Closest Towns: Prineville (20 min), Redmond(45 min ), Bend (1 HR)
Ride Format: Loops, Potential semi-shuttles
Trail Style: Trail riding with long descents.
Giggle Rating: ****
Technicality: Moderate, with some advanced cruxes.
Ideal Bike: Trail Bike; something that climbs and descends well.
Overview: Forget the mossy thing for a moment; this is another kind of Oregon. The Ochaco mountains lack the spectacular peaks and flashy topography of most other western ranges, but with this modesty comes an abundance of long rolling ridges, ponderosa forests and a charming old-west aesthetic, complete with sparse trail use, abandoned mines and range cattle…and one microwave tower…not sure what that provides, but it’s there. The best loop in these mountains is the Round and Lookout Mtn loop, and its an Oregon classic. Expect a backcountry feel, complete with some rustic but well maintained tread, rocky bits, solid climbing and descending, and all amid a delightful combination of ponderosa forests, aspin glades and arid alpine ridges with views all over the show. The full loop is not a small ride at over 30 miles and 5700ft of climbing, but with two summits and two long descents it pays back much more than takes. To summarize this summary, TDM believes this to be one of the better adventurous rides in the state, offering two summits, two big descents, and a rustic, semi-abandoned feel despite some amazing sections of ripable singletrack in a gorgeous and arid setting. If you live in Oregon, this is a must-do.
Pros: Gorgeous views and two cool summits. The trail is really varied, including sections of the following: buffy rhythm, ruts, chunder, loose sand, and sparsely traveled pine needles and meadows. There are two very different descents, both of which are sizable. The camping is conveniently located and family friendly, and there are several loop options to suit your limitations of time and legs.
Cons: All of the loop options include some road riding, though the roads are actually fairly pleasant. The round mountain climb has several sections that can be very loose, particularly if there has been some recent grazing; you may have to hike a few switchbacks.
Need to Know: There is a proposal to add more singletrack in the area … see links below. The camping at Walden Lake is really pleasant, but it can be busy on the weekends. Also, TDM thinks the Independent mine is worth checking out, if you like that kind of thing…very Scooby Doo. The maps for the proposed trail network from the USFS website might be the best choice for navigation, as their regular forest maps lack detail.
Other Rides in the area: Green Mtn trail(**)Cougar Trail(*** if maintained, nil if not)Smith Rock(***)Bend is about 1 HR away, Sisters (Peterson Ridge) is slightly more time.
Recommended Route Options
- Round/Lookout Loop: About 31 miles and 5700 ft of climbing (2.5-6 hours). In my opinion clockwise is currently the best way to do this ride. Park at the Lookout mountain trailhead, which is located near the intersection of HWY 42 and HWY22/23 (near the old Lookout Mtn Guard station). Ride up HWY 22 for around 6 miles to Walton Lake, then a tad further up the road to the 2nd Round Mtn trailhead (about .3 mi). Turn right onto the trail and climb this to the top of round Mtn. Eat some poptarts and PB, then roll down the road for two switchbacks to where you first popped out on the climb. Ignore the trail you climbed and continue down the road for another switchback or two to the second trailhead. Descend this wild feeling trail to HWY 42, cross the road, then ascend to the lower parking area for the Independent Mine TH. Cross the parking lot to find a singletrack climbing steeply up the hill. After less than a mile you will hit the road …Check out the mine down a trail to the left, then continue uphill a short distance to the trailhead and take the left of three trails. Climb this pleasant section about 3.5 miles to the summit, then commit to the awesome descent, which starts out technical, then turns buff, climbing three short hills along the way. Boom…you just had fun.
- Lookout Loop: About 18 miles and 3000 ft of climbing (1.7-3 hours). A shorter loop that hits much of the best of the full rig. Start near the Old Lookout Mtn Guard Station and climb HWY 42 about 6 miles to the Independent mine (don’t descend on the paved road). Find the TH here and climb steep singletrack about a mile to the road. …Check out the mine down a trail to the left, then continue uphill a short distance to the trailhead and take the left of three trails. Climb this pleasant section about 3.5 miles to the summit, then commit to the awesome descent, which starts out technical, then turns buff, climbing three short hills along the way.
- Future Loops: There is a current proposal for the development of an additional 35+ miles of trail in this area, which would allow the big loop to be a nearly 100% singletrack endeavor, and would also provide a number of other shorter ( or longer!) loops. These trails would provide several days worth of high quality riding…exciting stuff! They would also offer bypass of the hardest part of the Lookout Mtn trail, making a more intermediate loop possible. More information is available below.
Links, Maps & Media
COTA information Page: http://cotamtb.com/trails/ochoco-mountains/
COTA – new trails project: http://cotamtb.com/2014/new-trails-coming-to-the-ochoco-mountains/
USFS – new trails project: http://data.ecosystem-management.org/nepaweb/nepa_project_exp.php?project=44349