Central Oregon is well known for its outdoor recreation. From waterfalls to canyons, desert landscapes to lush forests, Central Oregon has it all. It would be remiss to start any discussion about day hikes in central Oregon without mentioning Smith Rock State Park. Check out our article dedicated to the park here for ideas on planning your hiking expedition. If you’re looking for something a little more off-the-beaten-path and less populous, we’ve curated a few sweet spots for you here. The following are several day hikes in the Central Oregon area that get you outside quickly without a lot of drive time.
Tumalo Falls State Park is a wildly popular destination less than 15 miles outside of Bend in the Deschutes National Forest. The day use area and parking are just steps from the most picturesque view available of the falls. A short jaunt uphill to an overlook point is a mere 1/2-mile down and back to the parking lot. Here you’ll be able to stand at the top of the falls and imagine what it would be like to float right over the edge. For an even closer look, keep your eye open for a trail shooting off toward the falls. You can walk right up to the falls and feel the spray of the mighty river. This area can be very slick and wet, so make sure you’re wearing the proper footwear for the occasion. If you’re interested in seeing even more waterfalls along Tumalo Creek, keep heading up past the overlook along North Fork Trail. You’ll make your way past Double Falls, ending at Upper Falls, with serene viewpoints of both. This is a great point to turn back for a total of 4 miles of hiking with moderate elevation gain. This area does require a recreation pass, which is available to purchase online before you head out. You can also pick up or print a map of the Tumalo Trail System to help guide your travels.
Steelhead Falls is located near the community of Crooked River Ranch. Long a hidden spot known mostly to locals, there are now signs guiding you to the trailhead. Heading north on highway 97, take a left on Lower Bridge way and follow signs to Crooked River Ranch. You’ll take a left on Chinook Drive and then another left on Badger. Travel another mile, and take a right on Quail Road which you will follow to River Road. River Road is a gravel road that takes you down to the parking area for Steelhead Falls. The trailhead can be seen just north of the parking lot. This hike leads you through juniper stands down into the Deschutes Canyon. You will pass by impressive geologic beauty on both sides of the trail. There are many trails down to the rocky shore of the river and some that extend up to take a closer look at the colorful canyon walls. The Deschutes Canyon is home to rich history and is marked with petroglyphs, if you can find them!
Steelhead Falls is very popular with daredevils who enjoy cliff diving and jumping off at the falls. There are plenty of places to stop along the river for a swim, and in the summer this hike is absolute perfection for cooling off during the blazing heat. Occasionally people will set up highlines across the Deschutes at this spot to add a little drama to their dives. This hike is about 1 mile round trip. Be prepared in the summer with plenty of water and sun protection, as well as keeping an eye out for rattlesnakes.
The Alder Springs trailhead on Whychus Creek is a little trickier to find, but more than worth the effort. It is recommended to have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle to access this trailhead. This area has seasonal closures blocking the gravel road during winter, although hiking is still allowed.
At the start of the Alder Springs trailhead, you will have epic views of the Cascade range towering above the rolling hills and textured canyon walls above you. This trail starts with an immediate descent, and in the spring this area will be lit up by wildflowers, such as the green-banded mariposa lily. After meandering down toward the river you will witness canyon ramparts and the Deschutes formation, as well as pass by the springs. In the summertime, the fragrance from the wildflowers growing along the river’s edge will waft to your nose before you even see the springs! Continue on to a lush, shaded grove near the water, where it is possible to wade across Whychus Creek. From here, you can continue past several campsites and even trek on to the confluence of Deschutes River and Whychus Creek if you so desire. Make sure to bring enough snacks and water should this be your chosen route, as it tops out around 7 miles round trip.
Borden Beck Wildlife Preserve
This gem of a swimming hole is well-known to fly fisherman and local birders. This is a great spot to take little ones if you have them in tow. A short, flat trail leads you quickly through blackberry bushes, juniper, and sagebrush into an oasis in the desert. Be sure to glance behind you as you walk for an excellent view of the Three Sisters range when you get in just the right spot. Borden Beck boasts several entry points to the river, allowing visitors to cool off and play around. Be on the lookout for Canadian Geese that frequent the area near Eagle Rock where many people like to float and swim. The shallowest point is the first swimming area the trail will come upon, in the shadow of Eagle Rock. This is a perfect place for kids to play, provided you’ve brought flotation devices. A mere 50 yards away is another swimming hole just past the river rapids, which is favored by more experienced swimmers. Be aware that alcohol is prohibited in this area maintained by the Redmond Area Parks and Recreation District, and as always, leave no trace principles apply. To get to Borden Beck, head north from the tiny town of Terrebonne and take a left on Lower Bridge Way. Follow this road for 6.5 miles until you see an unassuming sign at the bottom of the hill. Parking is a small gravel lot and is free to the public.
If you’re looking to get outside as quickly as possible without a lot of fuss, these are the treks for you. It is important to follow the guidelines for public use posted at each location, as well as packing out any trash you may produce while you’re there. This will help ensure that other visitors (and you, when you return!) can enjoy the natural beauty of each location for years to come.