Category Archives: Central Oregon

Swampy Lakes Sno-Park (Snowshoe)

Directions: Take the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway to the signed Sno-Park, it will be on the right.

The Swampy Lakes area has multiple snowshoe and x-country skiing trails. We were snowshoeing so we’ll be talking about the snowshoe trails. For a map of the whole area with all of the trails click here.

Trail options: A short loop (1.75 miles) and long loop (3.25 miles). Tie trail that takes you to a nearby Sno-Park.  Lastly, the porcupine trail that takes you past the lakes and to a shelter with a wood stove, this can be done as a 4.6 mile loop or an out and back that is 4 miles.

The weather we encountered was less than ideal, strong winds and steady snow made for low visibility. We decided to explore a small section of the porcupine trail and the short loop.

      

All of the trails are very well marked with blue diamonds that have a yellow snowshoer inside. The trails all go through a very pretty lodgepole pine forest that switches from heavily treed to sparse. The loops seem to have little elevation and the porcupine trail rollercoasters the whole way. This is a great place to spend time just exploring around.

      

There are designated trails for what activity you are doing, please make sure you are paying attention to the diamonds and not getting on a x-country trail with your snowshoes.

      

We can’t wait to come back on a day where the weather allows us more time to see more of the area.

 

Distance: Depends on which trail you choose

Elevation: Depends- some loops are flat, some take you up buttes with quite a bit of elevation.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Pet Friendly: No. Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails in the Sampy Lakes area.

Good For: All ages

Bathrooms: Yes at the parking area

Parking Fee: Sno-Park Pass

Seasons: Snowy months for snowshoeing and x-country skiing

Popular: Yes

Overall: Great area, looking forward to going back and seeing the snow shelter.

Tumalo Falls (Winter)

Directions: From the city of Bend go west on Skyliners Road and follow it to Bearwallow Road where you will take a right. Less than a mile later take a left onto NF-4601 and follow this road for about 3 miles. Turn left and follow the road for about a mile and a half.

In the winter there is a small parking area at the snow gate that is just past a one lane bridge. With all the heavy snow the area got the parking lot had very deep snow. During the snowy months we would not recommend parking in the small lot if your car is not all wheel drive AND high clearance. We saw a few cars that were stuck and one that even had to be towed out of the area. Park along the road that forks left, right before the bridge.

From the snow gate get on the wide trail that in the peak seasons is the access road that takes you up to the waterfall. This is a heavily used trail so the snow was pretty packed down. We saw people snowshoeing, skiing, and just in boots. We started out snowshoeing and then decided to carry them since the snow was pretty hard.

      

      

You start out following pretty close next to Tumalo Creek. The trail rollercoasters for almost the whole 2.5 mile trip out to the waterfall and there are snowy ridges all around you. The trail mostly looks the same the whole way out but it’s quite pretty. At about the 2.25 mile mark you cross over a bridge and wind up a short hill where there are bathrooms and a viewing platform. There was so much snow that it was all the way up to the top of the railing around the viewing platform. You can take a steep but short side trail to get to a top viewing area but we were running out of daylight and didn’t have time. We will for sure head to the top on our next trip out here.

From here head back out the way you came in.

      

Distance: 5 miles

Elevation: 500 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Pet Friendly: Yes

Good For: All ages

Bathrooms: Yes

Parking Fee: Sno-Park Pass or a NW Forest Pass (depending on the season)

Seasons: All

Popular: Yes

Overall: Great winter hike or snowshoe. We’re excited to go back and see what it looks like without snow 🙂

Best Of 2016

We did a lot of great hikes in 2016, here are some of our favorites and our overall top hike of the year.

  • Willamette Valley:

Henline Falls– This is a short hike but it takes you to an amazing waterfall. Catch it at the right time of day and you might just see a rainbow at the base as well!

  • Columbia River Gorge:

Columbia Hills State Park– Great area to see wildflowers with amazing views of the Gorge.

  • Washington:

Lewis River Falls– So many pretty waterfalls in such a short distance. Definitely a must see.

  • Coast:

The Thumb– This was probably the most unique hike we did this year.

  • Central Oregon:

Smith Rock (Misery Ridge)– The views are amazing at the top and you get a very up close view of Monkey Face!

  • Mt. Hood:

Wind Lake– You get to ride a chairlift up to the top of Ski Bowl and then hike to a somewhat hidden lake. And the whole time you have great views of Mt. Hood and Government Camp. 

  • Portland:

Powell Butte- This is a great hike in the city. On a clear day you can see Mt. Hood, Mt. St Helens, and Mt. Hood.

  • Southern Oregon:

Plaikni Falls– This hike was inside Crater Lake National Park, it’s very pretty, especially in autumn with all the beautiful colors.

  • Kayak:

Disappearing Lake– This was such a treat! It’s a lake that’s only around for about a month out of the whole year.

Overall Best of 2016:

Bald Mountain– The hike up bald mountain is beautiful and lined with beargrass. Once at the top you round a corner and come to one of the best views of Mt. Hood we’ve ever seen. Do this hike!

What were some of your favorite hikes in 2016? Any you’re looking forward to doing in 2017?

 

Crack In The Ground (Autumn)

Directions: From La Pine, Oregon go South on Highway 97 and turn left onto Highway 31 towards Reno. After about 30 miles turn left onto Fort Rock Road. Follow Fort Rock Road for 22 miles and turn left onto Christmas Valley Highway. Continue on the highway through the town of Christmas Valley where you will turn left onto Crack In The Ground Road. After 7 miles on this washboard dirt road you will reach the trailhead.

From the trailhead follow the dirt trail that’s lined with sagebrush and juniper trees. You get a nice view of Oregon’s high desert in this area. Soon the trail reaches a metal box on a pole that has some sign in sheets. The entrance into “the crack” (which is a volcanic fissure) is just a few steps from the sign-in area.

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The crack itself is 70 feet deep and can sometimes be as much as 20 degrees cooler than the surface temperature. Some spots you can walk two people deep, mostly though it’s single file. There are even a few sections where you will need to turn sideways and squeeze through. Be aware that if you want to do the whole length of the crack you will need to be willing to scramble over fallen rocks in a few sections. It’s nothing hard but does require you to be sure footed. There are little birds that fly around in the crack and some have nests up in the rocks. We did run into a snake, we don’t know what type but just be aware.

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You can also walk along the top of the crack and get good views looking down in. This is an out and back trail, so head back out the same way you came in.

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On your way make sure to stop by Fort Rock State Park. It’s a tuff ring that you can hike in and around. The area is really interesting and well worth the stop.

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Distance: 2 miles

Elevation: 50 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Pet Friendly: Yes

Good For: May not be a great trail for young kids and older folks, due to the few scramble areas.

Bathrooms: Yes at the parking area.

Parking Fee: None

Seasons: Spring, summer and fall.

Popular: No

Overall: Very interesting place, we easily could’ve spent a few more hours exploring the area.

Dee Wright Observatory (Summer)

Directions: From Sisters, Oregon get onto Highway 242 and follow it for approximately 15 miles to the McKenzie Pass summit.

From the parking area get on the paved trail that’s near the bathroom. The short trail twists it’s way uphill  through lava rock where it ends at the observatory that is also made of lava rock. Take the steps up to the roof of the observatory where you get great views of the surrounding area. It also has a peak finder that tells you the names off all the mountains you are seeing. The main mountains you will see are the Three Sisters, Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson, and Black Butte. There are plenty of others to see but these are the big ones.

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When you’re done on the roof head back down the stairs and go into the observatory. There are small square openings along the walls that you can look through and see each mountain. It’s kind of dark inside but it feels good on a hot day.

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Heading back down take the back paved path that ends at the other side of the observatory. You should be dropped off right at the big wooden Dee Wright Observatory sign. Next, get on the Lava River National Recreation Trail. It’s a short interpretive trail that takes you out into the lava bed and gives you more views of the surrounding area. Head back out the way you came in on this trail.

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This place is a great stop to take in all the mountains and get a good look at all the lava rock. We stop here whenever we’re doing a hike in the area, it’s always worth it!

Distance: 1 mile

Elevation: 115 Feet

Difficulty: Easy

Pet Friendly: Yes

Good For: All Ages

Bathrooms: Yes

Parking Fee: None

Seasons: Open early summer through early fall. Call before heading out to make sure the road is open.

Popular: Yes. This place can get very busy.

Overall: Great place. Looks like the moon!

Scott Lake to Benson Lake (Summer)

Directions: From Sisters, Oregon get onto OR-242 W and drive for a little over 20 miles. Take a right onto NF-260 (signed for Scott Lake) and follow it for just less than a mile (you’ll pass by Scott Lake on your right). The road ends at the Benson Lake Trailhead.

From the trailhead take the trail to the left and start heading uphill on a beargrass and flower lined trail. The trail is dusty and full of the usual trees and bushes you would see on a mountain hike in central Oregon. It’s a pretty straight forward hike, just follow the trail that heads steadily uphill the whole time.

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After just less than a mile and a half you will come to a Mt. Washington Wilderness sign. It’s just a short distance from the sign that you will start seeing Benson Lake. Continue following the trail as you skirt around the lake. When you get to another sign go left on an unmarked trail that takes you down to a good viewpoint of the lake. There are multiple viewpoints along the lake, and they all offer great views of the clear and very blue water. When you are ready to head back just follow the trail out the way you came in.

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Back at the trailhead make sure you stop by Scott Lake before you head out. It’s a bit more swampy but it’s still very pretty. If you hike around the lake you will get good a view of the Three Sisters Mountains.

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We did this hike during peak mosquito season. If you kept moving constantly on the hike it wasn’t so bad, but it was pretty awful at the lake. They were out in full force and swarmed us like crazy. We were hiking with a group this day and some of them chose to only stay at the lake for a minute because of the bugs. The mosquitos were better at Scott Lake due to the massive amount of frogs! It was crazy to see hundreds of tiny frogs jumping around in the grass 🙂

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Distance: 3 miles

Elevation: 400 Feet

Difficulty: Easy

Pet Friendly: Yes

Good For: Almost all ages. It might be a bit difficult for young kids and older folks.

Bathrooms: Yes at the trailhead

Parking Fee: NW Forest Pass Required

Seasons: OR-242 closes during the winter at the snow gate. The road and trail are open from late spring to early fall. It’s best to call ahead in spring and fall to make sure the road is open.

Popular: There is a campground at Scott Lake that can become busy during the summer months. The hike to Benson Lake can be a bit busy on weekends.

Overall: Benson Lake is very pretty, just be prepared for mosquitoes in July!

 

Smith Rock (Misery Ridge) (Spring)

Directions: Take Highway 26 East to the town of Madras. Then get on 97 South and drive to the town of Terrebonne. Once in Terrebonne take a left onto Smith Rock Way. Take another left on 1st Street (1st becomes Wilcox). Take a left on Crooked River Drive and end at Smith Rock State Park.

We did the River Trail in Smith Rock a while back, to see that post click here.

From the parking area get on the main paved path that immediately starts heading downhill, soon there is a junction where you can get on the Chute Trail. It gets you down faster but it’s not as gradual as the main trail. Cross the bridge over the Crooked River and you’re at the starting point for Misery Ridge.

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The trail starts out with short switchbacks as you begin the steep climb to the top. The trail climbs continuously and you will get a mix of dirt/rock trail, steps and switchbacks. The views as you round the side of the ridge and head to the top are stunning. After about 3/4 of a mile and over 700 feet of elevation gain you will reach the top of Misery Ridge. The trail continues around the top and there are MANY viewing areas. You will soon come to an absolutely amazing view of Monkey Face, there is even a side trail that takes you even closer for great picture taking opportunities.

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Continue on the main trail when you are ready to head down and finish the loop. The trail down is only dirt and it’s basically long switchbacks. Some spots in the trail have loose rocks, which can lead to falling. When you get closer to river level the trail evens out quite a bit. Soon you will come to the junction with the Mesa Verde Trail, go left towards a climbing first aid area that has crutches and a rescue basket. Continue on the Mesa Verde Trail until you get to the Riverside Trail. Go left on the Riverside Trail as you pass rock climbers and follow along the Crooked River. You will end up back at the bridge where you can get back on the Chute Trail that takes you back up to the parking area.

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There are lots of snakes at Smith Rock and the risk of falling if you’re going up Misery Ridge. We did see one small rattle snake and there had been a bad fall a few days prior. Take extra precautions with children, older folks, and pets.

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Distance: 4.5 miles

Elevation: 1,100 feet

Difficulty: Hard

Pet Friendly: Yes but be aware that there are drop offs and lots of places that dogs could potentially hurt themselves.

Good For: Sure footed hikers and older kids.

Bathrooms: Yes at the parking area.

Parking Fee: $5 day use fee

Seasons: All

Popular: Yes

Overall: This was a great hike and the views at the top are amazing!

Painted Hills (Spring)

Directions: Take Highway 26 East through Prineville. Take a left on Burnt Ranch Road (there will be signs here marking John Day Fossil Bed- Painted Hills). Follow Burnt Ranch Road for about 6 miles, then take another left onto Bear Creek Rd and follow the road into the park.

When you first enter the Painted Hills area you can go left and get to a picnic area with a gift shop and bathrooms. Keep going straight to enter the Painted Hills Unit.

You’re first hike options are Carroll Rim and Painted Hills Overlook. Carroll Rim is a 1.5 mile out-and-back trail that gives you great views of all the Painted Hills. It’s a moderate climb on a well maintained trail. The Overlook trail takes you past an information area and ends at an overlook of the hills. There are benches on both trails and you can’t beat the views!

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Continue driving and you will come to Painted Cove. The trail here is a boardwalk that takes you in a loop around smaller, very red hills. There are informational signs all around the trail and you get really good close up views of the colors.

A little farther down the road you will come to Leaf Hill and Red Scar Knoll, these are the last areas that area open to the public. Leaf hill is a short loop that takes you to views of golden hills off in the distance. Red Scar Knoll is an out-and-back trail that takes you up close to the knoll that’s a deep red with burnt orange and yellow. Watch for cacti near the knoll!

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There are lots of vocal birds throughout the area and we saw plenty of deer tracks. You could spend hours here, this place is packed full of great things to see. So make sure to plan plenty of time for exploring!

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Distance: 3.5 miles

Elevation gain: Overlook Trail: 150 feet, Carroll Rim Trail: 450 feet, all other trails minimal elevation gain.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate depends on which trail.

Pet friendly: Yes and they really enforce the leash requirement.

Good For: All ages

Bathrooms: Yes at the picnic area.

Parking Fee: None

Seasons: All

Popular: Yes

Overall: We love this place- it’s so unique!

Steelhead Falls (Spring)

Directions: Take Highway 26 East to Highway 97 South. Just before the town of Terrebonne take a right onto Lower Bridge Way and drive for 2 miles. Next, take a right onto NW 43rd and follow this road for almost 2 miles where you go left on Chinook Drive. About a mile later you will come to Badger Road on your left, follow this road for about 2 miles and take a right onto Quail Road. After a little over a mile take a left onto River Road and follow it to the end where you will find the parking area.

From the trailhead follow the marked trail as you start to gradually go downhill. You will soon start to see the Deschutes Gorge and hear the river below. From here the trail starts to go downhill more steeply as you get down to river level. Some parts of the trail are eroding a little bit but it’s all pretty straightforward and maintained.

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As you follow the river around a bend you will start to see the top of the waterfall. The trail takes you to a wide flat viewing area. Steelhead Falls isn’t very tall but it’s quite pretty, and so is the surrounding area! This is the end of the hike so head back out the way you came. This hike can get really busy in the summer, it’s a popular area for cliff jumping and swimming.

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Distance: 1 mile

Elevation: 120 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Pet Friendly: Yes

Good For: All ages

Bathrooms: Yes at the parking area.

Parking Fee: None

Seasons: All but check ahead during winter months.

Popular: Yes during the summer months.

Overall: Nice hike that would be a good addition to other hikes in the area. The waterfall changes with the seasons, we’ll be back during the winter months to see what it looks like!

Best Of 2015!

Here is our list of the top hikes we did in 2015!

Columbia River Gorge (Oregon side): *Tunnel Falls* We love the Eagle Creek Trail and this year we finally made it all the way out to Tunnel Falls. We definitely weren’t disappointed!

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Columbia River Gorge (Washington side): *Strawberry Island* This was a nice secluded hike that had amazing views of the Gorge and lots of birds.

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Mt. Hood: *Zigzag Canyon* This hike is absolutely beautiful. You get amazing views of Mt. Hood all throughout the hike. We did this hike in late June and the Lupine were in full bloom!

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Oregon Coast: *Bayocean Spit* Who doesn’t love a hike that’s right on the beach?

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Washington Coast: *North Head Lighthouse* You can actually go up in this lighthouse. The views are great!

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Portland Metro/Outer Portland: *Oak Island* This is one of our favorite hikes on Sauvie Island, the place is covered with cows!

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Washington: *Lacamas Creek (Camas Lily Fields)* Go here in the spring when the lilies are blooming, it’s very pretty!

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Willamette Valley: *Abiqua Falls* This waterfall is becoming more and more popular and we definitely understand why. It’s not the easiest waterfall to reach, but it’s definitely worth the scramble.

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Central Oregon: *Smith Rock* We absolutely love this place. There is so much to see you almost need more than one day.

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Kayaking: *Scappoose Bay* This was the first place we took our new kayak. There’s lots of places to explore here.

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*Overall best hike of 2015*

Painted Hills!

Hands-down the most interesting place we’ve ever been to. The colors are beautiful and the views up at Carroll Rim are amazing! We HIGHLY recommend this hike!

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Honorable Mentions: *Lower Twin Lake, Youngs River Falls, Lost Lake (hike and kayak), Tom McCall Nature Preserve (go in the spring!), and The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival.*

We’d love to hear what some of your favorite hikes of 2015 were!

Wishing everyone happy hiking in 2106!