| | |

High Desert Mountain Biking at Horse Butte Near Bend, Oregon

Experience Bend, Oregon’s high-desert environment by exploring the mountain biking trails at Horse Butte. Learn the best route to ride & more!

Singletrack mountain bike trail through high desert at Horse Butte in Oregon

There’s a good chance that affiliate links are scattered throughout this post. If you click on one I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you and I’ll definitely be using it to buy bike gear.

Pinterest Hidden Image

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!

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:

  • Great views of the Cascade mountain range
  • Lay down a big cross-country day if you want
  • Caves! Horse Butte is home to Boyd Cave and Arnold Ice Cave, which you can visit on your ride
Trail signs next to sandy singletrack trail through pine forest at Horse Butte in Oregon

Important Things to Know

Mountain biking at Horse Butte is awesome, but there are a few things to know before hitting the trails:

  • e-bikes are NOT allowed: Please respect this.
  • Trails are multi-use: You’ll see hikers, trail runners, and occasionally horses on the trails. Please be kind and courteous and say hi when you pass!
  • There is no water: If you plan on doing a big day, make sure you bring plenty of water, especially in the summer.
  • Know your limits: The longer loops at Horse Butte are at least 20 miles with few options to bail or cut it shorter. Know your fitness and endurance levels before heading out on a bigger ride.

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

Route recommendation

>> 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 difficulty: Beginner+
  • Mileage: 10 miles
  • Route type: Loop
  • E-bikes? No
  • Elevation gain/loss: 581 ft
  • Map/GPS: TrailForks

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.

Singletrack trail through pine forest at Horse Butte in Oregon
Horse Butte is very cross-country with miles of buff singletrack. There are a few short sections of minor tech

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!

Photo out over front of mountain bike handlebars onto singletrack trail with mountain range view in the distance
This was pedaling up Swamp Wells – it would be a great shuttled descent!

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.

Singletrack trail through high desert sagebrush landscape at Horse Butte in Oregon with dark stormy sky overhead
A beautiful bluebird day turned into a hailstorm in just a few hours. Be prepared!

Final Thoughts

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.

Have fun!

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!

Was this post helpful?

buy me a coffee!

Similar Posts

I love hearing from you and appreciate your comments! However, if you leave a rude, unconstructive, or spammy comment, it will be deleted. It’s cool to be kind. Have an awesome day!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *