When it comes to outdoor recreation – mountain biking in this particular instance – the phrases “out of shape” and “in a hurry” don’t go so well together.
Luckily, I got my boss to green light an entire afternoon to mountain bike unchartered territories.
Not unchartered as in “undiscovered” – just unchartered by me.
For here I sit ashamed to admit that it took me 14 years in Bend to step foot (or bike) into one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon, Smith Rock State Park.
I always had a good excuse – namely that it was 26 miles north of Bend in Terrebonne and there are plenty of great places to ride much closer to my home. I like very much the idea of ending my work day at 5:30 and being dressed and on my bike in the middle of a national forest by 5:50. That’s some convenient recreating.
But here I sit now wondering what in the world I waited for. Smith Rock is truly everything it was cracked up to be.
Do a Google search for “Smith Rock Mountain Biking” and it doesn’t bring up much. The state park is more known for its views – THE VIEWS! – multiple hiking options and, of course, the birthplace of modern sport climbing.
The ride certainly offers a diverse cross section of mountain biking experiences: hard-packed (in the spring) flowing singletrack, rocky dirt roads, loose rock climbs and descents, side hills, long switchbacks and gravel trails. And in the direction I did the ride – a clockwise loop – it was mostly uphill.
The ride started innocent enough down from the parking lot, across a footbridge and on to the River Trail with some fun, flowing sections as the Crooked River meandered to the left and sheer rock walls rose to the sky on the right. Busy with hikers and dogs, you have to pay close attention to the trail instead of looking too closely at the scenery.
The trail takes you north, out of the canyon and out of congestion on some mixed-bag singletrack – stay to your left on the River Trial at the fork with Mesa Verde. From here, there’s more fun singletrack for about a half mile before things start heading up and getting interesting.
Veer left on to the Summit Loop Trail, but be warned – some above beginner mountain biking skills will come in handy to negotiate the steep, rocky climbs on this sidehill section of trail. Lose your balance left and you could tumble a ways down to the river.
I consider myself an experienced mountain biker and this was my first ride of the season. But even if I had been in mid-season shape and form, I probably still would have had to hop off my bike and walk a few sections here. (I just looked at it as a chance for me to snap some pictures.)
The trail enters a small section of private property and continues a gradual climb, but on much more rideable terrain with clear views of the Cascades behind you in the distance. Take a right at the sign for a quick .6 mile trek to the viewpoint – it’s not the summit of the climb, but it’s a great spot to stop and take in the canyon below.
The next mile and a quarter includes about 13 switchbacks – some short and quick, some more spread out, all rideable, but all heading uphill to a peak elevation of about 3,500 feet.
Five miles into the ride you’ll reach the summit and more amazing views looking southwest into the park before heading down the Burma Road Trail, a wide, teeth-chattering dirt road with loose soil and large rocks that force you to pay close attention to your braking and line.
At the bottom, stay to the right and look for a sneaky entrance to more singletrack heading back into the canyon. This section is short, but quite steep and technical, forcing me off the bike a couple of times.
Things quickly calm down as you ride back toward the river and connect with the Wolf Tree Trail, a really fun (and crowded with hikers) half mile section of trail along the river with great views of the rock cliffs that ends as you cross the footbridge over the river. (This section of trail is featured in the video above.)
In all, the loop was about 7 miles. And in hindsight, would have been much more fun the way most folks do it – hooking up to the Summit Trail from the Gray Butte Trail and descending all that stuff I rode up. But you need a shuttle car to do that, and today I was on my own.
I promise to not be a stranger here again. The trails are too good to be unridden.