Horse Butte is one of many mountain biking networks around Bend, Oregon. While most of the other trail systems wind in and out of Ponderosa pine forests, much of Horse Butte is exposed high-desert with long, straight stretches of singletrack lined with sagebrush.
It’s a unique area that offers something different from Bend’s main trail network – Phil’s. And it’s home to several caves if you fancy some spelunking.
I rode Horse Butte a few times and while I’m not a true cross-country devotee, I did enjoy the miles out there. The one big drawback is that there aren’t many route options. There’s only one shorter 10-mile loop or several 20+ mile options – nothing in between.
But if you’re in the area and have the time to check it out, Horse Butte is worth a pedal. Read on to learn more!
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What to Expect at Horse Butte
Horse Butte is located about 15 minutes southeast of Bend. The trailhead sits at the base of a towering cylindrical cone, which is pretty cool, and the trails leading from the trailhead slowly make their way up the gradual slope of the plateau.
The trails here (like most of Bend) are very much cross-country with not a lot of tech or challenging features. What sets Horse Butte apart, though, is that much of it is not enclosed by forest and it sits atop a plateau, so you get great views out over the Cascades and surrounding area.
Here are a few reasons to head out to Horse Butte:
Important Things to Know
Best Trails & Route recommendations
As I mentioned above, route options at Horse Butte include a ‘short’ 10-mile loop or a 20+ mile day.
I’ve done both and while the 20-mile day did feature some great views and a fun descent, I was definitely worked at the end.
Horse Butte Map
>> Horse Butte Loop
This is the most popular route for Horse Butte. It’s a mellow 10-mile pedal with minimal elevation gain/loss and not a whole lot of tech.
Don’t let the ‘boringness’ of it put you off, though. It’s beautiful and has a surprising amount of flow!
Route directions: Horse Butte Parking > Arnold Ice Cave > Boyd Cave Trail > Coyote Loop
Route notes: You’ll pass by the entrance of Boyd Cave, which is pretty cool. Bring a headlamp and an extra layer if you want to go in.
Do more: If you want a longer ride, you’ll have to do a much longer ride. Unfortunately, there’s nothing really in between the 10-mile loop above and a 25+ mile loop at Horse Butte.
If you’re up for almost 30 miles of riding, you can pedal up Swamp Wells and descend down Arnold Ice Cave. I did this loop and it’s very scenic with some really fun stretches of downhill, but it is a big day.
There is no water and the riding is quite remote, so be prepared.
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Shuttling Horse Butte
A lot of people end up shuttling Horse Butte because the long 10+ mile trails (Swamp Wells, Coyote Loop, and Arnold Ice Cave) do make great ‘descents’.
You can park one car at the Horse Wells Camping area (high clearance 4×4 needed) and descend one of the three trails.
I rode down Coyote Loop and thought it was pretty fun. I rode up Swamp Wells, which would be a good descent. I have not ridden Arnold Ice Cave.
Don’t want to shuttle yourself? Cog Wild offers a Newberry Crater shuttle where you can ride from the Crater Rim (you have to pedal up there first) all the way down to the Horse Butte trailhead. I haven’t done the shuttle, but I have ridden the Newberry Crater Rim and it is stunning!
Best time to Ride Horse Butte
Like Maston, Horse Butte tends to be rideable throughout the winter or at least early spring and late fall when most of Bend is snowy.
I will mention that I rode Horse Butte in late April and the beautiful bluebird day turned into a massive hailstorm, so… be prepared for anything if you go in the shoulder seasons.
Summer at Horse Butte is hot. I recommend trying to ride early in the morning or late in the afternoon and bringing lots of water.
The Horse Butte Trail system offers a different riding experience than other networks around the Bend area. It’s a high-desert environment with great views of the Cascade range and the potential to do big-mile days. You can also check out some cool caves like the Boyd Cave.
I really enjoyed the 10-mile loop, but I would only recommend the 20+ mile routes to experienced riders with great fitness.
Want to make the most out of your time mountain biking in Bend, Oregon? Check out these the other networks around town:
- Bend Mountain Bike Shuttles: Route Recommendations & More
- Mountain Biking the Deschutes River Trail in Bend
- Mountain Biking the Newberry Crater Rim Trail in Oregon
- Phil’s Trail & Beyond: Mountain Biking Phil’s, Wanoga, & Swampy Sno Park
- Mountain Biking the Maston Trail System near Bend, Oregon
- Experience The Best of Peterson Ridge Mountain Bike Trails in Sisters, Oregon
- Explore the Peaceful & scenic Trails at LaPine State Park in Oregon
- A Complete Guide to Mountain Biking in Bend, Oregon
Have you ridden Horse Butte near Bend, Oregon? What did you think of the trails there? Did you do a big-mile day or the popular 10-mile loop? Leave a comment below!