Black Rock Trail

Directions: Riders can start from the Lava Lands Visitor Center near Lava Butte, a few miles south of Bend off U.S. Highway 97. Another option is to start from the Deschutes River Trail near Benham Falls.

Distance: The trail is 4½ miles long, but bikers can connect to the Deschutes River Trail for a longer ride.

Elevation gain: 630 feet

Trail features: Rolling singletrack along the edge of a vast lava-rock field.

Rating: Aerobically easy and technically intermediate.

Season: Spring through fall.

By itself, the Black Rock Trail is worthy of the short trip south of Bend for a quick mountain bike ride or hike.

Combined with sections of the Deschutes River Trail, the Black Rock Trail becomes an even more memorable half-day outing through an incredibly dramatic landscape unique to Central Oregon.

One of the oldest mountain biking trails in the region, the Black Rock Trail is a relatively short ribbon of dirt singletrack — just 4½ miles long — that connects Lava Butte to the Benham Falls area.

Paralleling those 4½ miles is the edge of a vast lava-rock field that covers more than nine square miles from U.S. Highway 97 west to the Deschutes River. The trail was named for this seemingly endless black rock field that includes a few trees here and there that have somehow survived.

The field was formed by the eruption of the Lava Butte cinder cone some 7,000 years ago, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The Black Rock Trail was rerouted from its original path about 15 years ago. More recently, the Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Transportation built a 10-foot-wide, 11-mile-long paved path that runs from Lava Butte west to Benham Falls, and from the falls south to Sunriver. Much of this paved road parallels the Black Rock Trail. The relatively new path provides a way for folks in Sunriver to reach Benham Falls and the Lava Lands Visitor Center at Lava Butte via bike or foot.

Originally I thought this paved path would take away from the mountain biking experience on the Black Rock Trail by drawing more crowds, but it seems the trails are far enough apart that this is not the case. And the singletrack still offers the up-close and personal view of the lava rock field that is not available from the paved trail.

Three friends and I made the short drive to Lava Butte last week on a bright spring day to take in the wonders of the Black Rock Trail. The first thing I noticed was how fast I was going. The trail is sort of deceivingly downhill from Lava Butte to the Deschutes. It is fairly gradual, though, so I knew the climb back would not be too excruciating.

In some places, the lava rock field comes right to the edge of the trail. The path is not terribly rocky or technical, however, and is ridable for most skill levels.

The trail eventually connects to a dirt road that crosses the rock field. From there, riders can look out at the expansive lava field and snowcapped Cascade mountains in the background.

After riding along the road and enjoying the geology lesson, we continued back onto the Black Rock Trail, crossed some railroad tracks, and finally found ourselves high above the Deschutes.

Mountain bikers can ride the Black Rock Trail as a simple out-and-back, or connect to the river trail for a longer day on the bike.

We turned on to the ­Deschutes River Trail west toward Sunriver, where the river meanders slowly through the Deschutes National Forest.

In just a couple of miles we would have arrived at the paved paths that meander through Sunriver. But we decided to turn around and ride back toward Benham Falls and explore a more interesting section of the Deschutes River Trail.

We took the wide dirt road to the falls, then continued on along the singletrack river trail that skirted the rushing water. Across the river was the black rock field through which we had ridden earlier.

After a couple of miles, we turned around for the climb back to Lava Butte. Crowds lingered throughout the Benham Falls area, but once we turned onto the Black Rock Trail, we pretty much had it to ourselves.

The climb was not particularly strenuous, but it did require some bursts of power from my legs in sections.

It seemed odd, but satisfying, to end a 16-mile ride with a climb.

The nearly three-hour ride included 630 feet of elevation gain and some fun, rolling singletrack through the volcanic wonderland of the Black Rock Trail.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,