Water & Lava
Pinch me! This … really … is … our … hometown ride? A path along a river, a tremendous waterfall, a view from the top of a butte, lava fields …. gravel roads, paved roads, double track, single track and bike paths. Plus it’s close to town … and it rides great most of the year. Not toooooooo sandy during the summer and not too snowy during the winter (yea, it can hold a bit of snow when it snows in town.)
It’s the signature ride we send people to when they are debating on converting to gravel from road riding. They always come back smiling.
You start at the Cascade Lakes Welcome Center, then head towards the Deschutes River by crossing underneath the highway via the bike tunnel followed by a bit of single track and a bit of gravel road. Cross around a green gate, onto the double track path and the river is to your left and below you. **Click to Read More
Zip along a short bit of easy single track and ride past the Ryan Ranch meadow restoration project then into an obstacle course of fallen, but cleared trees. At one time, this was a straight double track trail. Now, it feels like a bit of a mix between double track and single track with a winding pathway amongst the fallen trees. We have seen owls, elk, deer and coyotes in this area. When the double track ends, at another green gate, make a left onto the gravel road bringing you to Benham Falls. Be sure to stop and go down to the overlook.
From here continue south on a wide, popular, well used gravel / dirty trail that brings you to the wooden bridge over the river. Stay left and catch the paved bike path to Lava Butte and Lava Lands Visitor Center. It has a slight uphill grade, maybe 2 to 3%. Stop in at the Visitor Center, or continue past it … and climb to the top of the butte. It is short and steep, but worth the effort. A continuous pitch of 8% for 1 mile.
After leaving Lava Butte, ride the road, not the paved path, back towards Benham Falls. Your speed will be in excess of 20 mph and this is just to fast to be on the bike path. And bonus! The road has great views of the mountains. Near the railroad tracks, veer off left onto a gravel road and then quickly make a sharp left onto a paved bike path that brings you to the northern tip of Sunriver.
Look carefully, and identify the single track trail just in front of you. Take it! It is rated mountain bike easy, but it has a few rocky sections that you can easily walk over. This is the most difficult section of single track for the day.
The trail parallels the Deschutes river and we love this section for the green and blue hues of the river.
Drop into the dirt parking lot (this is not the parking lot you started from), make your way back to the wooden bridge crossing the river, and then re-trace your route along the Deschutes river back to the Welcome Center.
For a family friendly version of the ride, start at the Aspen Day Use area. From here, ride out to the Lava Lands Visitor Center and then retrace your way back to the start. This will give a ride of just over 15 miles, with 600 feet of total elevation gain. You will need a Forest Service parking permit for the Aspend Day Use area which can be purchased at the Cascade Lakes Welcome Center at the intersection of the Cascade Lakes Highway and Conklin Road (FS 41).
– Aspen Day Use area Lat / Long: 43.969807, -121.415205
– Cascade Lakes Welcome center Lat / Long: 43.998223, -121.405697
For a longer version of the route, start at the Loge on Century Drive. Take the paved bike path from the Loge to the Cascade Lakes Welcome center. This adds 6.4 miles and 250 feet of gain (in total). The Loge has an excellent cafe for pre-ride coffee and a pastry and it also has a taproom for that after ride beer!
All of the single track on this route can be avoided.
- Miles 0 to 0.6: Use Conklin Rd / NF-41 and then go left on the gravel road towards Lava Island Day use area to intersect the route at mile 0.6.
- Miles 2.1 to 3.0. At mile 2.1 go left on the gravel road. At the very next intersection go left again to intersect the route at mile 3.0.
- Miles 18.3 to 22.8. Delete this section of the course. Instead, at mile 18.3, continue straight and back across the wooden bridge over the Deschutes river.
When you reach the northern edge of Sunriver, there is an option to a coffee (we recommend Brewed Awakenings) or to get lunch (we recommend Cafe Sintra). This adds an additional 11.5 miles with 250 feet of gain. Good luck navigating the roundabouts to the main plaza, but we have put together a map for you. (GPX File / TCX File) The route we have chosen loops you through Sunriver on the most scenic bike paths. We have not included turn by turn directions as there are a zillion turns and roundabouts in Sunriver. Also, stay on the bike paths and control your speeds. Do not ride the roads, and if you do, risk that infamous ticket.
Adventure / Gravel Route
– Lollipop: 31 miles / 1400 ft gain
– Surface: ~ 45% gravel, 20% single track, 15% paved bike path, 20% paved road
– eBike Friendly: No
– Location: ~ 10 min southwest of Bend, Oregon
– Date Posted: May 2014 (updated January 2020)
Easier+. For experienced beginner gravel/adventure riders. The single track is about 4 miles in length and has a few rocky sections …. walk the sections that you are not comfortable with. The more difficult sections of the route occur after Benham Falls, including the final climb up to Lava Butte. If you are set on making it to the top of Lava Butte but don’t quite have the lung capacity, pop into the Lava Butte Welcome Center and see if the shuttle is running.
When we like to ride this …
The exceptional times are spring when the flowers bloom and the river runs full and fast and fall when the leaves are changing color. But, do not forego this ride if you visit in the summer. Some of the paths will be a bit busier, but it is still very worthwhile, especially for a family.
The Cascade Lakes Welcome center on Cascade Lakes Highway. Water & toilets.
Lat / Long: 43.998223, -121.405697
Food / Water
Lava Lands Visitor center, approximately half way. Water, food, & toilets. Seasonally open.
Red = paved road
Brown = gravel / dirt road
Blue = single-track
Purple = paved bike path
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.