With most upper-elevation bike trails now snow-free in Central Oregon, and temperatures rising to scorching lately, it makes sense to find some rides in higher, cooler places.
At 5,800 feet in elevation on the way to Mount Bachelor from Bend, Swampy Lakes Sno-Park is an ideal starting point for many route possibilities. Bikers can ride singletrack from there for some 20 miles all the way back to Bend, or choose from several different loop options.
While more and more mountain bikers in Central Oregon seem to prefer the free-ride flavor of the Wanoga trail system, also located southwest of Bend off Century Drive, trails near Swampy offer a more classic cross-country option.
I drove up Century Drive one early morning recently to ride a 10-mile loop through the Swampy Lakes area, hoping to escape the heat and tackle some trails that I had not ridden in quite a while.
From the sno-park, the trail started out with a gradual climb through extremely sandy conditions. When riding in such conditions, it is best to ride straight through without braking or turning excessively, otherwise risking a spill.
The sand grabbed at my tires but I made it through, and I eventually arrived at the lakes, near the junction with Flagline Trail. A little bit of rain would certainly help the mountain biking conditions during this exceedingly hot, dry summer in Central Oregon.
From Swampy Lakes, bikers can connect to the South Fork Trail and descend to the Tumalo Falls area.
I rode past the junction with South Fork and stayed on the trail that took me through a shady, forested stretch with roots and tight turns near the lakes.
After another mile or so I turned onto the Swede Ridge Trail, one of my favorite stretches of singletrack in Central Oregon.
I sped along the ridge, catching glimpses of Broken Top, South Sister and Tam McArthur Rim to the northwest. The trail alternated through sections of manzanita shrubs and forest, with a few brief technical downhill sections over rocks, before I arrived at the Swede Ridge shelter, where I took a short break and enjoyed more views of the Cascades.
From the shelter, mountain bikers can connect to the Sector 16 Trail, which leads to the Upper Whoops Trail, the Phil's Trail network, and eventually all the way to Bend. The Swampy Lakes-to-Bend route makes for a fun ride on numerous trails, but I was planning on the shorter loop option.
After a brief out-and-back stretch on Sector 16 to add about a mile to my total ride distance, I pedaled west on the Swede Ridge Loop back toward Swampy Lakes Sno-Park.
Having already ridden several miles in the saddle, I found it a somewhat challenging climb back to the sno-park. Several short but steep uphill sections forced me to work hard.
Along the trail were a few wooden free-ride features built atop fallen trees. I rode around most of them, not wanting to risk taking a fall from several feet up. Those are really the only man-made technical riding features along the loop, as the rest is pretty much standard cross-country style.
The trail flattened out about a mile from the sno-park, and I cruised back through some sandy stretches to the trailhead.
When I finally made it back to the car, I had ridden more than 10 miles in about two hours, including 920 feet of elevation gain. It was enough for a solid workout, but not too demanding of a ride on a hot day.
The loop offered diverse trails without excessive technical riding, and a good mix of climbing and downhill. It is an ideal route for those looking for a relatively short ride on good old-fashioned Central Oregon cross-country singletrack.
And the higher elevation offers a bit of respite from the heat of riding trails closer to Bend in midsummer.
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