Water & Lava
This is a 5 Star Route, meaning that it is a highly curated, premier riding route.
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.
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 July 2021)
Terrain & Technical Riding Difficulty[what this means]
Terrain. There are three sections of single-track along the route. The first two sections (both before mile 3) are flowy and easy riding with just a tad bit of technical. All easy to walk. The single-track section from mile 20 to 23, is more technical, rated moderate– for mountain bikes. The paved climb to the top of Lava Butte is a consistent grade of 8%.
Navigation. The course is turn intensive, thus it will test your navigation skills. But, if and when off course it is easy to recover. We often recommend this ride as a way to “test / evaluate” your navigation skills.
Remoteness. Not so much. Along the ride you will most likely encounter walkers, hikers, bikes and few cars on the paved sections.
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
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.
Miles 0 to 8 / The River / Gravel, Single-Track
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.
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 / dirt trail that brings you to the wooden bridge over the river.
Miles 8 to 15 / Lava Lands Bike Path / Paved
After the wooden footbridge 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.
Miles 15 to 20 / NF 9702 and Sunriver Bike Path / Paved
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.
Miles 20 to 23 / Deschutes River Trail / Single-Track
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.
Miles 23 to 30 / The Return on the Stick / Gravel and Single-Track
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.
Food & Water
Lava Lands Visitor center, approximately half way. Water, food, & toilets. Open seasonally.
~ 40 mm tires are about right for this course.
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 Aspen 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.
If you want more single-track, we recommend the Black Rock Trail. It parallels the paved path from miles 8.3 to 11.5. (Change to the RWGPS view in the upper right of the map to see this alternative.) Some like to ride up this trail in lieu of the paved bike path, others like to ride down it instead of the paved road. (That is Captain O’s preference.)
When you reach the northern edge of Sunriver, there is an option to get 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.
- July 2021 / Put route guide into new tabbed / multi-media format.
- January 2020 / Added pictures, added to route description.
- May 2014 / Original Post as 5 Star route.
The single-track trails on this route were built and are currently maintained by the Central Oregon Tails Alliance. We encourage you to learn more about their work and to advocate, volunteer or donate.
Who has the right of way? Single-track trail etiquette (10 min).