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Central Oregon’s Tumalo Creek Trail is ideal for novice mountain bikers, families

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A pair of mountain bikers ride along the Tumalo Creek Trail near Skyliner Sno-park.
A pair of mountain bikers ride along the Tumalo Creek Trail near Skyliner Sno-park. (Ryan Brennecke/Bend Bulletin/TNS) Photo Gallery

BEND, Ore. — Central Oregon is home to hundreds of miles of singletrack trails. In fact, our area boasts more than 900 miles of singletrack, according to bendtrails.org.

But some trails just seem to stand out more than others.

To me, Tumalo Creek is one of those trails.

Located 10 miles west of Bend, the 3.5-mile Tumalo Creek Trail is an ideal path for mountain bikers looking for an easy ride with loads of scenery.

The trail, located near Tumalo Falls, still offers some challenges and showcases some of Central Oregon’s world-class singletrack, but without any lung-busting climbs or nasty rock gardens.

Sometimes, it is difficult for beginners or children to find trails on which they are comfortable. Fortunately, in Central Oregon, many of these types of trails exist. Several can be found from the ever-popular Phil’s Trailhead, from Shevlin Park and from the Deschutes River Trail.

But in late summer and early fall, the high country is accessible, and the Tumalo Creek Trail gives riders a chance for a relatively nontechnical ride at the upper reaches of the eastern slope of the Cascade Range.

I made the 10-mile drive west of Bend to Skyliner Sno-park a few weeks ago with a friend who is new to mountain biking, leaving the smoke-filled air of Bend for clear skies at the edge of the mountains.

The start of the Tumalo Creek Trail is a little tricky, with some tree roots jutting up from the ground, followed by a brief climb. After that, it’s pretty much smooth sailing, other than a couple of rocky sections that can be a challenge for a beginner.

We took our time and dismounted to walk in places that were a bit too technical or steep for my friend. But those areas were few.

The Tumalo Creek trail follows the creek about 3.5 miles to Tumalo Falls, an iconic Central Oregon attraction and a nice visual reward for completing the first half of the ride.

As we rode, we caught glimpses of the babbling creek below, and of Mount Bachelor and the rugged green surroundings of Tumalo Canyon and the Bridge Creek Burn, a 1979 forest fire that completely changed the landscape of the area.

After enjoying views of the falls, we headed back the way we had come. On the ride back to Skyliner Sno-park, bikers can gain significant speed on the smooth trail, but keeping a watchful eye for hikers and trail runners is a must, as the trail is quite popular.

We completed the 7-mile out-and-back ride in a little more than an hour.

Aside from an out-and-back journey, the Tumalo Creek Trail can be part of longer rides that loop up into the upper elevations of the Central Oregon Cascades.

Later, on Aug. 29, I started from Skyliner Sno-park and rode the Tumalo Ridge, Swede Ridge and South Fork trails before completing the 13-mile loop on the Tumalo Creek Trail.

Many other longer, more advanced loop rides in the high country of the Deschutes National Forest emanate from Skyliner Sno-park and Tumalo Falls. One such ride, the North Fork-Flagline loop, is a 20-mile classic through alpine meadows and along the edge of Broken Top, with grueling climbs and fast descents.

Also, from Skyliner Sno-park, mountain bikers can connect to the Skyliners Trail, which links up to the Whoops Trail, Sector 16 and other trails in the Phil’s network.

Aside from the Tumalo Creek Trail, other beginner rides are available at higher elevations in Central Oregon. Good singletrack options include the Swampy Lakes Loop (4.3 miles) from Swampy Lakes Sno-park off Century Drive and the Cultus Lake Loop (12 miles), about an hour’s drive from Bend off Cascade Lakes Highway.

Both of these rides are on trails that connect to more singletrack for much longer, more expert-level rides.

But there are trails for every level of mountain biker in Central Oregon, even those just looking for a simple cruise through spectacular scenery.

This story originally appeared in the Bulletin of Bend, Ore.

©2021 The Bulletin. Visit bendbulletin.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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