For years, I bored Source readers with my endless cheerleading for Gray Butte as being the best place to mountain bike in Central Oregon. My reasons then, and now, as to why Gray Butte offers the best riding are simple: great vistas out over the Cascades, superb singletrack, lots of lung busting ups and some incredibly fast downs. But best of all it's being out in the wide-open spaces and not locked into a forest.
Gray Butte is best suited to late winter/early spring riding and this past weekend was a great time to be out there. And surprise, quite a few people we out riding. In fact the highest number of riders I've ever seen in one day at Gray Butte-10. That's about one fifth the number of the riders heading to the Golden Triangle area close in to Bend on a summer day.
It's important to note that unlike the trails in the Golden Triangle which were laid out by mountain bike riders for mountain bikes riders, the bulk of the trails at Gray Butte were laid out originally for equestrians. Hence they tend to be steeper and often fight rather than flow with contour lines.
There are exceptions with some of the new trails at Gray Butte that flow with the natural contour lines. This makes for less demoralizing, gasp-for-air climbs in particular.
Once a rider spends any time at Gray Butte they come to realize that you can put together dozens of loop rides, some all on singletrack and some a combination of singletrack and old roads.
And as good as the riding is at Gray Butte, the trails have gotten a bit more eroded in parts due to heavy rains and what seems like a lot more equestrian activity this year. Still these are small complaints when the overall experience at the Butte is so rewarding.
Rewarding but hard. Just about every Gray Butte ride is 2/3rds uphill and 1/3rd downhill. If you're not in shape, you feel it acutely on a Gray Butte Ride
To get a feeling for how difficult riding Gray Butte is, I turned to my friend Gerald who, with me, helped formulate the 0 to 5 Wimp Rating System (WRS)several years ago. Zero on the WRS system means Gerald and I feel like we really know what we're doing. Five means something like: "I'm scared, I could kill myself, or this is hurting me physically."
Gerald gave our Gray Butte ride a W-5 rating for what seems like endless uphill riding. I'd call it a W-4 because the uphills but not a 5 because the downs are fun and easily managed.
Coming in neatly at W-3 (rideable by wimps of all ages) is the new expanded loop at Peterson Ridge in Sisters.
I've not been a huge fan of Peterson Ridge in the past mainly because the trail system, particularly the lower part, seemed like this endless rabbit warren of soft, dusty; let's face it, boring trails.
Then and friend and I started riding on the upper loops, which were more challenging but still had that loop-inside-a-loop feel. That's changed now with some trail work that's created a big outside loop on the upper trails that links into other existing trails for a sustained ride with a nice flow to it.
The past couple of weekends the dirt at Peterson Ridge has been firm and fast and the riding excellent.
And as a reward for making a Peterson ride, there's the Three Creeks brewery close to the main trailhead.
And least I forget at the end of any Gray Butte ride there's the Terrebonne Station with what has to be the best outside deck with a view for eating and drinking in Central Oregon.