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Mark Morical: Trail running options abound in Central Oregon

BEND, Ore. — As I ran uphill out of the river canyon and into the open meadow at the Riley Ranch Nature Preserve in Bend, the snowfall was coming at me sideways.

I squinted my eyes and ran through the squall, wishing I had worn my ski goggles.

This was less than two weeks ago, well into May.

Last Wednesday, I woke up and smelled smoke. Yes, it was from controlled burns near Bend, but it served as a stark reminder that our spring and summers of fair weather can seem relatively short in Central Oregon. The time between snowfall in May and wildfire smoke come July just does not seem that long.

So best to take advantage of good weather while you can. One of the best ways to do that is by trail running, and Central Oregon has no shortage of trails for those looking to train for their next race or to simply get outside for some exercise.

Riley Ranch Nature Reserve

This is a bit of a drive from my house in southeast Bend, but it has become one of my favorite destination trail runs, when it’s not snowing of course.

Located on the northwest edge of Bend, Riley Ranch Nature Reserve has some wide, easy trails near the Deschutes River that runners can use to venture all the way to Tumalo State Park.

According to the Bend Park & Recreation District, Riley Ranch encompasses 184 acres, including 35 acres of canyon floor along the Deschutes River and a 30-acre band of rimrock cliffs.

The reserve includes dramatic views of the Cascade peaks and the river canyon. There are 1.57 miles of soft-surface trail above the canyon and 1.25 miles of rugged trail running on the Canyon Loop, according to

On a recent trail run at Riley Ranch, I started on the wide-open paths near the trailhead, then ventured downhill to the Canyon Loop and eventually all the way to Tumalo State Park. While the trails within the preserve are wide and easy, the trail to Tumalo State Park is quite technical, with several narrow rocky areas along a scenic stretch of the Deschutes.

There is even a bridge that allows runner and hikers to cross a section of boulders that would otherwise be impassable.

The out-and-back run was about 6 miles, a nice mix of easy, soft trail at Riley Ranch and rugged, technical singletrack toward Tumalo State Park.

Because Riley Ranch is a nature reserve, dogs and bikes are not allowed. More info:

DRT from Meadow Camp to Dillon Falls

This is a stretch of the Deschutes River Trail that I LOVE to mountain bike, but it’s just as ideal for trail running.

The scenery is unsurpassed and vintage Central Oregon: lava rock, ponderosa pines, and tacky singletrack trail along the surging rapids of the Deschutes.

The trail extends from Bend southwest for 15 miles to Sunriver. For somebody training for a half-marathon or marathon, this offers the ideal route. And because it’s a river trail, the elevation gain is not dramatic.

Highlights include Dillon Falls, Benham Falls and forests of aspen trees and pine. Runners can choose their distance with the out-and-back option. More info:

Peterson Ridge in Sisters

Located on the southern edge of Sisters, the Peterson Ridge network consists basically of two main trails — Peterson Ridge Trail West and Peterson Ridge Trail East — with about a dozen smaller trails that connect the two sides. The network is well-marked with signs on nearly every trail connector.

PRT West is a bit more technical and cuts alongside the edge of the ridge.

Runners can enjoy the views as they climb. PRT East features more flow and fewer rocks.

More than 15 loop options are possible along the PRT from Sisters, varying in distance from 1.4 miles to 20.8 miles. More info:

This story originally appeared in the Bulletin of Bend, Ore. ©2022 The Bulletin. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

This story was originally published May 26, 2022 5:30 AM.

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