The Quintessential Bend Gravel Ride
Water & Lava - Cascades Gravel Scenic Bikeway
A gorgeous waterfall, a path along the Deschutes River, stellar views from the top of a butte, ancient lava fields…gravel roads, paved roads, singletrack, and bike paths. Plus, it’s close to Bend and rides great most of the year with not much snow in the winter and not too sandy in the summer. What is this gravel ride that seriously has the best of everything Bend riding has to offer?
Water & Lava is an essential gravel ride that introduces you to some truly impressive scenic cycling in Bend. Whether you’re just getting introduced to the sport or a seasoned gravel junkie, this route will make you fall in love with the mixed-terrain and beauty in the area. Full of turns, flow, some moderate technical terrain, and likely encounters with a few hikers, other bikers, and cars on the paved sections.
Here are a few details on this must-do marvelous ride:
Distance: 31 miles (lollipop loop)
Difficulty Rating: Easier+
Elevation Gain: 1,400 vertical feet
E-bike Friendly: No
Start Location: Cascade Lakes Welcome Center, 10 minutes southwest of Bend
Surface: ~ 45% gravel, 20% single track, 15% paved bike path, 20% paved road
Head up the Cascade Lakes Highway to the official 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 / 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.