Solo Singletracking on the High Cascades Route

Back in July, I was in despite need to escape the city life and get some quality time outdoors so I booked a flight out to Oregon for three weeks of adventuring around the PNW. The trip was an epic mix of mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, and hiking capped off with 2.5 days of bikepacking outside Bend, Oregon.

On two wheels I am first and foremost a mountain biker, so the prospect of a 75 mile route that was 92% singletrack really sold me on the High Cascade Route vs the many other amazing bikepacking options in the area.

I was also really excited to do this trip solo. While I love sharing adventures, it can be nice to go at your pace and rest, swim, eat… whenever you want and not feel like you are holding others up. I feel like I’m more able to be present in the moment when not worrying about interpersonal dynamics and take the time to myself to process whatever I’ve been dwelling on. While I’ve done a lot of solo backpacking this was my first bikepacking trip off the beaten path and was a little worried about mechanical issues since my knowhow is limited. Thankfully the one issue I had was easily solvable and the cell reception was fairly regular if I needed to google solutions or call in the cavalry to assist.

Flying with a bike

It was my first time flying with my bike. Figuring out how to disassemble and reassemble it plus squeeze all of my various outdoors equipment into a single bike box was quite the learning experience! Something to note for those prospective fliers, a lot of airlines now allow you to fly your bike for the same price as checked luggage – though many have weight limitations. There are cases and bags specifically for traveling with your bike but after failing to be able to fit my bike in one, I reached out to local bike shop to get a big cardboard box. This is a great option if you are flying specifically to tour since you can just throw it away upon arrival and get one from another shop for the return if you don’t have a place to store it.

Bend to Lava Lake

While the High Cascades is set up as an overnighter, I had an extra evening to kill so ended up starting late on a Friday and knocking out 14 miles. The first 2.5 miles are on the road as you leave west Bend then hits the Shevlin Park and Mrazek trails that steadily climb up largely smooth singletrack for 3,000ft over 15 miles, with the final four on a doubletrack logging road. The route starts off with a high desert vibe with shrubs and sage bushes then enters logging territory and becomes increasingly forested with a mix of meadows as you follow the doubletrack.

After the long climb over the first 22 miles, you hit the Metolius-Windigo trail, which offers some amazing views of Mt. Bachelor and incredibly fun downhill as you descend over 2,700ft (with about 1,728ft of gain intermixed) for another 19 miles before reaching Lava Lake. The trail crosses through some otherworldly lava fields and becomes increasingly chunky and technical making me glad to have brought a full suspension bike! The last mile and half of the trail parallels Lava Lake, offering the perfect opportunity to jump in and cool off (+ wash off some grime).

Lava Lake High Cascades

There is a campground with small store at Lava Lake which could make a good place to stay overnight or refuel before approaching the most challenging part of the trail. Water sources are quite spread out on this route. While I brought a filter, there weren’t a lot of places to refill so I added another liter bottle (and regretted not getting more!) to the pack and grabbed some snickers for good measure then started the climb up the Edison-Lava trail.

Enjoying a beer

Edison-Lava and the grand downhill to Bend

Edison-Lava starts with a 1,500ft climb up with some steep stretches and lots of loose rock. Trail Forks forebodingly warns that the “entire trail has many spots where the lava rock can cause ripped sidewalls or skin”. While I did have to do more hike-a-bike than I am proud of, I thankfully made it through the stretch without any damage! I set up camp near the top of the stretch and spent a relaxing evening hiding from mosquitos in my hammock.

Hammock Camping

After a wildfire smoke filled day 1 and overcast/slightly rainy day 2, waking up to sunshine was a treat. The forest in this area is thick with moss covered pines and hemlocks. Getting fast downhill for breakfast is the best way to feed the soul and I had a blast tearing down the rest of Edison playing a little loose on the dusty descent. There was a final long climb up Dinah-Moe before reaching the best downhill of the entire ride. Tyler’s Traverse is fast and flowy, with nice berms and jumps I couldn’t resist (though probably should have on the loaded bike). The downhill lasted so long I had to take a break for my hot brakes and hands tired of holding them in place – not a problem I ever experience living on the East Coast!

After the amazing downhill you move onto Catch and Release which parallels a major road as well as the Deschutes River. There are a few access points you could divert to swim or cool down if you so choose but I kept trucking. After filling up the water bottles I had been rationing at a ranger station I wrapped up the ride on several connecting trails that reach Phil’s Trailhead, a popular destination for mountain biking in Bend. This final stretch re-enters the high desert atmosphere and crosses through recent burn areas that are pocketed with garden gnomes and dwarfs. There are tons of trail options to finish the ride so you can choose your own adventure.

The 6,560ft of elevation over 75 miles was certainly a challenge but felt very doable with most of the climbs being very gradual and I was blown away by the amount and quality of mountain bike trails around Bend. You could easily adapt this route to be longer or shorter based on your desired length or adventure level but thought this made for a great 2-2.5 day ride. Plus Bend itself is a pretty cool town with an overwhelming number of local breweries to choose from to treat yourself at post-ride. It was the absolute perfect way to wrap up my PNW adventures!

Shannon Orcutt
Shannon Orcutt
Based out of Washington, DC, Shannon Orcutt is all about whitewater boating, biking, backpacking, and banjo. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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