The first place I ever went trail riding on my very own horse was in the canyons at Cline Buttes Recreation Area. I had no idea that 20+ years later it would remain one of my favorite places to ride.
Back in 1993 I didn’t have a truck or trailer, so I was limited to the trails I could reach on horseback. Lucky for me, the barn where I boarded my horse was near Fryrear Road, between Sisters and Bend, and I could easily ride to the canyons. And what a treasure these canyons are!
The terrain surrounding the canyons is pretty typical of Central Oregon. The land is gently rolling, covered by junipers, sagebrush, and bunchgrass. The soil is sandy and well drained.
The trails are a combination of dirt roads and single-track trails, and while they can be very dusty in summer, they offer excellent riding in fall, winter, and spring.
From several elevated points you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the snow-covered Cascades to the west. And because the Cline Buttes Recreation Area is 50 square miles of BLM land, the riding is virtually unlimited.
But the real appeal of the Canyons area comes if you ride southward from the Fryrear Road trailhead, where the trails take you into two deep canyons of twisted basalt.
As you ride through the canyons, you feel like you’ve ridden back in time – or onto the set of a John Wayne movie. It seems like Geronimo and his men ought to be peering down at you from the rim of the canyon. And indeed, these canyons were historically visited by Indians. There are even petroglyphs in Fryrear Canyon to prove it.
Fryrear Canyon and Dry Canyon are actually deep pressure ridges that were created when molten lava oozed out of the earth and began to harden, then was pushed up by more lava pouring out beneath it. The twisted striations in the canyons’ rock walls are evidence of the heat and pressure that created these basalt formations.
From Fryrear Trailhead, go right on the dirt road that runs past the east side of the parking area. It winds generally eastward for about 0.8 mile, then intersects with OHV Trail #29. Turn right on the OHV trail and follow it south for 1 mile. Veer right on OHV Trail #15, which will take you into Dry Canyon, with its impressive basalt cliffs that tower above you on both sides. The canyon gets deeper, narrower, and more beautiful as you ride.
After about a mile the canyon widens out and the OHV trail veers left out of the canyon. You’ll veer right on a designated horse trail and follow it out of the canyon and westward along a barb-wire fence. In another mile it will take you to the south entrance to Fryrear Canyon. While Fryrear isn’t as physically imposing as Dry Canyon, the south end of Fryrear Canyon has some impressive ponderosa pines and some stands of Great Basin Wild Rye grass, indicating the surprising presence of subterranean moisture in this otherwise arid landscape. Follow the trail 1.9 miles back to the dirt road you initially rode out on. Turn left on it and retrace your steps to the trailhead.
Note that Fryrear Canyon is subject to a seasonal wildlife closure from February 1 to August 1 to protect nesting raptors, so in those months you won’t be able to ride a loop. You can still enjoy riding in Dry Canyon, though.
Trail Statistics: From the Fryrear Road trailhead, it’s about a 6.5-mile loop to ride through both Dry Canyon and Fryrear Canyon. Elevations are 2,900-3,300 feet. The riding is easy, but there are very few trail signs so a GPS and a willingness to explore will be helpful. There isn’t any stock water on the trail.
Getting to Fryrear Trailhead: From Bend, drive northwest on Hwy. 20 for 13 miles, turn right on Fryrear Road, and continue 4 miles to the trailhead on the right. From Redmond, drive west on Hwy. 126 for 13.5 miles, turn left on Fryrear Road, and continue 1.8 miles to the trailhead on the left. From Sisters, drive east on Hwy. 126 for 5 miles, turn right on Fryrear Road, and continue 1.8 miles to the trailhead on the left.
Season: Year round. Trails are very dusty in summer, but offer excellent footing in fall, winter, and spring.
Trailhead Facilities: The Fryrear Road trailhead has parking for 4 to 5 trailers. No facilities. No fees.
More Information: The Canyons trails are covered in more detail in the “Fryrear” pages of the Cline Buttes Recreation Area chapter of Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, Ponderosa Press, 2012).