2 Day Bikepacking Trip Near Bend, OR: Horse Butte Trail to Newberry Crater

Located just 40 minutes south of Bend, Newberry Crater is an outdoor-enthusiast’s paradise, with miles of trails to explore, numerous campsites to choose from, and even a couple primitive hot springs, if you know where to look.  My friend Andrew and I decided to explore the area this past weekend by mountain bike, taking the Swamp Wells Trail all the way up to the Crater Rim Trail, and then making our way towards the Little Crater Campground before further exploring the trail network in the area.

Having tried this ride one time before and failing due to heavy snow along the last 5 miles of the Swamp Wells Trail, I assumed that early October might be a good time to explore the area, but we completely lucked out on numerous counts: weather, season (we saw almost no one on the trails), and trail conditions.  It turns out that October is the ideal time to plan your bikepacking adventure up to Newberry Crater, so get to planning!

The Map

Want the GPX version of this map, or just more detail?  Click here.

‘Tis the Season

Carefully eyeing the forecast, we officially decided that Newberry Crater was going to be our destination around midweek, and so Friday evening Andrew bused his way over to Salem and we immediately headed for the Swamp Wells Trailhead, where we would be spending the night before our early morning start.

We slept in until 7am, took our time getting the bikes ready to go, and officially started our ride around 8:30am, where the trail starts as a steady uphill for the first 13 miles or so.

However, once arriving at Swamp Wells Horse Camp, the trail becomes a bit more primitive and steep.  While it is officially a multi-use trail, unlike some multi-use trails that are bumpy and unfavorable for bikers because of horse use, this one very quickly begins to feel like a mountain bike trail.  Littered with small rock gardens and technical ascents, it kept both Andrew and I constantly vigilant.

Around 1pm, we arrived at the junction for the Crater Rim Trail, where we ate lunch before enjoying a quick descent down to our eventual respite spot for the night, Little Crater Campground.  We arrived at the campground, set up camp, and then decided that since the day was still young, we better take advantage of it and head up to Newberry Crater’s highest point: Paulina Peak.

While there is singletrack that can be ridden to the top, Andrew and I felt we had earned a gravel road ascent, as the first 24 miles of our ride had been singletrack climbing.  Once at the top, we enjoyed beautiful panorama views of the lakes, the lava flow on the south side of the crater, and many of the peaks so well-known in the Bend area.

And then we realized it was time to ascend.  We had about 1 1/2 hours left of light, so decided it was in our best interest to ride singletrack back down to our campsite, completing a small mini-loop for the afternoon ride, because everyone knows a loop is so much more satisfying than a simple out and back.  so we took the Crater Rim Trail over to the Lost Lake Trail, which turned out to be the highlight of the trip for both of us.  We both raced down the trail as the waning light accented the lava flows and surrounding landscape with soft purple and pink hues, a perfect contrast to the rugged, rocky terrain surrounding us.

Part of the lava flow on the way down.
The rest of the evening was spent cataloguing the day’s events, star gazing, politicking, and reminiscing over previous trips, all while filled with a silent but palpable gratitude for the space we inhabited at that time and place.

Sunset on Paulina Lake.
The next morning we got up at 6am, ate a meager breakfast (neither of us packed quite enough food), and were back on the trails at 7am.  We headed up the Parallel Trail to get back on the Crater Rim Trail, and enjoyed some relatively flat riding before starting what was essentially a 24 mile descent back to our starting point.

Upon arrival back at the car, we both agreed that this was one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable weekender routes we had ridden to date and, while exhausted, we both felt completely invigorated to tackle our weekday duties the next day.

Of course, no trip would be complete without an unreasonably large burger, so Andrew and I stopped at Next Level Burger before heading home, a Vegan burger joint that makes some stellar veggie patties.  Andrew and I didn’t even look at the menu; we simply ordered the largest, most expensive burger on the menu.

It’s called The Animal, but don’t worry; no animals were harmed in the making of The Animal.
Another trip down simply means another trip to look forward to, and I’m already thinking about which Oregon nooks I haven’t yet explored.  There may be time for one more weekend trip before the snow starts to fall…

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