By Linda Orcelleto / for the Bulletin Special Projects
Not to be confused with Horse Butte in SW Bend, this area east of Bend is a well-known location for winter mountain biking. But if you want to exercise your hiking or biking muscles before the heat and dust of summer, this is an ideal destination. Bikers and hikers use some common trails, but most are specific to the particular mode. Watch closely for signs to avoid conflict. The 4.2-mile loop trail offers a variety of skill levels, including a 1,000-foot elevation gain. There are longer loops as well in the 30-mile network of trails. The single-track high desert environment of old-growth junipers offers fantastic views of the Three Sisters. Keep an eye out for wildflowers, birds, and deer. The trailhead is close to the Badlands Flat Iron Trail, if you want to tackle both. To get there, go east on Highway 20 for about 15 miles, turn right on Horse Ridge Frontage Road and proceed to the trailhead.
North of Madras, this multiuse recreation area takes additional planning and follows a convoluted route just to reach the trailhead. But it’s well worth the meandering. Expect to spend the entire day or stay overnight in the year-round 20-site first-come, first-served campground for smaller vehicles or tenters (there’s a low-clearance one-lane tunnel). A favorite put-in and takeout spot for rafters heading down the Lower Deschutes toward Maupin, the campground is regularly full in the summer. The flat 7.6-mile rails-to-trails section offers biking, hiking, trail running, and horseback riding. Rock climbing is at the opposite end of the campground. Access to some trails is closed January 15 to August 15 for golden eagle nesting. Watch for osprey, eagles, turkey vultures, and swallows. To get there, go north on Highway 97 from Madras. After 3.5 miles, turn left on Cora Drive and continue onto Clark Drive. Once you reach the town of Gateway, cross the railroad tracks, take a right, and follow the signs to Trout Creek Recreation Area.
Enjoy the scenic drive on the Crooked River Highway east of Prineville to the parking area at Chimney Rock Campground. Managed by BLM, the hiking trail starts across the way. The well-worn trail to the pinnacle is a bit longer than a mile. Though not too strenuous, it’s a good workout for your lungs and legs. If you go later in April, you may see nature at its finest: wildflowers, butterflies, ground critters, or birds of prey. The higher you trek, the more you’ll see of the snow-capped Cascades. Once at the top, soak in the 360-degree view. It’s always wise to stay on the trail, but you can overlook the rim edge and see the Crooked River below. (Be mindful not to trample the vegetation.) To get there, take Highway 27 south out of Prineville for about 16 miles and look for the sign.
Skull Hollow Trail
Depending on the weather and conditions, Skull Hollow Trail, just north of Smith Rock State Park, can be a boon or a bust. Whether you are hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding, the Burma Road to the top is nasty after a heavy rain due to the claylike, snotty soil. Best to let the trail dry completely. The dirt and gravel roads take you through scrubby juniper and towering ponderosas. Once you’ve soaked in the views of Smith Rock, you can turn back at the halfway point or continue to the top. Another option: instead of taking the same way back, ride the downhill-only trail back to the campground. If the exercise doesn’t get your heart pumping, the views will. It’s a 10.6-mile round trip. From Prineville, take Highway 26 north and turn on Lone Pine Road. Turn right on Skull Hollow Road (Forest Service Road 5710); the trailhead is half a mile up to the right. You can also access Gray Butte Trailhead and the Cole Loop Trail from the campground.
Lake Creek Trail and Metolius Preserve
The hiker- and biker-friendly trail is a good alternative to the heavily used Metolius River trails. You’ll weave in and out of the Metolius Preserve owned by the Deschutes Land Trust, through stands of mature ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, western larch, alder, and vine maple. With multiple access points, the 6- to 8-mile round trip journey is a peaceful, shaded stroll or mellow mountain bike ride. Along the level, well-defined trail, you’ll pass dispersed camping areas next to Lake Creek (guaranteed you’ll want to return). Continue on to Suttle Lake Lodge (walking under the bridge on Highway 20) and fuel yourself with a beverage and appetizer for the journey back. Dogs must be leashed through the preserve. To get there, take Highway 20 west from Sisters for about 10 miles to the Camp Sherman/Metolius River turnoff on the right. Stay left at the Y two and a half miles along, and after another two miles left at the stop sign. Watch for the Metolius Preserve sign.
McKay Crossing Falls
A little over 20 miles south of Bend, McKay Crossing Falls is one of a few small waterfalls along Paulina Creek. Walk to the falls from McKay Crossing Campground, which is close to Newberry National Volcanic Monument. The scenery is beautiful and the area is good for birdwatching, especially in the wetlands west of the campground. You can continue from there to hike Peter Skene Ogden Trail, which passes several waterfalls, including Paulina Falls, on the way to Paulina Lake, seven miles along the trail. Hikers, mountain bikers (uphill only), and horseback riders share the trail, and leashed dogs are allowed. From Bend, go 21 miles south on Highway 97, turn left on Paulina Lake Road for three miles, then turn onto Forest Road 2120 to the campground.
Just up the way in Terrebonne, Steelhead Falls on the Deschutes River is remarkable for its scenery and solitude any time of year. The half-mile trail to the 15-foot falls is relatively easy, with a small, steep section. Colorful grooves that decorate cliffs are a testament to time and erosion. Hike down for a picnic, explore the rocky shores, fish in the Deschutes, or just sit and relax. The roar of the falls around you will wash away the rest of the world. At this time of year, wildflowers grace the slopes and golden eagles soar in the blue, cloudless sky. Return on the 100-degree days in August to take a plunge and cool off in the refreshing (icy) water of the Deschutes. From Terrebonne, turn west on Lower Bridge Way and take a right at 43rd Street. Go left on Chinook Drive, left on Badger Road, right on Quail Road, and left on River Road to the trailhead and campground.
Tumalo Canal Trail
A fairly young pedestrian-only trail system (developed in 2014), the Tumalo Canal Historic Area is almost nine miles of wide, meandering trails that follow in and along 100-year-old canal beds, left behind from a reservoir project in the early 1900s. Since most of the trails here are in old irrigation canals, the paths have a gentle riverlike flow that makes for easy walking or running. The dog-friendly trails wind among the rugged beauty of the High Desert among lava rocks and juniper trees, with occasional panoramic views of the Cascade mountains. Keep an eye out for a cool “fort” made entirely out of lava rock halfway between trail markers 4 and 5. To get to the trailhead, take Highway 20 west from Bend and turn north on Cline Falls Highway. About five miles north of Tumalo, turn left on Barr Road and follow it to the trailhead parking lot.
Fort Rock is among Central Oregon’s geological wonders. About 85 miles southeast of Bend, set in what was once a shallow sea in prehistoric times, this ancient National Natural Landmark rises 200 feet from the flat desert floor in a circular tower of jagged rock called a tuff ring. Its many cliffs and terraces were formed when waves from Fort Rock Lake eroded the crater walls thousands of years ago. The destination is perfect for a peaceful and meditative day trip of hiking and picnicking. Since you’ve come this far, you might want to continue on to Crack in the Ground (see page 16). To reach Fort Rock, head south on Highway 97 out of La Pine. Turn left on Highway 31, left on County Road 5-10, and left on Cabin Lake Road.
Crack in the Ground
Get your geological natural wonder adrenaline rush by visiting this 70-foot-deep by 2-mile-long volcanic fissure near Christmas Valley, 70 miles east of Bend. The crack was formed about 14,000 years ago where lava flows and rock walls came together and split the earth—a testament to the power of nature. You’ll do some scrambling around rocks along the trail that runs through the crack, so wear sturdy hiking boots. As you descend into the fissure, you’ll notice the temperature dropping by as much as 20 degrees from the top. An extra layer is a must. Take your time to absorb the different rock walls, formations, and colors. Due to humidity, moss is abundant. To get there, head southeast on Fort Rock Highway to Christmas Valley Highway. Just past Christmas Valley, turn left on Crack in the Ground Road.
• Know your endurance level and check out the elevation gain and trail length.
• Use a guidebook or map—don’t depend on your cell phone for navigation.
• Dress appropriately: bring extra layers, windproof jacket, sunscreen, glasses, hat.
• Wear appropriate footwear (leave the flip-flops at home).
• Let someone know where you are going and when you’ll return (even if you think you won’t be heading out far).
• Bring enough water and snacks for the trail.
• Northwest Forest Passes are now required all year at most trailheads.
• Though days are getting longer, be conscious of daylight.
• Be aware of any possible water crossings.
• Stay on the trail—don’t blaze your own.
• Leave it be—no harvesting of plants or animals.
• Know which trails are open to your mode of transportation. Share the trail and respect others.
• Check out whether the trail is dog-friendly. Keep your dog under control, and bring a leash and poop bags.
• Hikers and bikers yield to horses. Bikers yield to hikers.
• Communicate when passing.
• Pack it in, pack it out, and leave it better than you found it.
• Walk on through mud or a puddle unless you can go around and stay on the trail, or stay away and wait until trails are dry. Ruts created by footprints or tires create low spots that allow more rain to settle, creating puddles and widening trails. Once a trail is damaged, it’s harder to repair.