The Oregon Loop offers a wide variety of mountain biking
BEND, Oregon – It’s hard to determine the most memorable aspect of the North Fork Trail – the dramatic scenery or the grueling climb.
You can’t have one without the other when mountain biking the popular trail near Tumalo Falls.
On a recent Sunday Beau Eastes and I decided to hike the North Fork-Farewell Loop. Eastes is also a longtime mountain biker from Bend, and apparently it’s been just long enough that we both forgot about the 2,000 feet of vertical drop that goes into the 15 mile loop. From Tumalo Falls, the North Fork Trail begins at 4,900 feet elevation and climbs nearly 1,000 feet to Happy Valley for approximately 4 miles.
From Happy Valley, cyclists can connect to the Metolius-Windigo, Mrazek, and Farewell trails for a grueling descent to Tumalo Falls.
We started from Skyliner Sno-park, about 10 miles west of Bend, and took the Tumalo Creek Trail to Tumalo Falls. Vehicles filled the parking lot at Tumalo Falls and hikers blocked the North Fork trailhead. We expected the crowds, as it was late Sunday morning in the height of summer. But most of the hikers were friendly when we passed them and as we went higher we saw less.
The main reason the North Fork Trail is so popular is the Seven Waterfalls that hikers and bikers pass on their way to Happy Valley along the North Fork of Tumalo Creek.
Although it lacks alpine vistas, the North Fork Trail (uphill only for mountain bikers) could be one of the most scenic singletrack stretches in central Oregon, featuring high mountain forests and grasslands and , of course, great waterfalls.
As we pedaled down the shaded path, we took our bikes apart several times to admire the beauty of the falls.
At a particularly scenic waterfall, we descended a steep bank to a swimming hole at its base. The mist was refreshing on a hot day. But that wasn’t enough for Beau, who stripped off his shirt, socks, and shoes and quickly jumped into the icy stream.
When we finally reached Happy Valley – an area of green meadow where the North Fork, Mrazek, and Metolius-Windigo trails meet – we contemplated pink wildflowers growing along the banks of the crystal-clear Tumalo Creek.
We turned right, crossed a small bridge over the stream and headed for the Mrazek trail. One of the most entertaining trail sections of the North Fork-Farewell Loop is on Mrazek. The trail descends through many splashing stream crossings and more grassy meadows. Views of Bachelor Mountain and Tumalo Mountain are available from some places where the forest opens up.
Mrazek connects to another section of the Metolius-Windigo trail just over a mile from Happy Valley. This trail leads north to Three Creek Lake and finally to the town of Sisters.
We continued along the Mrazek trail to the farewell trail intersection, where we turned right.
Farewell is well known for its steep, rocky descent through a large exposed area that was burnt in the Bridge Creek fire in 1979. But the eastern half of the trail is relatively smooth and quick with no steep drops.
Eventually, however, we emerged along an exposed cliff, the vast green forest of the Tumalo Falls region stretching for miles below. We could even see the main viewpoint of the falls far below us.
The steep, dusty sloping trail included several switchbacks along the cliff face. Mountain bikers should ride with caution on this section of the Farewell Trail as the steep switchbacks, sand and technical rocky sections can be a dangerous combination when braking the hill. Near the end of the trail, the drop is almost vertical.
The North Fork-Farewell Loop offers mountain bikers a wide variety of rides: a tough climb, scenic waterfalls, and an insanely steep descent. We completed the 15 mile loop in about three hours, choosing to hike the gravel road from Tumalo Falls to Skyliner Sno-park.
From Happy Valley, mountain bikers can also hike the Metolius-Windigo Trail and connect to other single-track trails for the 21-mile North Fork-Flagline Loop (although they must wait after August 15, as Flagline is closed until then for elk calving).
I plan the end of August for this walk.