It's the full-finger gloves, warm tights, warm inner layers, windbreaker jackets, beanies-under-the-helmet season. It's time for mountain bike riders who don't ski, or skiers simply looking for a change of recreation pace when the snow conditions aren't that good. And during most winters, there are always trails that will be snow free and worth riding. Here's a few of my favorite off-season rides:
Located in one of Central Oregon's numerous microclimates, the Maston area just outside Tumalo near Cline Buttes gets a bit of winter rain and little or no snow. That means fast and firm riding along most of the big loop trail except for the section of trail along the old canal near the trailhead where even the slightest amount of moisture turns it into a muddy mess.
That short, probably a mile-long, section of trail, is the exception on a tread that has really firmed up nicely over the past several years.
Looking for an easy ride of 75 to 90 minutes in length during the winter? The Maston is the place.
South and east of town, Horse Butte is easily one of the most enjoyable intermediate-level rides in Central Oregon. The trail rolls along with just a couple of short technical sections and is easily the best section of downhill switchbacks in our region. That's if you ride the trail counterclockwise.
To ride counterclockwise, park at the obvious crossroads intersection parking area just past the butte if you're coming in from the north; ride up the main roadway for one quarter mile and look for the trail heading off to your left.
The first section of the loop is exposed and can be chilly on a windy day. Once you get to the halfway point in the ten-mile (approx.) loop, you'll be warmed up and onto more level and downhill terrain. That's when the fun starts and ends right back where you parked.
You have to love to climb and climb and then climb some more and love great views out over Central Oregon and the Cascades to ride Gray Butte. That and enjoy riding without crowds because there never seems to be any here during the fall-through-spring riding season.
Maybe that's because if it has snowed or rained, the Gray Butte trails turn to sticky gumbo. Once you've experienced Gray Butte gumbo, you don't ever want to experience it again. So for best results, ride Gray Butte from late January through May.
Lower Peterson Ridge
Relatively easy riding over moderate terrain is the hallmark of the Lower Peterson Ridge trail system. That, plus the Three Creeks Brewery is just a few minutes away from the trailhead in case the trails aren't in good shape.
Over the past several years, Lower Peterson is good-to-ride most of the winter, but can get muddy and icy in spots if Sisters experiences any snowfall.
The traditional go-to winter riding area has gotten much better with the new parking lot and trailhead. Like Gray Butte riding, there's a lot of climbing to be done here and, while not as sticky, there is often lots of mud after a storm.
But being some twenty miles east of town, storms tend to be rare, other than exceptional snow years when all of Central Oregon is covered with snow. Horse Ridge has more than its share of technical riding, so if you're not into rock hopping, head elsewhere.
If it's a fairly mild winter, it's time to give the River Trail a try. Perhaps it's the only time to try it given the heavy spring-through-fall hiker and walker use. The Shevlin Park single-track rimloop is yet another place to ride (do laps) if it's a mild winter.
Close by Shevlin, there's singletrack in the Skyline Forest/Bull Springs Tree Farm that will ride a lot better in winter when some rain or snow helps pack it down.
Finally, if it's the huge snow year some are predicting and all the trail areas mentioned are shut down, drive east on highway 20 and ride some of the old access roads and their spurs. The road leading into Pine Mountain immediately comes to mind.