Monday, May 17, 2021
May 17, 2021

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Black Rock Trail offers beauty, adventure

Trail suitable for most skill levels, not rocky, despite name


BEND, Ore. — Central Oregon boasts so many trails, but sometimes we get stuck in the routine of biking or hiking the same routes that have become our go-to favorites.

We are creatures of habit, and sometimes we need to make a point to explore new areas or return to spots long forgotten. I thought hard about places I had not ridden my bike in a while. Lava Butte and the Black Rock Trail came to mind.

Lava Butte by itself is a superb destination for adventure, as paved paths let hikers explore the vast lava rock of the northwest section of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

Mountain bikers looking for a longer trip on dirt singletrack can access the Black Rock Trail at Lava Butte and ride to Benham Falls and Sunriver.

One of the oldest mountain biking trails in the region, the Black Rock Trail is a short ribbon of dirt singletrack — 41/2 miles long — that connects Lava Butte to the Benham Falls area.

Paralleling those 41/2 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.

Recently, I made the 15-minute drive from my house in Bend to Lava Butte. I started out on the Black Rock Trail with a fairly fast downhill section that took me right to the edge of the lava rock field.

Despite its name, the trail is not exceedingly rocky or technical but is actually suitable 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 mass of rock and peer west to Mount Bachelor and the Three Sisters. This time of year the peaks were nearly snowless, but clouds were moving in, and I knew that soon would change.

The area where I was riding is not just for mountain bikers. A few years ago, the U.S. 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, but the paths are far enough apart that I did not even notice the paved trail.

After enjoying a unique ride alongside the rocks, the trail eventually turned south. There, the Black Rock Trail was rerouted this past year by the Central Oregon Trail Alliance to make for a safer crossing of the railroad tracks. Before, bikers and hikers would have to go up and over the tracks to the other side of the trail. Now, the trail leads them to a safer paved railroad crossing that takes them to the paved path.

From there, I could turn north and cross a small bridge to Benham Falls, or turn onto the Deschutes River Trail toward Sunriver. I opted for the latter, not wanting to encounter a gaggle of sightseers at the falls.

The trail took me high above the Upper Deschutes, which meandered slowly through the Deschutes National Forest. Fall colors of gold and orange lined the trail and the river.

I picked up speed along the rolling trail and eventually arrived at the paved paths that meander through Sunriver. Sometimes it feels nice to ride the pavement after long miles on the dirt.

Riding through Sunriver, I soon reached the Cardinal Landing Bridge, which I crossed to connect to a new singletrack network that was recently built by Central Oregon Trail Alliance. After a few miles there along the river, I turned around to head back toward the Black Rock Trail and Lava Butte.

The ride back was relatively flat, but once I turned back onto the Black Rock Trail it became a bit of a climb — not particularly strenuous, but it did require some bursts of power from my legs in sections.

The 20-mile out-and-back ride took about 2 hours, 15 minutes, and included about 500 feet of elevation gain. It was not extremely challenging, but it did offer some fast, rolling singletrack — and some paved areas — through a land filled with intriguing geology and stunning scenery.