While doing research for the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway article, I discovered there was another scenic bikeway near Sisters, Oregon. This one was also proclaimed as one of the most scenic and rewarding rides in all of Oregon. Considering I was already planning a week at Smith Rock and had my trusty bike steed with me, it seemed providence was encouraging an exploratory trip.
Naturally, when I arrived at Smith Rock in mid-June, instead of the warm, sunny weather one expects in the summer months, a series of storms were moseying through and the nearby mountains were receiving half a foot of snow. Every so often I feel a bit pontifical when I suggest people always check the weather prior to heading out on trips...but when Mt. Hood receives six inches of fresh snow over the course of two days in the middle of June, I feel a bit more secure in my preaching of prudence.
Eventually the weather cleared and despite having a head cold, I jumped on my bike and followed the Oregon Scenic Bikeway signs all the way from Smith Rock to Sisters for a scrumptious lunch before returning back the way I came. And the ride? Truly gorgeous. The Three Sisters were mostly enveloped in clouds from the recent storms but the lower reaches gleamed with a coating of fresh snow. The air was clear and crisp with a persistent wind that created hypnotic waves in nearby fields. Also, you pass a tidy alpaca ranch, where a hundred camelids quietly graze, only interrupted by the occasional spandex-wearing demon zooming by.
For the distance, the elevation gain from Smith Rock to Sisters is reasonably gentle while still allowing you a gratifying descent or two during the return trip. The wind can be a bit merciless since you are going through wide open farm and grazing land for the first half of the route. Still, for an able-bodied cyclist, the entire route is doable in a single day with plenty of time for a leisurely lunch in Sisters.
GUIDEBOOKS & MAPS
- Ride Oregon — Sisters to Smith Rock Scenic Bikeway
- Map of Route — CalTopo.com
Spring to Fall. The highest point on this route is just over 3000' so it can be ridden year-round. However, the weather east of the Cascades is often cold and snowy in winter, so choose your day carefully and bring the right gear.
- NOAA Forecast for Sisters, Oregon
- NOAA Forecast for Smith Rock State Park
View east from near La Follette Butte on NW Lower Bridge Rd
When I do this route, I start at Smith Rock, bike to Sisters, and return all in one day. This gives me a long downhill on the way back that includes a spectacular view of Smith Rock. It also allows me to camp at the Smith Rock Bivouac campground, which provides a hot shower and a quiet place to camp for the night. Alternatively, you can start from Sisters or break the ride up into two days if you set up a shuttle or carry your own camping gear.
The entire route is on well paved roads with low traffic and every major turn is indicated by a Scenic Bikeway sign that points the way–it is incredibly hard to get lost. As you approach Sisters, Oregon, the scenic bikeway route does a bit of a S shape off of the major road (Highway 126) before it delivers you into town. While this is a lovely route with low traffic, on your return trip I suggest you skip the official bikeway route and roll straight out of town on Highway 126 until you turn left onto Goodrich Rd. The shoulder on Highway 126 is wide and this route is a faster and more direct way out of town.
Instead of repeating the work done by the State of Oregon, I am simply going to point you directly to their map with step by step directions from Sisters to Smith Rock. When going from Smith Rock to Sisters, just reverse the directions. Again, the Scenic Bikeway is well marked and my first time doing this route I just eyeballed it without difficulty.
Smith Rock. Smith Rock has a campground affectionally knock as The Bivouac (or The Bivy, for short). It is only $8 per person per night, which includes a shower and usage of a restroom with running water. There is a central area with plenty of picnic tables for cooking meals and a power station near the restroom for charging mobile devices. It is a complete steal for the price and well worth using. The pay station at the entrance accepts both cash and credit cards.
Sisters, Oregon. Within city limits is the Sisters Creekside Campground, which has 60 campsites and an area specifically designated for bikers/hikers, which is $5 per person per night and includes a shower. This campground is easy walking distance from downtown with all the food/drink it has to offer. The only downside is that it is within throwing distance of the highway so there will be plenty of noise. Alternatively, outside of the city limits are numerous campgrounds with Cold Springs Campground probably being the closest at 4 miles southwest of Sisters along Highway 242.
Sisters, Oregon. Sisters is a rather touristy town and as such has numerous places to grab a snack or meal. For sit down meals, two of my favorites are The Depot Cafe and The Open Door. If you are wanting to grab just a quick bit of food and keep on biking, the Sisters Market & Eatery is a grocery store right in the middle of town and has deli sandwiches available. Finally, if you need your java fix, I highly recommend visiting the Sisters Coffee Cafe, which is just off the main road in a lovely, rustic building with numerous comfy seats.