Pyramids Epic Loop


Six distinct sections, all awesome in their own way....and when you talk about your big day out riding the old cascades, your friends will say

Six distinct sections, all awesome in their own way….and while the masses will be accosting the McKenzie trail just ten miles away, you’ll be here…alone…a TDM guarantee!

Closest Towns: Sisters(40 min), Corvallis/Eugene/Salem(1.5hrs), Portland 2.3hrs)
Ride Format: Big ass loop, or a half-moon shuttle.
Trail Style: Raw but excellent trail riding
Giggle Rating: ***
Riding : ****(sections of**)
Scenery: ****
Flow: ***
Adventure: ****
Technicality: Mostly Easy, with the exception of one (avoidable) mile on the Three Pyramids section of trail, which is double-black-diamond…really.
Physical Difficulty: Tough to absurd, depending on the way the loop is completed.
Ideal Bike: Trail or all mountain rig is perfect.
Wet Conditions: OK, but overhanging brush will get you very wet. This is in the snow much of the year.

Deep in the heart of the Old cascades lies this true stand of old-growth Cedar and D. Fir, with the Chimney Pk trail splitting it in two. Here we see the easy to miss junction with the South Pyramid, wow.

Deep in the heart of the Old cascades lies this stand of old-growth Cedar and D. Fir, with the Chimney Pk trail splitting it in two. Here we see the easy to miss junction with the South Pyramid Trail….like, wow.

Beta Spewage

Overview: The elements have conspired to wear the old cascades down from their former glory, with our little buddies wind, rain and glaciers all getting in on the act. If we look back about 3 million years, The Three Pyramids would have dominated the skyline in a way that the Sisters and Mt Jefferson do today, but in TDM’s mind these former titans have through time matured into artful massifs with a dignity all their own. Despite (or perhaps because of) the close proximity of the McKenzie Trail, a series of well built trails running through the area around The Three Pyramids has gone largely unnoticed by the MTB community, which is both a shame and an asset. Thedirtmagnet has previously documented Crescent Mountain and the S Pyramid Trails, and heartier readers might recall an account of The Scar Mountain Adventure, in which TDM expressed the death and subsequent rebirth of hope born from a reconnaissance of that section of trail. Each of these sections have merit, but it is the combination of them which captures the imagination of more ambitious map-scannery. This loop is a classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts,and this is one of TDM’s favorite rides anywhere in the state. To summarize this summary, there are several good ways to tackle this beast, but no matter how it is approached, a beast is what it is. That said, this is a really special loop waiting for the right kind of person to climb aboard and enjoy a big day on a unique circuit navigating the precipices, valleys, fords, views and mature forests of the old cascades divide.

TDM speachless among the grandparents at the Pyramid Cr campsite and stream crossing.

TDM speechless among the grandparents at the Pyramid Cr campsite and stream crossing.

Pros: Though the amount of climbing and the number of epic summits you include is adjustable to suit your pain threshold, the entire loop traverses through mature forest on rustic but well built tread. The views from the four main summits are excellent, but it may be the big trees along the Middle Santaim River that are most enchanting. Most of the climbs are well graded and perfect for a long day in the saddle, and several of the descents are top-shelf. You will not see many others, even on the most popular sections. The full loop(s) can be shuttled to reduce the pain somewhat. Similarly, there are options as to which sections you ride, and which sections you avoid via logging roads (more detail below).  In the past these trails were typically not cleared every year, but as of 2017 massive efforts by several MTB groups have the whole area cleared…say thank you.

Cons: Even the short version without the two largest summits has over 7,000 feet of climbing, and most of the trail is very loamy (read “soft”). The trail is often not cut-out during the prime summer season, and can be in the snow well into summer. About two miles of the ride follow an abandoned logging road to skirt a short section of trail running along the boundary of the Middle Santiam Wilderness. This road is beginning to overgrow, and needs a haircut. This wilderness-skirting business requires some map reading skills as well ,as rejoining the trail is a little bit tricky.

A little message that pops up on one of the last climbs of the true.

A little message from an unknown citizen that pops up on one of the last climbs of the day.

Need to Know:   Expect the tread to be smooth and predictable, but packed full of pine cones and sticks from lack of use…the bringing of extra shifting cables and derailleur hangers is not unwise. Also, foliage (mostly huckleberries, rhododendron and bear grass) can encroach a little bit for much of the lower elevation sections, so long socks or some light leg protection might be a good move…TDM’s shins are always a little wrecked after a ride here. Check the write-ups on the Scar Mtn, Crescent Mtn and South Pyramid Trail sections for more details on those bits.  The best portions of this route are a part of the Oregon Timber Trail, and TDM would argue that bikepacking this area as a weekend endeavor is a damn good idea


Sucking it up results in up to five major summits, so remember that when the soft ground is causing doubts to surface. The top of Scar Mtn is one nice example of a cherry on top.

Other Rides in the area: Scar Mtn (**), Crescent Mtn(***),South Pyramid Trail(***),Gordon Meadow(***),McKenzie Trail(****),O’Leary Mountain(****)Sisters(***)

This is the other reward for all that sucking it up: what goes up, must come down. Here we see one happy camper on the Trapper Butte descent, with most of the day behind him.

This is the other reward for all that sucking it up: what goes up, must come down. Here we see one happy camper on the Trapper Butte descent, with most of the day behind him.

Recommended Route Options: (please forgive the ridiculous nature of these descriptions)

A Map to the basic loop, including some bikepacking info for the Old Cascades Trail system is located here.

Basic Loop, including The Three Pyramids: ****, 32 miles (all singletrack) and ~7,000 ft climbing. This is the simplest way to bike the Pyramids trails, but it comes at a cost: Begin at the Three Pyramids trailhead off of road 560. Climb the South Pyramid trail for about 1.4 mi to a junction with the North Ridge of Crescent Mountain trail (at road 840). Continue west on the S. Pyramid Trail, descending 3.8 awesome miles to Road 2047. Turn right for 100 yards or so to pick up the trail again, then descend another 2.5 miles to a really easy to miss junction of the Chimney Pk. Trail 3382 heading back to the right (North-east) about .25 mi before these trails cross the river at Shedd Camp. Turn right at this easy to miss junction and proceed a couple of miles (watch the cliff!) to the crossing at Pyramid Creek. This crossing is a little tricky: note that there is no bridge so low water is a must, an also that the trail crossing is located near the head of the flat where the nice campsite is…strait north of the camp. Also note that various maps place this crossing in very different locations, but the map listed below is the most accurate I’ve seen. Fill up with fresh water, then from the north bank, follow the trail uphill a short distance to a junction with abandoned road 2041. Turn right on this road (well marked as the bike route as of 2017) and follow it  for about 1.8-ish miles to an old skidder-path on the left. Follow this 150 yards or so to the Gordon Pk Trail 3387, then climb that trail through a really pleasant forest, eventually joining the Scar Mountain trail after 6 or 7 miles of climbing (don’t worry…pleasant! Note, if you get to gravel road 170 you have gone about 100 yards past the Scar Mtn trail intersection). Now the tough part! The Scar mountain trail follows a series of steep dragonback ridglines. In the first 1.4 mi a succession of short, steep climbs are encountered, some of which will require hike-a-bike. The last of these put you on the summit of Scar Mountain…enjoy a snack with a view, then descend the sometimes super steep east Ridge of Scar Mtn, climbing and descending to a road crossing at a quarry near Trapper Butte. (note that the scar mtn trail can be skipped to this spot by taking road 170 from the top of the Gordon Pk Trail and riding roads to this quarry…much easier on the legs and mush faster, but skips the summit…see maps). Cross this little road, descending for another 100 ft, then climb the switchbacks of Trapper Butte (see photo). Whew!!! Now descend the sweet, sweet Trapper Butte section, railing the crap out of the final couple of miles to the TH at Rd2266. Many might now choose to ride a few miles of roads back to the car (Rd2266, Rd310, RD 317, Rd 560 in succession being the fastest), but the all singletrack option crosses RD 2266, descending the Three Pyramids trail for a short distance to a bridge over Pyramid Cr, then climbing for just under 4 miles to the top (the first mile has some messy parts, and there is significant hike-a-bike in several sections, but most of this climb is reasonable and pleasant). At the top one should ditch the bike, hiking a few minutes to the twin summits of the Middle Pyramid. Enjoy the view…you’ve earned it, then descend the difficult trail from the summit back to the car at the Three Pyramids TH…the first mile of descent is fun, but really rocky & gnarly, and many will walk much of it. The last little bit enters a loamy forest, and offers a fun finish, complete with several kickers, but keep an eye out for hikers; popular section of trail!

The BIG Loop: ****, 45 miles, 11,000+ ft climbing. Similar to the above loop, but with add in yet another big climb (and a classic descent). Begin at the southern Crescent Mountain TH near the Lava Lake Sno Park off road 2067. Climb the Crescent Mountain trail steeply to it’s awesome summit, then rail the four mile descent to RD 840 and the S Pyramid trail. Cross the road and turn left (west), and descend the S Pyramid, then following the directions above to the Pyramid Cr ford, RD2041, Gordon Pk trail, the scar Mtn section, and then finally The Three Pyramids. From the pyramids TH you could head back over Cresent Mtn, but TDM recommends calling it a day and riding the 560 Rd a few miles to RD 2067, then that back to your car. One could also cut out the Pyramids section and follow  RDs 2266, 310, 317,560, 2067.

Shuttles: ****, 25 – 35 mi & 6-9,000 ft climbing: There are a few ways to make these loops a bit easier, and though TDM has not yet been able to do these rides with a shuttle, he suspects this is a really good way to go. Start the ride via any of the options listed above, but then ditch a car at the bottom of the Scar Mtn Trail on RD 2266 near Daly and Parish Lakes. Cuts out the Three Pyramids section and/or some road time, but keeps the ride focused on the best bits without the undue torture that comes with the final burly miles.

More big trees, this time on the Gordon Pk trail, headed up to Scar Mtn.

More big trees, this time on the Gordon Pk trail, headed up to Scar Mtn.

Links, Maps & Media
Not a lot of info is available on this one, and it is worth knowing that no one map TDM has seen is 100% accurate on Pyramid area trails. The 1:63,360 scale USFS Detroit Ranger District map is probably the best map available, but TDM recommends consulting some google earth to scout the section of old road that skirts the wilderness.

Awesome Photo Essay by Patrick Means focusing on the Crescent and S Pyramid sections of this loop:

Annotated map of the area, including Old Cascade Trails bikepacking info is here.



5 thoughts on “Pyramids Epic Loop

    1. A minion of TheDirtMagnet

      Thanks for bringing this up Greg; bike use is legal, encouraged, and quickly becoming one of the featured uses of these trails. The USFS websites and use lists are often not complete, and as a result many trails which are legal for use are not on those published lists. This has been an issue with a number of trails in the cascades in recent years. My conversations with USFS staff on the issue suggest that in general, trails are open for bike use within the Detroit/Sweethome district unless specifically noted otherwise. In practice, this means that almost all trails loctaed outside of wilderness within that area are accessible to bikes. i do note that they do not encourage use of several trails…primarily the iron Mtn loop and the approach to the Pyramids from the North ( listed as the double black diamond section in the article above).

      The USFS has recently partnered with several cycling related trail advocacy groups in maintaining and developing these trails, and organized work parties are occurring regularly. Please check the references below, and join in on the work! The next major party is organised by the Oregon Timber Trail and occurs August 25-27, 2017.

      Cheers- TDM

      Oregon Timber Trail :
      Bend Trails:


  1. Aaron Paul

    On 10/6/2017 I noted that the Forest Service has posted signage at the top and bottom of the Pyramids trail descending east/south off the top. The sign said something like “Because of sensitive plants, bikes are not allowed on the trail. Reroute options are being considered.”. It’s not clear what the “sensitive plants” are, or how bikes somehow could affect them. Frankly that large sections of trail is not really bike friendly anyway, but unfortunate that no longer can connect through the Pyramids via trail.


    1. dorkboat2004 Post author

      Thanks for the update Aaron. As you mentioned, there are plans to re-route the N Pyramid trail south of the summit to allow bike traffic in the future, but for now that section is officially closed. As a result, the loop as described is currently not legal…just follow the roads located east of the summit to pull off the loop…hell, its easier this way! As for the bike-friendliness, TDM hears what you are saying, but has to note that that descent off the south side was a favorite!


  2. Chris Johnston

    Thanks for the beta!! Nailed the basic loop yesterday in all-time fall conditions, would have been much more sketch without this key info. The descent down to Pyramid Creek is one of the best trails I’ve ridden anywhere. Burly loop! The road route around the S Pyramid worked well, there is a bridge out right when you get onto Rd 310 but not a tough crossing.

    Now I need to get back there to summit S Pyramid and also hit Crescent Mountain.

    Liked by 1 person


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