Outdoors

Mark Morical: Scenic North Fork-Farewell Loop worth the difficult, steep climb

Mountain bikers looking for the challenging climbs and dramatic views that come with a high-elevation ride – but do not necessarily want to remain in the saddle for a long time – should consider the North Fork-Farewell Loop.

The route, starting and finishing at Tumalo Falls west of Bend, is 10 miles long and typically takes only about two hours to ride.

Riders should not expect easy going, however, as the North Fork Trail starts from Tumalo Falls at 4,900 feet in elevation and climbs nearly 1,000 feet over about 4 miles to Happy Valley.

It's a seriously tough climb, but the seven waterfalls along the way make it one of the most scenic trails in Central Oregon. The North Fork Trail is an uphill-only route for mountain bikers, who must be prepared to watch for pedestrians, as the trail is extremely popular with hikers and runners.

As I pedaled my way up through the deep, dark forest there recently, I dismounted my bike many times to take in the beauty of the various falls, which get more and more spectacular farther up the trail. In particular, Double Falls – two small falls right in a row – make for a beautiful section of Tumalo Creek.

Just when I thought the climbing would never end, I finally reached Happy Valley, a green meadow area where the North Fork, Mrazek and Metolius-Windigo trails meet.

My plan was to ride Mrazek for a couple of miles before turning onto the Farewell Trail, which leads steeply back down to Tumalo Falls.

I turned right, crossed a small bridge over the creek and made my way onto the Mrazek Trail. The Upper Mrazek Trail in this section meanders downhill through numerous creek crossings and more grassy meadows. Mount Bachelor and Tumalo Mountain can be seen in certain spots along the trail where the forest opens up.

Mrazek connects to another section of the Metolius-Windigo Trail a little more than a mile from Happy Valley. That trail leads north toward Three Creek Lake and eventually down to the town of Sisters.

I continued along the Mrazek Trail until reaching the intersection of the Farewell Trail, where I made a right turn.

Farewell includes a precipitous, rock-strewn descent, but the eastern portion of the trail is fairly smooth and flowy with no big drops.

Eventually, though, I emerged along the edge of an exposed cliff, the vast green forest of the Tumalo Falls area extending for miles below me. The sharply descending and dusty trail included several switchbacks down the side of the cliff, as well as a commanding view of snow-covered Ball Butte and Broken Top.

Mountain bikers should ride with caution down that section of the Farewell Trail, as steep terrain and loose sand can make for some danger as bikers brake hard along the descent.

The trail ends at the Tumalo Falls area, just below the main parking area for the falls.

The North Fork-Farewell Loop offers mountain bikers a wide variety of riding – a grueling climb, numerous scenic waterfalls and a hair-raising descent – all with a relatively limited time commitment.

From Happy Valley, mountain bikers can also ride the Metolius-Windigo Trail and connect to other singletrack trails for the 21-mile North Fork-Flagline Loop (although they must wait until after Aug. 15, as Flagline is closed until then for elk calving).

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