Railbed Spurs

5 Star Route / Published August 2021

This is a 5 Star Route, meaning that it is a highly curated, premier riding route.

This Bend Short leverages former railbed logging spurs once used to harvest trees from the Deschutes National Forest.  As a result, the grades are low and constant allowing for a quick after-work ride. Once on the spurs, the grade is less than 2% over 8 miles, assuming a clockwise start. This would be the social section of the ride. The route generally involves very little route finding making the sights that much more accessible – with many views into Central Oregon.

The initiating lollipop’s stick follows Forest Road 4606, the old Brooks-Scanlon rail line once connecting Bend to the Sisters engine house and reaching all the way to Black Butte. There is a short segment connecting 4606 to the logging spurs. This is also a conduit through private land where cycling is permitted and motorized recreation prohibited.


Brad Chalfant, the founder and former Executive Director of the Deschutes Land Trust, gave us this perspective and history on the railbed spurs.

“The railroad logging was done by a number of private logging companies and for the most part, they were cutting on private timberlands (not National Forest land). There were lots of stories of loggers making claim to timberland (then called Forest Reserves) thru the Timber and Stone Act (similar to a homestead claim) and then signing the land over to their employer. How much of that’s true or fanciful fiction, I don’t really know, but I do know that the Deschutes County Historical Society has a fair amount of information on the subject.

It is true that Brooks Scanlon was definitely the biggest operation and built many of the railroad logging spurs (running lines out to temporary logging camps with loggers and families living on rail cars – some of the same rail cars can be seen down by the Les Schwab Amphitheater).  However, there were 3 actual mills operating out there.  

The biggest mill was the Pine Tree Mill which had a large log pond adjacent to the Columbia Southern Canal, which included a small village of cabins for the loggers and mill workers. Apparently, they used a Shea logging engine to haul workers up to where they were cutting and then hauled logs back to the mill. This is the site where the Chainbreaker mountain bike race runs its start/finish and was at one time eligible for the National Historic Register (trail builders and race organizers have unknowingly dismantled/compromised much of the historic mill and village ruins). The Pine Tree Mill was constructed in 1916 and burned down in August of 1919 when the mill caught fire and engulfed the wooden dam, which collapsed. The mill was never rebuilt.

The other 2 mills were the Spoo Mill and the McKinley Mill.  The Spoo Mill was a portable mill (named after its owner with the last name of Spoo) that was likely moved around and eventually found its way over to the Camp Polk area near Sisters on what was then called Squaw Creek (now called Whychus Creek). The McKinley Mill was located just north of Bull Springs and some of the remains were still visible until the Two Bulls Fire, which burned through and eliminated any remaining signs of the mill.

Over the years, land was swapped back and forth between logging companies and the Deschutes National Forest.  A logging company would typically acquire land, cut it over and then swap it with the National Forest, which creates a complicated ownership history for Skyline Forest and the adjacent areas.  As I think I’ve mentioned previously, Ward Tonsfeld did a history of the area as part of the EIS that the Deschutes National Forest had to do during the land swap with Crown Pacific back in the late 1990s.  The Forest should be able to make a copy of his report, but he’s probably the most authoritative expert on logging in Skyline Forest.  The county historical society might also be able to help if you or anyone else is looking for more information.

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This ride is for you … if you are looking for a quick ride in the forest, quiet and open spaces, views, and easy downhill.

Adventure / Gravel Route

Lollipop: 23 miles / 1400 ft gain
– Surface: ~ 100% gravel / dirt roads
Technical Difficulty: Easy
Tire Size (recommended minimum): 45 mm
eBike Friendly: No
– Location: Bend, OR

RideWithGPS | Strava | GPX file | Cue Sheet | Legend

When we like to ride this …

… most of the year. Note that from December 1 through March 31st; the route is closed then due to wildlife migration and winter range habitat. Please respect this.

The Start

Just north of where NF-4606 T’s off of Skyliners Road.
Lat / Long: 44.0468682,-121.4027672

Terrain & Riding: What to expect …

Most of the route is over abandoned railbeds.  As a result, the grades are low and fairly consistent at less than 2%. On some sections, the cinder and gravel railbed is slowly giving way to dirt and can become a little sandy in the summer. The descent can be fast – watch for ruts, erosion, and sand traps.

In 2014 the Two Bulls fire swept through the area giving the route a mix of mid-growth forest and a fire-scarred hillside, but this makes for great views of the mountains to the west and the high desert to the east.

There are a couple of tricky turns onto smaller roads. If you get off course it should become obvious pretty quickly.

Highlights & Anchor Points

Railbed Bridge Remains / ~ mile 8

Over the abandoned Tumalo Reservoir feed canal (called the Columbia Southern Canal), you can see the remains of a railbed bridge and the construction of the irrigation system. [Library of Congress] The route continues along Brooks-Scanlon Logging Road NF 4606.

Logging Spurs / ~ miles 3 to 3.5 and 15.5 to 19

Transition on unimproved roads from NF 4606 to the logging spurs on private and national forest lands.

Ascends & Descends / ~ miles 3.5 to 15.5

Gradual inclines and descents on abandoned railbeds. At around mile 12, you will begin more of a fun descent in your large chain ring!

Columbia Southern Canal Crossing / ~ mile 16.8

More railbed bridge remains can be found from the Tumalo Reservoir feed during the Tumalo Reservoir Project around 1915. The last bit of the ride transitions onto unimproved roads from the logging spurs on private and national forest lands to NF 4606.

Technical Difficulty[what this means]

  • Riding Difficulty: Easier
  • Navigation: Attention Required
  • Locale: Remote

Food & Water

None.

Other Notes

1) By riding in this area you will have an impact on wildlife, even if you don’t see the wildlife! To minimize your impact we recommend the following guidelines:

  • If you see large game animals, give them space and distance to wander off. If they run, you have disturbed them and raised their anxiety level. (This is by far the most important thing you can do.)
  • Limit your group size to 6 or less.
  • Limit group separation by 100 yards or less.
  • Limit noise disturbance by using something between your library voice and conversational voice.
  • Do not bring your dog with you. Dogs have a significant and detrimental impact on wildlife.
  • Wear clothing that blends into the natural surroundings.
  • Listen to the Wildlife Impact podcasts (just to the right).

2) If you feel threatened by a big game animal there are steps you can take to protect yourself. Please give a listen to the podcast to the right on high anxiety Wildlife Encounters.

3) Some segments are private land where timber is harvested.  During the week one might encounter live operations. If you do, please indicate to drivers that you are yielding by putting a foot down on the side of the road.

Ridden and Reviewed by …

BenG / Team Dirty Freehub

Ben has made Central Oregon home for both work and play since 2000, in the summer dabbling in many kinds of cycling, running, hiking, or paddling, with winter’s favorite the overnight, free-heel, ski-tour of the backcountry. Always looking for adventure, yet still trading engineering skills with Dassault Systèms to pay the bills.

Comments

Revision History

  • March 2022 / Updated for Gravel Adventure Field Guide.
  • August 2021 / Original Post in the Shorts Collection.

Love Where You Ride!

A majority of this route is within the Skyline Forest, private land open to limited recreation use (including bikes). However, there is the possibility and threat that this land could be built out and no longer be accessible to the public. Central Oregon Land Watch has taken a leading role in working to protect this forest and keep it open to the public. We encourage you to take a few minutes to learn more.


The Ride!

Logging History

Get a really cool glimpse into Bend’s logging history in this video with Kelly Cannon-Miller of the Deschutes Historical Museum.


Podcasts

Much of this route is through Skyline Forest, a private forest. Learn what you can do to keep it open to recreation. (11 min)

Yes, we have an impact on wildlife and the environment when we hit the gravel and dirt roads. Learn what you can do to minimize your impact in this 2-part podcast series.

Wildlife Impact Part 1 (15 min)

Wildlife Impact Part 2 (11 min)

Wildlife Encounters! What to do when you feel threatened (8 min)

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