Bend, Ore. • Each summer in the high desert climate of Central Oregon, many singletrack trails turn into swaths of dust and sand. But when thunderstorms bring heavy rains to quash the dust and firm up the trails, mountain bikers can rejoice in ideal riding conditions.
Such was the case last week when I drove up Century Drive for a loop ride in the Swampy Lakes area.
Nothing like perfect trail conditions to get me back on some classic singletrack west of Bend. Although many riders are now flocking to the newer trails of the Wanoga system south of Century Drive — and with good reason — I decided to head out to an old favorite.
Swampy Lakes Sno-park is a 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.
I decided on a clockwise loop that I had never ridden before, one that would take me west toward Vista Butte and then back east toward Swede Ridge before turning back west toward Swampy Lakes Sno-park.
The trail from the sno-park was tacky and firm thanks to a violent, long-lasting rainstorm the night before that gave way to a sunny, pleasant morning. It was a steady climb toward Vista Butte as I pedaled hard along a ridge. Eventually I came to a junction, where I could turn left and climb to the summit of Vista Butte or turn right onto the Flagline Tie Trail.
While I briefly considered a ride to the top of the butte to take in the views, I ultimately decided against it, knowing I had much more riding ahead of me.
The Flagline Tie Trail took me deep into a sub-alpine forest, where the trail was covered in pine needles. I cruised downhill along tight, twisty singletrack before I came to the junction that would lead me east toward Swampy Lakes.
The trail took me over many roots and boulders before leading me into a lush green area where rainwater collected after the recent storm. I rode past the Swampy Lakes shelter and 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 and forest before I arrived at the Swede Ridge shelter, where I took a short break and enjoyed more mountain views.
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. But I pedaled west on the Swede Ridge Loop back toward Swampy Lakes Sno-park.
Having already ridden many miles in the saddle, it was a challenging climb back to the sno-park. Along the trail were several wood free-ride features built atop fallen trees. I rode around most of them, not wanting to risk taking a fall from several feet up. When I finally made it back to the car, I had ridden about 14 miles in nearly three hours.
The loop offered diverse trails without too much technical riding, and a good mix of climbing and downhill.
It was a classic Central Oregon ride, made even more enjoyable in perfect conditions.
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