Big Views, Big Bear
Poke the Bear - Cascades Gravel Scenic Byway
Vistas, mountains, and bears, oh my! Poke the Bear is a gravel ride serving up sweeping mountain and valley views with wide-open skies and hard packed gravel.
This route is just one awesome example of what Madras, Oregon has to offer. BIG, BIG views of Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters, rolling hills dotted with fragrant junipers, bubbling creeks, and sprawling working ranches. Towards the end of the route, there’s even a 27-foot bear standing tall to greet you, so don’t forget to say howdy.
The ride is mostly on firm and fast gravel roads with a dash of pavement in the beginning and end. A few punchy climbs and a nice long descent give this ride some nice variety. You’ll not only find great riding and beautiful panoramic views but also tranquility, as few people hit this route.
Spring and early summer offer wildflowers, flowing creeks, and almost endless blue skies. Or head out in the fall on a crisp day when the colors are changing. Come winter, throw on some knobby tires and enjoy some frozen roads. It’s best to avoid this ride when it’s wet or muddy. The mud can stick to your bike, or even worse, you might end up hiking and carrying your bike through ankle-deep soup.
Distance: 33 miles
Difficulty Rating: Moderate with some punchy hills and a long continuous descent
Elevation Gain: 2300 vertical feet
E-bike friendly: Yes
Start Location: Juniper Hills park in Madras, Oregon, about one hour north of Bend
Surface: ~ 85% gravel, 15% paved
The route starts on the northeastern edge of Madras, climbing for the first 1.25 miles on pavement, then dipping down just as far. Pick up the gravel and roll up and down through the Baldwin Hills for the next 5 miles, gaining a net of 650 feet. Catch the sweeping left banking descent that leads down to Hay Creek Ranch. Pass by the pastures that lead with the Great Pyrenees dogs carefully guarding the herds of sheep. (Hay Creek Ranch was established in 1873 and was a stopping point for the the Dalles Prineville freight and stage coach lines until 1912.)
After the ranch you begin a long gradual climb for the next 8.5 miles. You will pass by the Brewer Reservoir on your left which is known spot for birders and fly fisherman. Just after this, the road becomes a bit more primitive. If it is muddy, turn around! It will not get better, only worse. Trust us!
You continue to climb until mile 17, then just past mile 18 make a hard right onto Grizzly Road, a super-highway for gravel. Crest the final gravel kicker for the day, then start to buzz your way back to town with big views of Mt Jefferson, the Three Sisters and other peaks (7 in total). At about mile 31 it is back to pavement. Stop to “poke” the impressive bear sculpture and begin the last mile back to the start/finish. It has a short, pitched climb. No whining, you just had a great day! Now, go grab a beer at the Madras Brewing Co or Wild Winds Station in Madras.