: The out-and-back from Little Cultus Lake to the east end of Cultus Lake is about 16 miles and is all singletrack.

Elevation gain: Nearly 500 feet.

Rating: Aerobically easy and technically intermediate.

Season: Summer and fall.

Mountain bikers have a number of trail options this summer near Cultus Lake, a popular recreational spot in the Central Oregon high country.

The Cultus Lake campground and the Winopee Lake Trailhead at Cultus were closed by the U.S. Forest Service last month as contractors cut down dying trees that were in danger of falling. Both the campground and trailhead are scheduled to reopen Friday, according to the Forest Service.

Mountain bikers and hikers can also access trails in the area via the Deer Lake Trailhead at Little Cultus Lake.

From Little Cultus Lake, mountain bikers can ride to nearby Cultus Lake and back, or take on a longer ride to Charlton or Waldo lakes to the southwest.

I made the trip to Little Cultus earlier this week, starting from the Deer Lake Trailhead and planning on an out-and-back ride.

Cultus Lake is far better known for camping, water skiing, wakeboarding and jet skiing than for mountain biking — but the area features some underrated trails that are worth the trip.

From the Deer Lake Trailhead, I passed by Little Cultus Lake and into a deep, dark forest of lodgepole and ponderosa pine trees. The trails in the Cultus area border the Three Sisters Wilderness, and several junctions lead to wilderness trails that are restricted to hikers and equestrians.

When I arrived at tiny Deer Lake, I stopped to take some photos and the mosquitoes found me quickly. Bug spray is a must when riding a trail near numerous lakes. I did not notice the bugs much as I rode, but every time I stopped they seemed to find me, even though I had covered myself with repellent before the ride.

From Deer Lake the trail, which in that section is called the Many Lakes Trail, descends toward the west end of Cultus Lake. Some rooty, rocky portions of the trail are challenging, but riders encounter nothing extremely technical.

I barreled downhill onto the west shore of Cultus, which offered a dramatic view of the picturesque lake. From there, the trail climbed to the north side of Cultus and back into the deep woods.

Mountain bikers were advised to avoid riding into the closed area on the east end of Cultus, so I turned around about 6 miles into the ride.

Much of the trail is littered with broken pieces of logs, so riders should be careful not to get wood chunks stuck in their spokes or derailleur. Parts of the trail were somewhat dusty during my ride, but other sections were firm and fast.

Bikers should ride with caution, as the trail is popular with hikers and horseback riders.

The trail back toward Little Cultus included a fairly challenging climb, followed by a downhill section back to the trailhead.

For those mountain bikers looking for a longer, more adventurous ride, a dirt road west from Little Cultus Lake ties into the Charlton Trail, leading to Lemish and Charlton lakes. Bikers can also hook up with the Clover Meadow Trail or the Metolius-Windigo Trail for a longer ride. They can even go all the way to Waldo Lake if so inclined.

The trails near Cultus Lake offer a rare option: high-country paths that pass several lakes and are free of snow only in the summer and fall.

While the trails to Lemish and Charlton lakes are a bit more challenging, the out-and-back from Little Cultus to Cultus is at the intermediate level: rocky in some sections, but easily ridable by bikers of just about any age or skill level.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318, mmorical@bendbulletin.com

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