Peterson Ridge Trail system has a route for every type of mountain biker.
Whether it’s your first time or you’ve been shredding for years, Peterson Ridge has a variety of options just a half mile from downtown Sisters where it’s easy to rent a bike and get on the trail. A ride through the beautiful ponderosa pines leads you to viewpoints of your choosing offering stellar views of the cascades.
“Peterson Ridge is more on the trail to cross country side of mountain biking,” said Jacob Polachek, from Blazin Saddles bike shop in Sisters. “In terms of rideability or who the trail is for pretty much applies to just about everybody.”
Peterson Ridge is among the more popular riding spots around Sisters, with over 20 miles of single track that is also used for walking, running and biking, as well as some trails for horseback riding. Oregon’s largest mountain bike race, the Sisters Stampede, is also held there each May.
The trails were first constructed in 1989 as a mountain bike trail network combining single track and old forest service roads. A major expansion in 2008 increased the single track length and added signage and trail markers for easier navigation.
As a beginner, I found the trails to be a great starting spot for someone looking to hop on a mountain bike for the first time.
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According to the Sisters Country website, “The system can generally be characterized as a playful flowing single track.” The trails are set up as a stacked loop with east and west legs and connecting trails in between. Essentially, the further from town you get, the more difficult the trails become. The plethora of path options allows for a customized experience.
“Peterson Ridge (is) for somebody who’s just getting into it and wants to start out with a light, mellow trail,” Polachek said. “They can start with that and then as they progress, they can move into something that’s a little bit more technical.”
My goal for this ride was to make it to Peterson Ridge Overlook, one of the main viewpoints on the trail. It would be about a 10.5 mile ride round-trip with 521 feet of climb on a mixture of easy to moderate trails.
Renting a mountain bike
If you don’t have your own mountain bike there are a few options for renting in Sisters. I rented an adult mountain bike from Blazin Saddles, which is located on the west side of downtown Sisters. It was $15 an hour or $40 for 24 hours, and it came with a helmet and bike lock. You have an option of flat pedals, SPD pedals, Crank Bros pedals or bringing your own. Since I am new to mountain biking, I went with flat pedals, which will feel similar to a road bike. The shop’s employees will also help fit your seat to the correct height before sending you off.
Eurosports is also located in downtown and offers rentals for relatively similar prices.
While I was in the shop, I picked up a Peterson Ridge Trail map that included marker points and viewpoints. The routes were also color-coded by difficulty, which helped me determine which paths to take.
It’s only a short mile ride to the trailhead from downtown. If you are biking from Blazin Saddles, head east on Hood Avenue and then take a right on Elm Street. You follow that road for about 0.07 miles until you hit the trailhead on your left. There is parking available at the trailhead, but it is recommended for people to park at Village Green Park, only a quarter mile away from the trailhead. Electric bikes are not allowed on the trail.
If this is your first time at Peterson Ridge, I recommend planning your route ahead of time. The routes are well marked with signage and are fairly easy to navigate. However, the signs don’t start pointing you to viewpoints until you get farther up the trail. There are also many options for routes to take, so the map was my best friend in keeping myself on the right path to the overlook.
I started on PRT West. The worker at Blazin Saddles said most people start on the west side, as it is a little easier climb than PRT East.
The path is flat and free from technical objects until you reach a gravel logging road about 1.5 miles into PRT West. This is a great gentle start to introduce you to the feel of mountain biking, taking you through a forest of beautiful ponderosa pines. It isn’t the most scenic, and the view becomes a bit monotonous until you start gaining elevation.
After passing the logging road, you have the option to ride to Eagle Rock, which offers 360-degree views of the Cascade Mountains. The trail to reach the viewpoint is marked as very difficult, which is why I did not make the trek up there, but this could be a great option for those with a little more experience.
The trails begin to get a little more difficult after about 2 miles. This is when I began facing rock and root obstacles. As a beginner, there were a few times when I had to walk my bike over some technical obstacles, but overall, the trail was still rideable for me. The trail was fairly empty, so I didn’t feel rushed or crowded navigating the paths. I only saw a few other bikers and walkers.
The elevation gain remained very gradual up until mile four, when the paths become slightly steeper.
Peterson Ridge Overlook
The final climb to the overlook gets slightly challenging, but once you reach the top, the view is worth it. The overlook offers panoramic views of Black Butte, Three Fingered Jack and Mount Washington. There is also a nice seating area to catch your breath and take in the scenery.
The ride back down went much faster than the ride up as it was roughly all downhill. I took the Old Trail which was labeled as an easier ride and seemed to have fewer rocks than PRT West. This is also where the real fun kicked in. By this point in the ride, I felt much more comfortable on the trails and was able to go a bit faster.
After about three hours (including many stops to check the map and a rest at the overlook), I arrived back at the trailhead, still a little red-faced, but much more enthusiastic about mountain biking. Peterson Ridge offered a great starting point for someone new to the activity, but the stacked system also creates more challenging options for more experienced riders. The system overall feels like a choose-your-own-adventure, with attainable and scenic viewpoints for riders of all levels.
Peterson Ridge Trail
In a nutshell: A system of mountain biking trails with over 20 miles of single track.
Length/difficulty: About 11 miles round-trip to Peterson Ridge Overlook, starting easy and building to moderate.
Trailhead: Navigate to Peterson Ridge Trail (located right off the road). From downtown Sisters, turn south on Elm Street and continue onto Three Creeks Lake Road for about half a mile. It will be on your left.
Makenzie Elliott is an outdoors intern at the Salem Statesman Journal. Reach her at MElliott@Salem.gannett.com.