ATV Trails: Oregon's East Fort Rock Trail System
A diamond in the rough may be the most appropriate way to describe the East Fort Rock OHV Trail system. Located in central Oregon’s rugged high-desert, this gem of an area boasts 318 miles of groomed trails open to off-highway vehicles. We recently visited the area for a press intro to test the 2013 Yamaha Raptor 700. We were so intrigued that we went back to explore more of the area after the event was over.
Nestled about 22 miles from Bend, Ore. the riding area is a bit remote. While there are six staging areas only one is developed and offers running water for part of the season. If you plan on staying for any length of time, you’ll want to bring lots of water. You’ll need it as temps in central Oregon can easily exceed 90 degrees from May through August.
The trail system was first developed in the mid 1990s and completed in stages. While ATV and motorcycle enthusiasts have been using the area for decades, most of the riding was confined to logging roads and a handful of unmarked trails. A far cry from the sanctioned and well kept riding area we visited on this trip.
One of the first and most impressive things we noticed, aside from the seemingly endless miles of trails, was the incredibly detailed and accurate map of the area. The US Forest Service has gone to great lengths to ensure all trails are well marked and rated by the level of difficulty. Every intersection features a 4×4 post clearly marked with the trail number, direction and level of difficulty; green for easiest, blue for intermediate, and black for most difficult. As long as you remember where you parked, it’s almost impossible to get lost!
Like much of the central Oregon landscape, the riding area lies primarily in a volcanic basin, making for some unique and very rugged terrain. From tight woods to wide open clearings, the trails themselves offer a little something for everyone. Trail 80 runs north to south through the middle of the trail system and provides a little bit of every type of terrain. It piggybacks for the first few miles between tight woods and wide open straights before snaking through a logged out clearing. Almost immediately after entering the woods on the opposing side of the clearing you will encounter large volcanic lava rock formations, some of which flow right across the trail.
Much of the area is covered with a light, white volcanic rock called pumice and we found trails in these areas to be the most fun. The deep banked corners, rolling hills, and almost rhythmic, supercross-style whoops make for an exciting and somewhat technical ride.
Much of the southwest portion of the trail system is carved right out of volcanic lava flows which make for spectacular scenery and some amazing rock formations that you can actually ride right through. Be sure to have your skid plate on if you are going to venture south as the trail is littered with rocks ranging in size from softballs to basketballs.
In addition to the endless miles of trails, the area boasts four play areas filled with berms, banks, hills, jumps, and other obstacles to test your skills. Keep in mind these are popular areas so the trails closest to the play areas are likely to have some traffic on weekends or holidays.
Another unique feature to the area is East Butte lookout, an active fire lookout on top of the area’s tallest peak. This fully operational lookout tower is operated by the Bend Fort Rock Ranger District and the trail system leads right up to the base of the tower. The climb is long and the trail has several switchbacks but the view is spectacular. On a clear day you can see the three soaring peaks that make up the Three Sisters Mountains and a handful of other peaks darting the horizon line. One of the more popular destinations in this area, the trail can get congested due to the large number of people visiting the lookout. The view is definitely worth the climb, just keep a sharp eye out for other riders coming down the trail. Depending on what time of year you visit, you might even be able to have a snowball fight when you reach the top!
Also worth a visit, especially if you’re around during the hotter summer months, are the ice caves located in the southwest corner of the riding area. Walk inside either of the two caves and you’ll notice an immediate drop in temperature. If you’re not the claustrophobic type, keep walking until the cave comes to an end at a literal wall of ice. It’s pretty amazing considering the temperature outside of the cave can be in the triple digits.
The riding area is open to the public year round but snow and below freezing temps mean the winters are pretty brutal. We visited in May and still got snowed on! Likewise, the summer months tend to be hot and very dusty, making the spring and fall months the optimal time to visit.
Camping is “dry” with no water hookups or RV dump stations, however there are several in-ground toilets at various staging areas. Currently there are no camping fees or permits required beyond the standard state-issued operating permit required for all OHVs. All motorcycles and ATVs are required to have a Forest Service approved spark arrestor and cannot exceed 99dB.
In an attempt to improve safety, the state of Oregon requires anyone operating an ATV on public lands to have completed an online Safety Education Course. The course is available at RideATVOregon.org and covers basic safety and operational information about ATVs and motorcycles. Upon completion you will receive an Operator’s Permit in the mail showing that you’ve completed the necessary training.
All in all we were very impressed with the East Fort Rock OHV trail system. You can ride for hours without hitting the same piece of ground twice and it would take more than one visit to explore everything the area has to offer. The Forest Service has done an excellent job working with local off-road clubs, riders’ associations and manufacturers like Yamaha and Polaris to help make this one of the premier riding locations in the Pacific Northwest. The scenery is spectacular and the trails provide endless opportunity for a memorable riding experience.
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