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**)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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: https://thetrailhouse.exposure.co/the-pyramids-of-oregon
Annotated map of the area, including Old Cascade Trails bikepacking info is here.