The Sisters Sagebrush Explorer: A Bikepacking Weekender

With the Tour Divide cancelled this year, my partner Trish and I discovered June to be unexpectedly open for trips. We’ve gotten a lot of isolated trips in with the van and have found that one of the best ways to practice safe social distancing is while out camping in the woods on bikes.

It was the work of a moment to put together a couple routes and invite some friends. With a team of 11 riders, and a few family members joining us at the campsite, things came together pretty easily and made for a memorable weekender bikepacking trip.

The Route(s)

With so many options for dirt and singletrack in Bend and Sisters, the following routes have multiple opportunities to hop onto singletrack more often, if that’s your thing. Riders can also veto the singeltrack for a number of gravel and dirt connectors if MTB riding isn’t your thing.

In Bend, the general rule of thumb is to make a route that allows riders to partake in a ‘choose your own adventure’ of sorts – bike edition – according to their own personal affinity towards pavement, gravel, dirt, or singletrack.

For these routes, I made both a long and short version to accommodate those who were new to bikepacking and those who were experienced. The long version left from Sisters and the short version left from Bend. Both followed the same general route, once in Bend, with the exception of including a 2,000 foot climb at the end for the 70 mile riders. Sorry guys. 🙂

Sisters Sagebrush Explorer (Long Route)

Sisters Sagebrush Explorer (Short Route)

Photo Shoutout

Alright, enough preamble. Without further ado, it’s time for a photo narrative of the adventure. Thanks goes out, once again, to my friend Seth Dubois, who took numerous amazing pics of the various riders out exploring the Sisters Sagebrush Explorer.

Photo Narrative Time

Most of us stayed the night at Trish’s uncle’s house Friday night, and we all started sometime between 8am-9am Saturday morning from Sisters, or left the house around that time to head to Bend if they were doing the short route.

After passing Phil’s Trail and the Deschutes River Trail, we hopped on some singletrack for about 4 miles and headed towards Lava Butte, where after a brief bout of pavement, we hopped onto some very little used dirt roads and started the 2,000 foot climb towards Paulina Peak. The climb was all gravel and definitely a grind, but most made short work of it.

Once at the top of the climb, we descended the entirety of Swamp Wells trail to Swamp Wells Campground. It was… rockier… and more primitive than I remembered, and proved to be a good conversation piece for everyone around the campfire that night. I think most of the crew cursed my name on the way down that rough trail (including my partner), but they were in for a singletrack treat the next day.

The next morning everyone was up pretty early making breakfast and restrapping their mobile homes to their bikes. The next 12 miles of riding was all singletrack. It was fast. It was flowy. It had a cave.

After rolling a bit more pavement through Bend, the last stretch from Bend to Sisters is long and bumpy – not the greatest riding, honestly – but it’s a quick way to roll back to Sisters. We all eventually arrived back, stopped by Eurosport for some beers, pizza, and a rehash of the day’s ride, and then said our goodbyes.

But it’s the summer of biking, so for many of us, the goodbyes will be shortlived. There’s always another weekender right around the corner…

Categories: Oregon Bikepacking, Pedals and Packs

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2 replies »

  1. I want to do this route (short version). It will be my first bikepacking adventure. I will be doing it solo but it seems like it should be a fairly “safe” route with alot of the route being in fairly populated or traveled areas. Is this a correct assessment? Also, I had a question about water, how many miles after the campsite do you encounter places to get resupply water? And is there there overnight parking at the start/end location or should I make other plans. Thank you, your input would really help.

    • Water is the biggest challenge with this route. I’d recommend filtering at the Deschutes and carrying 3 liters with you to Horse Butte, as there are really no good water supply points until you get back to Bend. Other than water resupply though, this would make a great first trip. Good luck!

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