Saturday, May 21, 2022
May 21, 2022

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Horse Ridge is a great late-fall option for trail fun

Area near Bend, Ore., offers bicyclists, runners and hikers nice terrain, beautiful views

2 Photos
A mountain biker riding singletrack on Horse Ridge.
A mountain biker riding singletrack on Horse Ridge. (Mark Morical/Bend Bulletin/TNS) (Bend Bulletin) Photo Gallery

BEND, Ore. — It’s the time of year when many outdoor enthusiasts in Central Oregon turn their attention to skiing and snowboarding.

Mount Bachelor ski area was tentatively scheduled to open last Friday. Hoodoo and Willamette Pass are hoping to open ahead of the December holidays.

In the meantime, it’s also the time of year when many of us mountain bikers, trail runners and hikers head east to satiate our lust for adventure on dirt trails as areas west of Bend become covered in snow and ice.

East of Bend, the Oregon Badlands Wilderness offers hikers and trail runners seemingly endless flat trails amid ancient juniper trees and lava rock.

Near the Badlands — which is not open to bicyclists because it is a wilderness area — is Horse Ridge. This area about 16 miles southeast of Bend features a wide-open, rocky, juniper forest, with plenty of climbing and descending options. The ridge tops out at about 4,700 feet in elevation and includes about 30 miles of singletrack trails.

From the top of Horse Ridge, one can view the vast High Desert for miles and miles. To the north is the Badlands, to the west are the snow-dusted peaks of the Cascade Range, and to the east is the never-ending desert.

Horse Ridge is a pretty good place to be on a clear, blue-sky day. The area offers mountain bikers a chance to experience some of the best terrain and views in the High Desert of Central Oregon.

Horse Ridge is a popular offseason mountain biking and trail running destination because the trails can remain dry through the winter. But it is a fairly technically challenging area, with loads of lava rock that dots the trail on certain stretches.

This was on my mind as I planned my route recently, so I decided I would stick to the east end of the trail system and avoid the advanced black diamond and double-black diamond trails on the west side of Horse Ridge.

From the west trailhead just off U.S. Highway 20, I rode singletrack along a barbed-wire fence that paralleled the highway. That trail offered a relatively easier climb to the top of the ridge than other trails in the area.

Trail conditions were ideal: firm and tacky, without any snow or mud.

I made a right turn and began a steep climb up the ridge, following a few switchbacks. Mount Jefferson, and even Mount Hood, glowed white against a brilliant blue sky to the northwest.

Before long, I was on a side-hill trail that offered dramatic views of the Badlands to the north and Dry Canyon to the northeast.

The trail continued up through old, twisted juniper trees and sagebrush. After ascending nearly 1,000 feet, I arrived at an especially rocky and technical stretch. I paced myself to negotiate my way through the rock gardens, stopping to walk at a couple of spots.

After I topped out on the ridge, I began a speedy descent that led me to the east Horse Ridge trailhead.

I turned around there and climbed back up the way I had come, knowing I would get to eventually descend back to the car at the west trailhead.

On a full-suspension mountain bike, riding downhill over rock gardens is actually pretty fun, and I welcomed the challenge as I bounced and bobbed back through the technical sections.

I rode about 12 miles in less than three hours, enjoying a perfect mix of challenging climbing, technical riding and fast downhill singletrack.

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