A great backcountry ride around remote Cascades lakes
This route is a convenient companion to the Cultus Lake Loop – a good way to build a weekend around riding. While the route starts from a different campground, you can easily access either ride from either campground. This “lollipop” route offers more challenge, between the increased elevation gain and the somewhat technical aspects on the downhill portion of the lollipop.
To get to the secluded campground on the east side of Little Cultus Lake, from Bend you drive 46 miles southwest on Cascade Lakes Hwy (46), then 0.8 miles west on FR 4635, then 1.7 south on FR 4630, and then 1.0 miles west on FR 4636. There is potable water at the campground.
Even if you’re not camping here, it’s worth sitting with a cup of coffee (or an energy drink), appreciating the view, before you take off. When you’re sufficiently inspired, head up the dirt road out of camp. Soon you’ll turn left onto single-track; at the Lemish Lake trailhead you’ll start in earnest on what will end up being a 1,000-foot climb over the next 7-8 miles.
When you reach Lemish Lake, stay left for a clockwise loop. The scrawny high-desert ponderosas will give way to larger trees and more dramatic rock outcroppings a you rise through the back-country. Along the way you’ll come across grassy meadows that are quite nice spots for a nap or just a break in the sun, depending on your pace and the weather.
The climb will push you, but it does offer plenty of short breaks with the undulating terrain. You’ll hit the apex of the ride right about 10 miles, above Charlton Lake. This is a more secluded sister to nearby Waldo Lake, and a popular resting point for Pacific Crest Trail backpackers. Your route drops right down to the lake, which is also prime lunch-stop territory for riders. With most of the climbing behind you, you might want to dip your toes in the water along with enjoying your food and drink in the sun.
Depart the shore of this high lake and get ready for some thrills (but hopefully not any spills). You’ll ride back downhill on a gnarly backcountry trail that delivers plenty of pleasure. The frequent rock gardens and sudden switchbacks combine to somehow deliver a surprisingly fast and flowy descent. This part of trail will keep you alert and dialed in.
You’re likely to finish filled with adrenaline – which is never a bad way to end a ride. When you get back to the start, your options include a lake dip, clean clothes, and maybe even a burger and a milkshake at the Cultus Lake Resort.