CAMP SHERMAN, Ore. — Gary Guttormsen has heard the question more than once.
The chairman of the Sisters, Ore., Trail Alliance often fields questions from people seeking an outstanding bike ride with options easy enough for children.
And his suggestion, more often than not, is the Metolius River Loops Scenic Bikeway.
“It’s a pretty easy pitch and a place I bring my grandkids all the time,” Guttormsen said. “What’s really unique about the Metolius — on top of the scenery — is that it’s great for both expert bikers and children. There are options for everybody.”
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Those options include four interconnected loops, which follow paved forest roads along Central Oregon’s enchanted river as it emerges from gushing springs and rolls dark blue through the dry eastern Cascades forest.
The loops total 29.5 miles. Each ride begins and ends at Camp Sherman Store — a base camp with sandwiches, drinks and maps — and traverses burnt-orange ponderosa forest, peaceful spots on the river and views of the Cascades that play peek-a-boo through the trees.
The ride works as a day-trip by waking up early, bringing a picnic and heading back to your base, such as Bend or Sisters, or as a multiday adventure that takes advantage of the area’s campsites, lodges and cabins.
“For the most part, the loops follow low-speed roads that don’t have much traffic volume,” Guttormsen said. “There’s a good amount of space along the shoulders and lots of campsites and places for families to stop and rest.”
The route was designated a scenic bikeway by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department in September of 2011, no small honor considering only 10 other routes in the state have received the designation.
“We set the bar very high,” said Alexandra Phillips, bicycle recreation coordinator for the agency. “The scenic value has to be there over the whole route — no drab stretches or strip malls. The road conditions also need to be good, with large enough shoulders and a low volume of cars.
“The rides are the best of the best. We’ve turned down over 800 miles that didn’t make the cut.”
The Metolius Loops fits the criteria with a few caveats. Traffic on two of the main roads (Forest Road 14 and 1419) does get fairly busy on summer weekends. The other downside is that signs marking the loops haven’t been placed yet and without a map, the routes can get confusing. (See “If You Go” for places to find maps.)
Those are small complaints, though. The Metolius River Loops offer picnic spots and campsites along a crystal-clear river, wind below huge ponderosa pines and offer as many (or as few) miles as a person cares to travel.
“It’s such a pretty ride,” Guttormsen said. “The river is beautiful, the cars drive slowly, and the kids just love it.”
Easy, 3.3 miles
The easiest among the four loops, the Allingham Loop, is named for the bridge and campground along a very pretty spot of the river that marks the highlight of the ride.
From the Camp Sherman Store, the route follows Forest Road 1419 (the road you drove in on), swings right on Forest Road 1420 and swoops downhill on Forest Road 1217 to the bridge and river. The ride back toward Camp Sherman along FR 900 has excellent river views.
Vehicle traffic is very low, and the ride is entirely flat except for the downhill burst to the bridge.
Camp Sherman Loop
Easy to moderate, 4.9 miles
Wonderful views of the Metolius River and occasional glimpses of the Cascade peaks highlight this slightly tougher route.
The ride begins by heading north up Forest Road 14 for 2.4 miles before swinging left and looping back to Camp Sherman on Forest Road 900. There’s a bit more traffic on Forest Road 14, and the best views are found along Forest Road 900.
Moderate, 6.7 miles
A river emerges almost fully formed from a massive spring below Black Butte at one of Oregon’s most iconic spots, the Head of the Metolius (where there’s a visitors area).
This loop allows bike riders to stop and gape at this scenic wonder on a ride that includes a few climbs and a bit of traffic.
The route begins by heading south on Forest Road 14. At the two-mile mark is a turnoff for the Head of the Metolius — before returning on Forest Road 1419 through Camp Sherman’s historic buildings.
Lower Bridge Spur
Moderate to difficult, 14.6 miles
The longest route of the four, the Lower Bridge Spur, features all the views of the Metolius with additional stops at Wizard Falls Bridge and Lower Bridge Campground.
The route is an elongated version of the Camp Sherman Loop and offers the best sample of what the Metolius River area offers. It follows Forest Road 14 north for more than seven miles before doubling back and picking up Forest Road 900 for the return trip. There are great views and campgrounds along the way to stop for lunch.