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Revisit an old friend: The Upper Deschutes
Published: May 8, 2002
By Jim Witty
The Deschutes River rolls through Bend, as dependable as an old
I pass over it on the Colorado Street Bridge every morning and then
again after work. I see it on the way to the post office, the mall and the
It's an integral part of Bend and Central Oregon, a constant
contributor to the quality and flavor of the region. But with Bend's Upper
Deschutes virtually underfoot, it's easy to give it short shrift in favor of
more distant riverine destinations. That would be a mistake.
Because the Deschutes River Trail is a treasure, a delightfully
scenic path that wends through town and on up the river past serene runs,
frothing rapids and a couple of full-fledged waterfalls.
A great hike that will get you acquainted (or reacquainted) with
the beauty right out the back door begins at Meadow Picnic Area and takes you a
mile or four miles or even eight miles upriver. It doesn't take long to leave
urban growth boundaries, traffic circles and cross-town traffic backups far
The Upper Deschutes River is larded with juicy whitewater sections
punctuated by wide, tranquil stretches suitable for canoeing or cooling off in
the summer. The day-use areas aren't very far apart. There are Lava Island Falls
(1.2 miles from the Meadow Picnic Area trailhead), Dillon (4.5 miles) and Benham
falls (8.5 miles). Other points of interest include Big Eddy — a sprightly set
of rapids, and Aspen day-use area where the river rests after plunging through a
constricted unraftable bottleneck upstream at Dillon Falls.
It's a 17-mile hike from Meadow Picnic Area to Benham Falls and
back — quite a trek in anyone's book.
Hikers often walk just a portion of the trail from Meadow to Benham
Falls, choosing to turn around at one of the day-use areas. Or they park a
shuttle car at the Benham Falls Picnic Area and drive back.
To get to the picnic area, drive 10 miles south of Bend on Highway
97 and turn right at the Lava Lands Visitor Center exit. Make a quick left on to
Road 9702 and proceed four miles to the parking lot.
The one-day three-falls round-trip tour is prime for mountain
bikers. Here and there along the way, the bike trail, which officially begins at
Lava Island Falls, diverges from the hiking trail and later joins it again.
It's all good as long as bikers and hikers use courtesy and common
sense (this is no secret spot; the trails can get congested on weekends during
the warm months). The Forest Service advises mountain bikers to slow down and
alert others as they approach. Horses are restricted to a separate trail.
When you're not keeping watch over the many moods of the Deschutes
or doing your bit to promote harmony among multiple users, there are plenty of
birds, trees and flowers to draw your attention.
Willow, chokecherry, birch, aspen and of course, ponderosa pine can
all be seen along the trail. Also watch for osprey and kingfisher hunting for
rainbow and brown trout as well as great blue heron lurking in the shallows.
Canada geese and all manner of ducks also use the Deschutes corridor as a
All this nature along the Deschutes River Trail is a bracing
reminder for the return visitor, a surprise to the uninitiated.
I know I'll never look at Mirror Pond quite the same way again.
IF YOU GO:
- GETTING THERE: From Bend, drive about six miles west on Cascade Lakes Highway. Turn left on to a gravel road just before the Widgi Creek Golf Course. The turn-off is marked with a small sign leading to the Meadow Picnic Area.
- ROUND-TRIP DISTANCE: Varies.
- DIFFICULTY: Easy to difficult, depending on distance and mode of transportation.
- ACCESS: Bikers, hikers.
- PERMITS: No permit is required at Meadow Picnic Area. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the other day-use areas.
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