GravelCracker

5 Star Route

Note: This is a 5 Star Route, meaning that it is a highly curated, premier riding route.

Fun! Fun! Fun! This route has loads of  “easy peasy” single and double-track that loop you from Sisters to the Head of the Metolius, to Camp Sherman, then over to Suttle Lake and back to Sisters. Such a rare treat to have two water stops, the Camp Sherman store has everything, and the lodge at Suttle Lake is well worth a peek. 

The crux is the “GravelCracker Hill,” which comes at mile 32. It’s just steep enough and sandy enough that your bike will suffer from the squiggles. But soon enough, you’ll be descending back into Sisters on a road named Suicide Gulch.

The pure beauty of this route is the lush forest. Big red ponderosas throughout.  You’ll also skirt the Metolius Preserve, which has amazing golden larch trees in the fall.  And we love the secret underpass that sneaks you under Highway 20 and pops you right into Suttle Lake. (Don’t skip the lake!) 

There are a million and one ways to make this route harder, steeper, and longer.  You can mix it up with Sherman’s March, Metolius Preserve, Green Ridge Lookout, etc.

Adventure / Gravel Route

Loop: 44 miles / 1800 ft gain
– Surface: 40% gravel, 40% single-track, 20% paved
eBike Friendly: No
– Location: ~ 30 minutes northwest of Bend, OR
– Published: July 2015 (last updated July 2021)

Terrain & Technical Riding Difficulty[what this means]

Moderate-

The route has several single-track sections rated “easy” for mountain bikes. The trail, in general, is fast and flowy. GravelCracker hill at mile 32 averages an 8% grade and can be a bit lose.

The route is along the urban-rural interface, thus expect to encounter other trail users.

There is cell phone reception along a majority of the route.

When we like to ride this …

This is a “go-to” route for local riders. It rides well from early spring to late fall and is, in general, a fantastic ride. The mountain views always seem better when the peaks are snow-covered.

The Start

Sisters City Park. Flush toilets and water.
Lat / Long: 44.288779, -121.549911

Legend

Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road
Blue = single track

For help with GPS files, the RideWithGPs mapping app and to learn how to download our routes for free, see the “Using Our Rides” page.


Ride Details

Miles 0 to 9 / Sisters Tie Trail / Single-Track (mostly)

The ride begins with a ~ 9-mile section of single-track that winds its way among grasses, a few dirt roads, and some big red Ponderosa trees. This sector has some of the best drop bar single track in the area—flat, fast, firm, and with zero technical features.

At mile 7.5, the navigation is a bit tricky. Follow the track closely on your GPS device. If you make a wrong turn or miss a turn, it will become obvious very quickly. The route follows along the campground’s southern edge, crosses a wooden bridge over a small creek, and then meets up with Indian Ford Road (paved).

Cross Indian Ford Road and continue on the single-track that opens into a dirt road. At mile 9, catch the Lower Burre Road leading around Black Butte.

Miles 9 to 15 / Lower Butte Road / Dirt

These next 6 miles are happy face fun! A mostly rolling dirt road with some technical features and broken but stunning views of the Three Sisters, Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack, and Mt Jefferson.

Miles 15 to 20 / The Metolius Miles /Gravel, Paved & Single-Track

At mile 14.7, make a left onto a red cinder road and descend 0.5 miles until pavement. Go right. At mile 16.6, there will be a sign for the Head of the Metolius. Go, if you have never been. This is where the Metolius River originates. It percolates up from the ground producing a creek 20 to 30 feet wide at the terminus.

Just after the sign for the Head of the Metolius, follow the side road to the left. Look for the power lines overhead. Dive into the woods here, following the power lines all the way back to the river. Pick up the single-track trail and follow it until exiting via an opening in a set of boulders to a dirt road. Just to your left is a bridge across the river. It gives some of the best views of the river.

Follow the gravel road into Camp Sherman. The general store here has cold drinks, sandwiches, and ice cream. From the store, cross the river, follow the paved road, and at ~ mile 20, pick up the Lake Creek trail (single-track).

Miles 20 to 24 / Lake Creek Trail / Single-Track

This sector is slightly uphill with the steepest incline near the end of the sector, and it is drag race straight. Partway into the sector, you pick up Lake Creek.

Lake Creek is critical and vital habitat to Sockeye and Chinook salmon. The salmon have recently returned to the creek after extensive rehabilitation efforts of the creek lead by the Deschutes Land Trust.

Lake Creek currently provides spawning habitat for native redband trout and nesting habitat for a wide range of neotropical songbirds. Lake Creek is also an important part of current efforts to reintroduce spring chinook and sockeye salmon to the upper Deschutes Basin. Historically, a significant proportion of Metolius River spring chinook spawned in Lake Creek, and one of Oregon’s two native sockeye salmon runs migrated through Lake Creek to Suttle Lake. By protecting the Metolius Preserve, the Land Trust is helping to ensure a successful reintroduction of salmon in the upper Deschutes Basin. [Deschutes Land Trust]

Near mile 24, there are a couple of trick turns. Again, a wrong turn quickly becomes obvious and is easy to recover from. In general, stay left and do cross under the highway alongside the creek.

Miles 24 to 29 / Suttle Tie Trail / Single-Track

Just after mile 24, exit onto pavement. The route goes left, but if you have never been to Suttle Lake Lodge, go slightly right and make the visit. You will not be disappointed.

Follow the paved road onto a larger paved road that leads back to the highway and look right for a single-track trail. It is easy to miss. Take it. This is the Suttle-Sisters trail. Get ready for big smile kind of fun.

It is flowy, slightly downhill, and fast. The trees are big; initially, the undergrowth is thick and lush. At ~ mile 29, take a right onto McAllister Road (paved). Relax a bit, enjoy the big mountain views in front of you.

Mile 29 to 44 / GravelCracker Hill & Suicide Gulch / Gravel and Some Pavement

The road soon transitions to red cinder, and at mile 32, you kick into GravelCracker Hill. It is not long, maybe a mile, but it averages 7.5% over a loose base of gravel. It is completely exposed to the sun and elements.

At the top, make a left onto Suicide Gulch road. It is hard-packed, downhill, and fun riding. Over the next 10 miles, the road average 1 to 3% downhill. The closer you get to Sisters, the bigger and wider the road becomes. The last 4 miles are paved. This is where Gravel Girl goes into TT mode and extracts her form of revenge!

Food & Water

@ mile 19 Camp Sherman General Store (food & water), @ mile 38 Shuttle Lake Lodge (water), and @mile 53 Cold Spring Campground (water)

Ride Notes

40 mm tires are about perfect. Some people will go with a wider tire due to the significant amount of single-track — that is all dependant on riding style.

Ride Options

Below is the original GravelCracker 60 route.

It replaces the opening single-track sector with Indian Ford Road (paved). And it adds in a loop around Round Lake and Suttle Lake.

Ridden and Reviewed by …

Gravel Girl / Team Dirty Freehub

She loves a good day of gravel like most people like a good book. She’s always amused by the outdoors and the wild adventures. Gravel Girl is a Co-Founder of Dirty Freehub.

Captain O / Team Dirty Freehub

He should have “Never Stop Exploring” tattooed on his chest! He loves adventures on bikes and is a Co-Founder of Dirty Freehub.

Comments

Revision History

  • July 2021 / Major revision. Round Lake and Suttle Lake are now options. The lead out is now via the Sisters Tie trail (single track). Overall, the route is shorter with more single-track riding.
  • August 2020 / Minor edits to the route and cue sheet. Added option for the Sisters Tie single track at the start.
  • June 2017 / Changed direction of the route around Round Lake.
  • July 2015 / Original Post as a 5 Star route.

Get Involved!

The great single-track trails on this route were developed out and are maintained by the Sisters Trail Alliance. If you like what they have done, please consider making a contribution to their campaign so that they can continue with the great work!


The Ride!


Podcasts!

Miles 4 to 8 pass by Lake Creek. Learn more about the restoration of the creek and its importance to salmon and trout habitat. (~10 min)

Who has right of way? Single-track trail etiquette. (Forthcoming)

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