Gravel bike routes to use for the Tour des Chutes

– By Gravel Girl (Linda English) from Dirty Freehub

My husband and I created Dirty Freehub ( to share all our secret gravel bike routes. We love gravel cycling because we ride on all sorts of terrain, escaping the cars and the people.

We have over 100 gravel routes across the Northwest that are just a blast, many of them right out of Bend which is where we live. The descriptions on our website will help you decide what mix is right for you: we include the elevation and the amount of gravel and pavement you can expect, plus loads of other details and photos. We also have GPX files which means you can download the route to either your phone or a navigation device. And we include which routes are e-Bike friendly. All the routes are free to use.

Below are three routes that allow you to adjust the distance pretty easily and are located in Central Oregon. We recommend that you download and know how to use navigation before you take off.  (A great route to test navigation is on Water and Lava because you will run into roads or a river before you are too lost.  And it has tricky turns that will force you to learn to navigate with a device or phone.). But head to our website and you’ll find a bunch more to choose from.

Water and Lava

Kevin English and Linda English on Water and Lava.  Photo Credit: Trevor Lyden


Water and Lava starts at the Welcome Center on Century Drive just outside of Bend.  The full route is 31 miles and 1,400 feet of gain (44 miles if you start from town.)  I love this route because you have wonderful views of the Deschutes River and you can stop at Benham Falls.  You can challenge yourself (or not!) by climbing to the top of Lava Butte. It’s also easy to slice off the Sunriver portion which eliminates 4 miles, or if you start from town, you can make it a longer ride.  Water and Lava is a nice mix of quiet dirt roads, bike paths, paved roads and single track.  I’ll be the first to admit when I hit the rocky section near Sunriver that I just get off and walk even though most of my riding pals blaze through it.


Linda English on Haystack. Photo Credit: Kevin English


Haystacks and Skulls provides you with actually three different routes: Haystack, Skull Hollow and Haystacks and Skulls.  They start in various areas close to Terrebone. I love this route for the shocking and amazing views of the mountains.  Plus, it includes Haystack Reservoir, Smith Rock, and the Crooked River Gorge.  With all three routes, you have to cross Highway 97 out of Terrebone: each route has 12% or more steep climbs. (There’s no shame in walking the steeper parts of the climb!)  The distances range from Haystack and Skulls being the longest at 36 miles, 2,300 feet of gain and Haystack being 28 miles and 1,900 feet of gain. They are a mix of paved roads and gravel roads.


round lake

Linda English, Kevin Gorman, Bryn Gabriel and Kevin English on Sherman’s March near Round Lake. Photo Credit: Trevor Lyden


Sherman’s March is a lovely tour of the Camp Sherman area which includes visiting the fish hatchery, the Head of the Metolius, and the scenic loop up to Round Lake (filled with amazing views of the mountains.) While the route is 52 miles and 4,200 feet of climbing, you can easily take out the section on the shoulder of Black Butte (which eliminates 11 miles and 1,000 feet of gain), or take out Round Lake (which eliminates 11 miles and 1,100 feet of gain).

I hope you enjoy your Tour des Chutes this year. I’ve ridden their event just about every year since 2004. It’s a great organization with an amazing mission.  While it will be a different event this year, their work in cancer is even more important this year.  Plus I have always admired Gary for his constant fight against such a horrible disease; his positive attitude is amazing.  Cheers.. Gravel Girl from Dirty Freehub

  1. Hi! This may be my first time riding the Tour des Chutes but not the first time riding for a cause. I am new to the area from the East Coast so flatlander here. I am considering the Lava Water route for a try out – skipping Lava Butte. OK, just looking for reassurance here that I can do this and what happens if I can’t. Anyway, I am going out there somewhere – training? what, not much – thank you for all you do. Volunteered for the Pan Mass kids rides so I know the amazing stories connected with such endeavors. Ta.

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