Category: Hiking Trails
Driving along a country road Sunday afternoon, I heard a voice from the backseat.
“Thank you so much for taking us on that hike. It was really fun.”
The voice belonged to my 14-year-old stepson, and those of you with teenagers know it’s kind of a big deal to have anything declared “fun” when it doesn’t include electronic devices or friends.
But the hike was fun, which got us talking about other fun family hikes we’ve done around Central Oregon over the last five years. There were tons. But we narrowed it to a few of our faves, as voted upon by Cedar and his 10-year-old sister, Violet.
And the grownups. We sometimes get a vote, too.
Alder Springs Trail
Let’s start with the hike that inspired my stepson’s comment last weekend, since it’s the newest one in our repertoire.
The Alder Springs Trail hike offers stunning glimpses of high desert landscapes with sagebrush-dotted plateaus and sweeping vistas in all directions. Unlike some of my other favorite desert-centric hikes (i.e. the Oregon Badlands Wilderness), this one has water thrown in, which makes it nicer for both kids and pets.
There’s a bit of elevation here, but don’t let that stop you. En route down toward Whychus Creek, we passed two families with kids around five or six and one mom with a toddler in a backpack. While laziness and an abundance of caution (not to mention the fact that I don’t actually have a toddler) would preclude me from doing that, you’ll do fine with kids in the 7+ age range.
It’s about 1.5 miles from the trailhead down to Whychus Creek, which is an excellent spot for a picnic. Many folks opt to wade through the river and keep hiking another 1.5 miles to reach the confluence of Whychus Creek and the Deschutes River, but springtime flows made the water a bit too deep and swift to risk it with the 10-year-old. But there was still plenty to see, especially on the hike back up when we detoured toward the old bridge site for more awesome access to Whychus Creek.
The adventure took us about three hours, plus about 90 minutes of total drive time. Be aware that the road leading to the trailhead is pretty rutted, and that there are no bathroom facilities anywhere nearby. Make a potty stop in Sisters or plan on holding it for a little while. The folks at Cascade Hiking Adventures offer great, detailed directions for reaching this area, so go here to check those out.
Tamolitch Pool (aka Blue Pool)
Where the Alder Springs hike offers the best of high desert scenery, Tamolitch Pool covers the opposite base with an abundance of towering, mossy trees and damp earth. Getting here requires a drive of about 1.5 hours southwest of Bend, but that makes it a perfect day trip (especially when you reward everyone with a soak afterward at nearby Belknap Hot Springs, which is much more kid-friendly than lots of hot springs you’ll find around Oregon).
But back to the hike. There are two potential starting points, and while the one beginning at the Koosah Falls parking area offers the bonus of waterfall views, 8+ miles of hiking might be a bit much for families with younger kids in tow. Personally, I prefer to start from the trailhead near Carmen Reservoir or Trailbridge Reservoir, which reduces your hiking time by roughly half, but still gives you plenty of great river and forest scenery to savor.
The end result is the same either way, with glorious views of the Blue Pool (which really is as blue as it looks in photos). Bring a snack and sit on a log or boulder near the rim to enjoy the views while nibbling your cheese and crackers. Expect the kids to sleep well on the drive back to Bend.
If your time is limited and you don’t feel like driving far to enjoy a Bend hike, Pilot Butte is the ticket. It has the bonus cool factor of being a dormant volcano, making Bend one of the only cities in the U.S. with a volcano in the city limits (and providing bragging rights for your kids when they return to school and tell their friends, “yeah, I hiked a volcano. . . I’m kind of a big deal.”)
This 500-foot cinder cone offers a couple different routes to the top. The unpaved trail is steeper and gets you to the top a minute or two faster, but with one kid prone to dust-inspired asthma attacks, we usually opt to hike alongside the paved road. It’s closed to motorized vehicles between November(ish) and April(ish) depending on snowfall, so if you’re hiking between those months, feel free to let the kids run wild in the road. Otherwise, you’ll want to herd everyone into the shoulder to keep them safe from speeding cars.
Regardless of how you get to the summit, plan on spending a little time up there to savor the 360-degree views. When the kids were younger, we used to bring a container of bubbles to blow in all directions so they could chase them as they floated along the wind.
I suspect the 14-year-old wouldn’t find that quite as cool these days.
Deschutes River Trail
This is another good option for families who prefer not to drive far from a Bend home base to reach the trailhead. Your distance depends on your starting point. The main trail starts at the Meadow Camp picnic area just off Century Drive. You can access a lot of other trailheads off FS road 41, so pick your starting point and your route depending on your family’s skill and endurance.
To keep it nice and short, try the Meadow Camp to Lava Island hike, which clocks in at just over a mile. If you’re game for a bigger hike, you can hoof it all the way from Meadow Camp to Benham Falls, passing Lava Island Falls, Aspen Camp, and Dillon Falls along the way. That one will require about 8.5 miles of hiking, so plan accordingly.
The nice thing is that you can set out from Meadow Camp and decide along the way what you feel up to. If everyone’s still feeling strong after a couple miles, keep going. If someone in your party (possibly a parent) has a temper tantrum meltdown after mile one, just head back. Easy-peasy!
No matter how far you go, you’ll be treated to splendid views of the Deschutes River and the towering ponderosas and lava rocks that line the trail. This is a pretty well-trafficked trail, so expect crowds if you set out in the middle of summer.
Waterfall hikes are a big hit with kids, and this one is another favorite for my family. The kids love the winding, woodsy trails and the fact that they get to see not one, but two magnificent waterfalls along the loop.
While the trails are fairly well-maintained, there are some spots where you’ll have to scramble a bit, so keep that in mind if you have teeny-tiny kids or anyone in the party who isn’t sure-footed. But the fact that this is a fairly short hike (1.5 miles) and the fact that it’s a loop instead of an in-and-back hike makes it a great choice for families.
Be sure you have plenty of space on your camera for this one, as the biggest set of falls is touted as the most photographed waterfall in the whole state. Our local paper, The Bulletin, had a great piece a few years ago on visiting Proxy Falls from Bend, complete with handy directions. You can check that out here.
Another good choice for the waterfall chasers, Steelhead Falls has the added bonus of being handy to combine with a visit to Smith Rock State Park, since both are near Terrebonne about 20 miles north of Bend on Highway 97.
This is a relatively short but scenic hike, and another one like Alder Springs that highlights more of Central Oregon’s desert landscape. The hike from the trailhead to the main waterfall is a little over a mile that winds down a gorge dotted with sagebrush and ancient juniper. In summer months, the trail can be packed with people looking to swim in the peaceful waters just downstream from the falls.
I prefer doing this one in the springtime when most of the folks you’ll encounter are fishing quietly along the riverbank. Tread carefully if you go when there’s still a threat of ice or snow. Once you reach the waterfall, spread out a blanket for a picnic, and give the kids a chance to chuck rocks into the foaming, churning water.
For terrific, detailed driving details, check out the hike description from Cascade Hiking Adventures.
Smith Rock State Park
This one is nice to combine with the aforementioned Steelhead Falls hike to make it a full day of hiking in two different areas, or you can do it all by itself for a shorter day.
Smith Rock State Park is regarded as one of the seven wonders of Oregon, and for good reason. Towering basalt cliffs, gorgeous river views, and jaw-dropping landscapes will leave even the not-easily-impressed members of your family staring in wonder at the incredible views.
There are lots of spots to hike around this 651-acre state park, so you can choose whatever fits your family’s skill level. If you want to keep it simple, opt for an easy 2.5 mile stroll on flat ground along the River Trail from the park bridge to Monkey Face (which really does look like a monkey’s face!)
If you’re feeling more ambitious, hike up the Misery Ridge Trail (elevation 3,360 feet) for killer views of the entire Central Oregon Cascade mountain range.
You’ll find longer and shorter hikes, and even the opportunity to try a little sport climbing if you book with a skilled climbing guide (many of whom are happy to work with families of all ages).
And no matter which hike or climb you choose, make sure to stop along the way and stare at the river for a few minutes. Odds are good you’ll be rewarded by views of river otters frolicking in the cool water.
One of Central Oregon’s quintessential Bend experiences, Tumalo Falls has the added bonus of being close to town. Depending on how far you choose to hike, you can cross this one off your bucket list in just a couple hours (including drive time and hiking time).
That’s assuming you go in the late-spring through early-fall when FS Road 4603 isn’t closed. If you show up before the road opens for the season, you’ll need to add another couple miles of hiking, which isn’t the worst thing in the world considering how beautiful this area is.
But assuming you show up at a time of year when you can park right at the trailhead, you’ve got a whopping hike of about 200 yards to reach the first waterfall viewpoint. That’s stunning, and maybe it’s plenty if you’ve got a young baby or you’re tired out from other hikes.
But if you have a bit more energy, it’s only a five-minute hike to the top of the falls, which offers another awesome viewpoint of this shimmering 89-foot curtain of rushing water. Want to keep going? Hoof it for another mile or two before turning back, or head all the way to Happy Valley for a four-mile out-and-back hike you won’t forget.
If you’re hiking in springtime, keep in mind the snow can take a while to melt, so wear hiking boots instead of Tevas if you’re here in May or even June. But for the most part, there’s not much elevation gain to this hike, so it’s a good one for families who don’t want to do lots of climbing.
I like Bend beer.
I also like wearing a bikini without cringing in horror each time I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the Deschutes River.
Believe it or not, it’s possible to have both things without one canceling out the other. It’s even possible to have a little fun while you’re at it.
Using this website, I plugged in the stats for the CDC’s estimation of an average 35-year-old woman (5’4” and 166 pounds). I don’t know about you, but none of those numbers apply to me personally, so you’ll probably want to plug in your own stats to get an accurate calorie count.
But this is more for fun than for actual scientific research, so here we go with my roundup of how much Bend recreation you’ll want to enjoy to cancel out all those extra calories along the Bend Ale Trail.
Hike Pilot Butte to earn some suds from Worthy Brewing
Pilot Butte is the 500-foot dormant volcano in the middle of town, and folks enjoy driving, hiking, or jogging to the top for a killer views of the city.
It so happens Worthy Brewing is located just a little east of Pilot Butte and boasts splendid views of the landmark. It’s convenient for watching fireworks when Independence Day rolls around, but also a handy way to remind yourself what you’ve gotta do to earn those tasty Worthy beers.
Craving something simple like their Easy Day Kolsch? It’s light, crisp, and on the low-cal end of the spectrum at 130 calories for a 12 oz serving. Using those stats I gave earlier, our 35-year-old woman could enjoy a leisurely, 40 minute stroll with her dog around the flat little track at the base of Pilot Butte and burn 159 calories. Score! You can even put an olive in that Kolsch if you want.
Eyeing something heftier like Worthy’s Dark Muse Imperial Stout? That bad boy comes in at about 350 calories, so you’ve gotta hoof it to the top of Pilot Butte to earn it. Figure the whole hike takes a bit less than an hour, and half of it is the equivalent of walking up stairs, while the other half is a mellow downhill hike. That should burn around 500 calories, which is more than enough to earn you that Dark Muse and a cozy spot by one of Worthy Brewing’s fire pits.
Play nine holes of golf for a few cans of Good Life
I’m not a golfer, so I was a little stunned when I learned the number of calories you burn whacking a ball around the course. A golf-fanatic pal told me it takes an average of two hours to play nine holes, and when I used our handy online calculator and selected the option to carry your own clubs, it showed me a whopping 916 calories. This article confirms what our little calorie counter says, so we’re going with it!
There are more than two dozen golf courses around Central Oregon, and most of them boast drink carts stocked with tasty Bend craft beer. On a hot day, few things taste better than a cold can of Sweet As Pacific Ale from GoodLife Brewing, and the drink cart at River’s Edge Golf Course has plenty to go around (along with brews from other favorites like Deschutes and 10 Barrel).
But let’s focus on the Sweet As, since its mild flavor and Pacific hops make this the perfect easy sipper for a warm day in Bend. A 12 ounce can of Sweet As has 183 calories, which means you could have three or four of these and still reap some calorie-burning benefit from your golf game (though your golf game may not benefit from that much beer).
If you do opt to guzzle several cans, be sure you line up a sober driver or a cab, OK?
Earn your Deschutes beer with an afternoon of paddling or skiing
When summer rolls around, I start itching to hop on my standup paddleboard and hit the Deschutes River. One of my favorite post-paddle treats is River Ale from Deschutes Brewery. At 140 calories for a 12 ounce serving, I only need to paddle for 20 minutes to kill 159 calories. Since I usually go for an hour in an afternoon of SUPing on the Deschutes River, I can have two beers or nibble a couple hot wings at their Bend brew pub.
If it happens to be wintertime when your craving for Deschutes beer hits, you’ll probably want something a little heartier to drink. My personal fave is The Abyss Imperial Stout, with its deep, dark body and complex notes of molasses and licorice. A beer this big packs a whopping 344.53 calories for 12 ounces, or 632.5 calories if you guzzle the whole 22-ounce bottle (an endeavor you’d want to undertake verrrry slooowly). Luckily, an hour of skiing at Mt. Bachelor burns about 657 calories, so earning your Abyss bliss won’t be tough.
Bike for your 10 Barrel brew
The great thing about Bend is that you can mountain bike all year long, even when snow is flying in the mountains.
You can also enjoy 10 Barrel’s flagship brew, Apocalypse IPA, all year long. Coincidence? I think not.
One hour of mountain biking on Phil’s Trail in Bend should burn about 637 calories for our aforementioned average female. The hoppy, complex, super-drinkable Apocalypse has roughly 195 calories for a 12-ounce serving, so you can swig a couple of them and still reap some calorie burning benefit from your singletrack adventure. You’re welcome.
Now who’s ready for swimsuit season?
I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon on Visit Bend’s Facebook page.
Every time we share a photo of a waterfall in Oregon the post gets three-gazillion likes, shares, and comments.
It’s clear Bend fans are passionate about the idea of water rushing over towering cliffs and rocky flumes, so let’s take a look at some hiking trails with the best waterfalls in Bend and Central Oregon.
At nearly 100 feet tall, this splendor along Tumalo Creek is the most popular waterfall located within the Bend city limits. It’s a little tougher to get to in winter months when the road is closed about two miles from the normal parking area, but it’s a pleasant enough hike and well worth a little extra effort to reach it.
In warmer months, the viewpoint to see the main waterfall is only a few steps from where you’ll park. Hoof it to the viewpoint for a quick snapshot, then keep walking along the trail to see the falls from several different vantage points.
Want to keep going? As you hike upstream, you’ll encounter several smaller waterfalls along the trail. It can be dicey in the winter months, and snowshoes are a good idea if the snowpack is high. When summer rolls around, you can walk four miles to Happy Valley before retracing your steps for a second look at all the majestic beauty.
Tumalo Falls is easy to reach if you follow Galveston Avenue through the roundabout until it turns into Skyliner Road. Cruise for a little over 10 miles until you see Forest Service Road 4601 on your right. The season and the snowfall will determine how far you can get on the gravel road from there, but it ends in 2.5 miles just 50 feet from the waterfall.
Benham, Dillon, and Lava Island Falls
Bend’s mighty Deschutes River boasts three major waterfalls in fairly close proximity to one another, and each one is special in its own way.
The best-known and largest of the three is Benham Falls. Here, the river stairsteps over rocks and ledges as it chugs along through a rocky gorge. The short hike to access it takes you through a lovely pine forest where you’ll enjoy the twitter of birds and the rush of whitewater. Don’t expect the sort of tall, cascading waterfall you’ll see at Tumalo Falls, but do expect a glorious stretch of churning whitewater and lovely views.
The second most popular waterfall along the Deschutes River Trail is Dillon Falls. Like Benham, it’s a more gradual drop of churning whitewater, as opposed to a lengthy cascade plummeting over a cliff. You’ll see a lot more lava features here, and some pretty spectacular views of the surrounding gorge. The sunsets here can be amazing, so bring your camera if you’re visiting near the end of the day.
Lava Island Falls is the least-known of the three, and it’s tricky to access due to steep, dangerous trails and a bunch of private homes lining the edges of the river. That said, it may be the most scenic of the bunch, with a two-stepped cascade dropping about 15 feet and a second channel that’s a little smaller.
The Deschutes River Trail System is probably your easiest access point for these waterfalls. Start at Meadow Camp, which you’ll reach by driving out Century Drive like you’re headed toward Mt. Bachelor. Hang a left on Forest Service Road 41 and follow the signs to reach the waterfall of your choice.
This waterfall is technically closer to Terrebonne than it is to Bend, but it’s well worth a short drive to reach it. (Bonus: You can combine this with a visit to Smith Rock State Park, which is a must-see when you’re in Central Oregon).
The hike from the trailhead to the main waterfall takes you a little over a mile through a winding gorge dotted with sagebrush and ancient juniper. In the summer months, it’s bustling with people looking to swim in the peaceful waters just downstream from the falls. During chillier months, you’ll still see a lot of anglers casting a line in the water and reeling in some pretty impressive fish.
This waterfall is one of my personal favorites, and my step kids could spend hours standing above it and chucking rocks into the churning water. Tread with caution if it’s icy or snowy, but most of the year this is a pretty easy hike. If you have time, bring a picnic lunch and look for a flat spot to spread your blanket.
To get there, head north on Highway 97 and drive a little over 20 miles until you reach the town of Terrebonne. Turn left on Lower Bridge Way and follow it 2.1 miles before turning right onto NW 43rd. After 1.7 miles, go left on Chinook Drive until you see Badger Road on your left about a mile up. You should see a sign at this point directing you to Steelhead Falls, which requires another mile on Quail Road and a mile or so on River Road.
This is another waterfall that’s a bit tougher to get to in the winter months, but it’s totally worth it if you’re up for a couple extra miles of hiking. Paulina Falls is 80-feet tall and surrounded by dramatic volcanic cliffs created from sheets of hot ash and pumice formed during eruptions more than 75,000 years ago.
One thing I love about this waterfall is that you can check it out from the upper viewpoint, which is less than ¼ mile from the parking lot. Once you’ve had enough of that, hoof it down the trail to see what it looks like from below.
Paulina Falls is part of the Newberry Crater, a national volcanic monument, which would be worth a day of exploration even if there were no waterfall at all.
To get there in the summertime, just follow Highway 97 about 20 miles south of Bend to Paulina Lake Road (you’ll see signs for the national monument). Follow Paulina Lake Road a little over 12 miles until you see signs on the left for Paulina Falls. The viewpoint is only a couple hundred feet from where you’ll park your car.
If you’re visiting in the wintertime, you’ll discover the road is closed a couple miles west of the parking area. Don’t worry! Just park your car and hoof it along the highway (which is pretty easy, since there won’t be any cars). Bring snowshoes just in case, though you won’t likely need them in a light snow year.
Whychus and Proxy Falls
I’m a fourth-generation Oregonian who’s lived in Bend since 1997, and you know what? I haven’t seen every amazing landmark in Central Oregon. That’s not for lack of trying, I can assure you. It’s just a big, beautiful place, and there’s lots to see!
That’s my way of telling you that although I have not personally visited Whychus Falls (also known as Chush Falls) the photos I’ve seen and the stories I’ve heard indicate it’s breathtaking. You’ll find some good info about getting there if you go here.
Proxy Falls is another one I’ve missed, though I made one failed attempt at getting there last fall in the midst of our first blizzard of the season (don’t try this at home, kids). Proxy is obviously on my bucket list, for reasons that should be obvious if you check out photos of it. Learn more about how to find it by going here.
So where’s YOUR favorite waterfall in Central Oregon? Is it one I didn’t list here? Please share!