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Written by Travis Reill

Everything You Need for Cold Weather Mountain Biking in Bend

Mountain Biking Gray Butte Trail Near Smith Rock Oregon

When the days get shorter and colder, many Central Oregonians will trade their mountain bikes for skis and snowboards. While others will ride singletrack year-round. Fortunately, winter mountain biking trails near Bend are abundant. Once our beloved trails in the Phil’s and Wanoga complexes are snowed in, excellent mountain biking awaits east of town. And, with fall and winter bringing a bit of moisture to those desert trails, the riding conditions are often prime.

But, much lower temperatures can make winter mountain biking near Bend more difficult than the summer riding we are used to. Fatigue and dehydration can set in quickly and often go unrecognized. 

So, let’s make sure you know not only where to go but also how to be prepared for the cold weather season.

Head to the East of Bend

Cline Butte and Maston Trails

Great winter mountain biking near Bend is found at Maston and Cline Butte. Maston is ideal for beginner riders and families, while Cline Butte is on the opposite end of the spectrum, with fast, technical descents. 

Spring mountain biking at Maston near Bend, Oregon
Maston Trail | Photo by Caitlin Eddolls

Gray Butte Trailhead

If you are up for a bit more of a drive, Gray Butte may be one of the best-undiscovered winter mountain biking trails near Bend. What is Gray Butte, you ask? It is the tall butte, towering nearly 5,100 ft. behind Smith Rock.

To get there, park at the Skull Hollow Trailhead. From there, you have a couple of options, all on the same “Cole Loop” but broken up into different sections. 

Gray Butte trail to Cow Canyon (Cole Loop) is my favorite ride. It begins with a climb on Forest Service Road 5710 for about 2.5 miles. The road ends at FS57, where you hang a left and continue for about 0.5 miles before reaching the Gray Butte trailhead. 

A gradual climb continues over manageable rocks, with a techy spot here or there. Nearly two miles in, you reach the Austin Creson Viewpoint. Take in the mountain views before you begin your descent. 

Pick your lines carefully as you descend Gray Butte Trail, twisting and turning for about 1.5 miles over chunky, intermediate, technical terrain. Roughly 1.5 miles after the viewpoint, continue your descent onto Cole Loop’s Cow Canyon. This section is faster and flowy and will take you back to the parking lot.

While the Gray Butte area doesn’t get much snow, it has sections that don’t see much sunlight throughout winter. Cow Canyon is one of those places where snow and ice may linger a bit longer. Also, keep in mind that the Pine Ridge section of Cole Loop has a makeshift shooting range about 3.5 miles from the trailhead. People still ride the loop, but the gunshots can be unnerving. Also, Gray Butte is a popular place for trail runners and equestrians. Be on the lookout as you ride!

Horse Butte Trailhead

Horse Ridge Trailhead

Twenty minutes east of Bend on Highway 20 is the Horse Ridge Trailhead. Here, you will find long climbs, fast descents and rocky terrain. However, the shale-like rock at Cline and Gray buttes isn’t present at Horse Ridge. Central Oregon lava rock makes up Horse Ridge’s technical chunk.

Parkway is a technical climb for intermediate riders. Climbing nearly 1,000 feet over four miles, Parkway ends at a trail named Has No Horse, which runs along the top of Horse Ridge. From here, you have a few options: 

  • Descending back down Parkway is excellent for more beginner or intermediate riders; just be careful of others climbing. For more advanced riders, head over to the infamous Sand Canyon trail.
  • Sand Canyon descends more than 1,000 feet in two miles. Speed is the name of the game. While the trail isn’t overly technical, be prepared to have your arms rattled by braking bumps as you descend.
  • Climb Parkway, a short and popular loop, until it intersects with Escape From Moscow 2.5 miles up. The 1.5-mile Escape From Moscow trail descends 500 feet, but technical line choice is emphasized over speed.

What You Need for Winter Mountain Biking Near Bend

Staying warm is crucial when mountain biking in the winter near Bend. When our body is cold, blood is sent from our limbs to our vital organs to keep them warm. This can lead to fatigue and late reaction time when on a bike.

Layering is the way to do it. For cold temps, I reach for wool socks and a wool-base shirt. Wool keeps you warm while wicking moisture away. It’s also time to invest in some mountain bike-specific pants. These will not only help keep you warm but are designed with sitting on a bike in mind. They also will have room for knee pads.

Next, get a long-sleeve, warmer top over your shirt. Flannels work great, but make sure it isn’t made of cotton. Cotton soaks up sweat and makes you cold. A packable windbreaker is a great option to have along as well. Lastly, invest in thermal mountain biking gloves so your fingers don’t freeze. Find apparel and further advice on winter layering at local bike shops such as Pine Mountain Sports, Sunnyside Sports, Hutch’s, and Webcyclery.

Making sure you stay fueled and hydrated is equally as important. Not doing so can lead to poor performance and fatigue on the bike. 

Along with hydration, pack some carbs. Thirty grams of carbs per hour is a good rule of thumb. It is common not to be as thirsty in the colder weather, which can trick riders into not drinking as much as they should. A good way to combat that is to bring and drink as much fluid as you would on a summer ride. Adding electrolytes is another smart option.

Winter Fat Biking

Mountain biking still happens when snow covers the ground, just with fatter tires. Wanoga and Phil’s trails are popular places where people hit the trails on fat tire bikes. It is also common to see fat tire bikers east, especially at Maston.

Where to Rent Fat Tire Bikes in Bend

Shops such as Crow’s Feet rent fat tire bikes, or rent and take a guided tour with Cog Wild.

As for what to wear, while you don’t want to dress as if you are going snowboarding, you also want to be a bit warmer. These shops are excellent resources for learning what to wear on a snow bike adventure. 

Stay warm and have fun! And if you are looking for a complete guide to mountain biking in Central Oregon, click here. Read more BIKING articles with us here.

Fat Tire Biking Gear
Photo by Trevor Lyden


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