Closest Towns: Redmond(10 min) Bend(35 min), Eugene, Corvallis, Portland (2.5-3 hrs)
Ride Format: Loops or lolli-pop
Trail Style: Trail/XC
Giggle Rating: ***
Technicality difficulty: Moderate
Physical difficulty: Advanced.
Ideal Bike: XC or trail bike. Anything you don’t mind climbing on.
Overview: Lurking out back of the rather bustling Smith Rock State Park is a relatively small slice of some big county; the Oregon high desert. Trails intended for hiking, biking, climbers, ATV’s and equestrians all mingle around this area, which roughly centers on the rather prominent peak that is Gray Butte. Not all of the trails are cycling classics …in fact I can’t really think of one section that I’d bother to write home about, but the vast views and enchanting hollows provide a fun day out with a fair bit of western character. There are a lot of ways to link these trails together, but for most purposes TDM recommends sticking to the basic loop. The riding isn’t all that memorable, but terrain is. To summarize this summary, the actual riding at Smith is not classic, but whether you are a climber on a rest day, a local cyclist looking for a new ride, or a birder stalking raptors, this ride is worth your time, if nothing else for the opportunity to take a few sweet pickies of you and your friends looking out at the radness that is Smith Rock.
Pros: Scenery is epic in some places, particularly around the top of Burma road and along the west side of the park near Monkey Face. The riding options vary from 30 mile loops with tons of hard climbing to short out and backs that your kids could do on a bmx bike (well…mostly).
Cons: The riding is fun enough, but not particularly special. Several of the climbs are pretty hard….Burma road being one painful example. It always seems to TDM that he has climbed way more than he has descended…what’s with that? If ridden right after rains, or even worse as the snow thaws you will find that your bike now has 6” wide tires and weights about one-million pounds…don’t ride here when wet.
Need to Know: Smith Rock is the most popular state park in Oregon. Once out away from the base of Smith Rocks the crowds subside, but the parking lot and trail along the river can be a zoo, complete with small nervous dogs, heavily perfumed socialites, families on a weekend, and loads of resident climbers. This social spectacle can make for some epic people watching…enjoy! Parking is currently $5 per day, but you can also start this ride from other areas which are free of charge. As mentioned above, please avoid when wet at all costs, but be warned about summer as well; this is one hot place on a summer day.
Recommended Route Options
- Regular route***; about 21 miles and 3100 feet vertical (2-4hrs). This route connects two smaller loops (one around Gray Butte, the other Smith Rocks), connected by a few miles of pleasant out and back trail. You can do either loop in either direction, but TDM prefers to do it this way: From the Smith Rock State park, cross the bridge over the crooked R, then take a right upstream along the river, then climbing (and some hike a bike) up to the Burma Road. Climb this steep section to a pass and take the trail to the right. This trail side-hills for several miles before turning left at a pass (and a road). This area is a little confusing, but this is the start of the Gray Butte loop. It rides well either way, but TDM likes to do it counter-clockwise to avoid descending on double tracks (such a waste of effort). When the loop is completed, head back to the top of the Burma Road, but then descend the singletrack running west from that site, which has a fun series of switchbacks with great views that eventually lead to a trail at river level heading past Monkey face and eventually back to the parking area.
- Smith Rock loop*** (about 7.4 mi, 1100t elevation (.75-2 hrs): Don’t have a lot of time? This is a good option to see the sights, and get a fun little descent in along the way. You still have to climb Burma Road though. From the Smith Rock State park, cross the bridge over the crooked R, take a right upstream along the river, then climbing (and some hike a bike) up to the Burma Road. Climb this steep section to a pass, take a moment to enjoy the view, then turn left down the singletrack which has a fun series of switchbacks with great views that eventually lead to a trail at river level heading past Monkey face and eventually back to the parking area.
- Gray Butte Loop**( about 16 mi, 1000 ft elevation (.75-2 hours): Another shorter loop follows a combination of dirt roads and singletrack to make a loop that has slightly less incredible aesthetic qualities, but also generally less painful climbs. It is still no cakewalk, but the punchy parts don’t last long. Start from the Skull Hollow campground and loop around Gray butte in either direction…TDM prefers counter-clockwise to maximize the descending on singletrack.
- Extra long** ( about 30 mi, 5200 feet gain) There are many options, but TDM prefers to do the regular loop as described, but then drop down the west side of Gray Butte on the southern half of the Cole Loop Trail. You can climb the northern side of the loop as well, but expect some very soft soils, complete with post-holes from horses…a better option might be to climb the road back to the trailhead at McCain Orchard.
- Kids ride *** (8.2 mi & 350 ft gain for the combination of the up and downriver sections, 5.4 mi & 330 ft gain if ride out and back to Monkey face…turn left at the bridge) Park at Smith Rock state park, cross the bridge over the Crooked River and ride the trail along the
river in either/both directions. This trail is relatively wide, has very little vertical gain, and has only a few brief moments of technical trail. You will have to climb the last .25 mi back to the parking lot, though (210 feet).
Links, Maps & Media
Adventure Maps – Central Oregon or Sisters & Redmond High Desert trail Map (the latter being a bit better for this area) (http://www.adventuremaps.net/ )
COTA information Page: http://cotamtb.com/trails/ochoco-mountains/