A family friendly two-mile loop through Mount Emily Recreation Area.
We know: The idea of mountain biking on a trail system that you figure is only for expert riders can be intimidating. That’s why we try to point out the beginner- and family-friendly options wherever we can. The Red Apple Loop is one of those – a fun, confidence-building way to experience some true trail riding that will whet your appetite for more.
The Red Apple Loop is one section of the marvelous Mount Emily Recreation Area (MERA), which is located just a few miles from the center of La Grande, providing easy access for any rider in the area – local, tourist, or just passing through. From downtown La Grande, follow signs that will take you to the main trailhead for non-motorized adventures, 2.8 miles north of Blackhawk Trail Lane on Owsley Canyon Road.
Red Apple is also known as the 700 trail. This ride only clocks in at 2 miles, which makes it perfect to do several times to get a true feel for trail riding. It’s an easy to moderate trail that sees a lot of traffic from walkers, runners, equestrians and cyclists – another reason it’s good for someone who isn’t concerned with big air or high speed.
Start your ride by exiting the parking area to the southwest. You’ll begin with a descent that heads south about half a mile, where you’ll start winding north around the MERA unit. This section will take you through a series of open meadows; make sure to enjoy the view down into La Grande. You’ll want to savor the birds and foliage over the next mile – mountain biking is never just about the pedaling – as the trail gently rises and falls through the forest landscape.
You’ll gain and lose very little elevation through this section, but the half-mile after that is definitely more up than down; it features a brief grade at more than 9%, which is a great opportunity to take advantage of the lower gears mountain bikes have compared to road bikes. (A bit of heavy breathing may be required.)
By now you’ve regained the elevation you lost in that first downhill glide from the parking lot. At this point, turn south away from MERA Loop, crossing a meadow that’s frequently full of Camas and rolling over a wooden bridge. Follow the signs back to the Owsley Canyon trailhead.
It’s important to be mindful of the trails. Please make sure you don’t take too much dirt with you on your tires or shoes. Also, make sure you’re not damaging soft trails by riding on the edge or damaging the soft berms.
This trail should have injected some real enthusiasm for trail riding – tackle it again right away, come back again… or start looking for something even a little more challenging!