Hiking and Biking in Central Oregon

Ancient lava tubes, bright wildflowers, and crystal-blue rivers are just a few hours away.

By Eden Dawn July 20, 2015 Published in the August 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

Lava River Cave

Lace up your sturdy boots and don your puffy jacket before descending 55 steps down a narrow metal-and-stone staircase into the pitch-black, 40-degree depths of Oregon’s longest known uncollapsed lava tube. You’ll need to bring a flashlight or rent a $6 lantern from the on-site ranger to clamber over the occasional rock and beneath roosting bats in Echo Hall, Low Bridge Lane, Sand Gardens, and other highlights of this ancient river of molten rock. Round Trip: 2.2 miles; Nearest Town: Bend; Distance from Downtown: 3h 20m

0815 central oregon x9qssv

Canyon Creek Meadows    

This accessible, high-Cascade ramble is an embarrassment of riches. You’ll pass two ponds, a once-burnt forest of firs, a sequence of meadows choked with vibrant blue lupine and red Indian paintbrush, and several creeks before arriving at the upper meadow. The front-row view of Three Fingered Jack’s craggy, stratified peaks across the vast expanse of blooms will stop you in your tracks. For an even closer look, scramble another rocky three miles to a perch overlooking a milky-green glacial lake, and then up a steep crest to a saddle on the mountain’s shoulder, where the view stretches from Mount Jefferson to the Three Sisters. Round Trip: 7.5 miles; Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet; Nearest Town: Sisters; Distance from Downtown: 3h

Jefferson Park via Park Ridge

To earn one of the finest views in Oregon, you must first brave one of its worst roads. Indeed, the northern trailhead to Jefferson Park via the Pacific Crest Trail lies at the end of a rutted-out dirt road impassable in a low-clearance vehicle. But by the time you’re safely on the trail—first winding your way south through a landscape of alpine meadows brimming with heather and huckleberries, then facing the awe-inspiring vision of a glacier-blanketed Mount Jefferson looming above a lake-dotted expanse—you won’t even remember how you got there. Round Trip: 11.5 miles; Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet; Nearest Town: Detroit; Distance from Downtown: 2h 9m

McKenzie River Trail   

Once heralded as the top trail in the nation by Bike magazine, this two-wheeled fantasy stretches 26 miles near Clear Lake. Best for experienced riders or newbies ready for a challenge, the soft trail winds through 500-year-old forest as it hugs the crystal-blue river, with frequent pools, log bridges, and lava fields along the way. Cruise by Sahalie and Koosah Falls before arriving at the impossibly blue Tamolitch Pool—perfect for a lunchtime respite. And if you’re tempted to split your trip into multiple days, McKenzie River Mountain Resort’s rustic riverfront cabins await. Round Trip: 26 miles (with shuttle service); Nearest Town: Sisters; Distance from Downtown: 2h 13m

0815 tumalo falls qqjhtu

Image: Shutterstock

Tumalo Falls/North Fork Trail

Rewards come quickly at Tumalo Falls: views of the eponymous 97-foot gusher lie just a five-minute walk from the parking lot. Once you’re sufficiently wowed, pick up the North Fork Trail and hike upstream on a gently uphill meander that leads to several smaller waterfalls. Turn around at your leisure—but those up for a longer trek will be rewarded after four miles with the sight of Happy Valley, an appropriately named alpine meadow popping with lupine, larkspur, and Indian paintbrush, with wooden bridges spanning gurgling creeks. Round Trip: 4–8 miles; Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet; Nearest Town: Bend; Distance from Downtown: 3h 30m

  • Watering Hole: In 1936 it was a Catholic school, but now McMenamins Old St. Francis School offers parched hikers a quaint garden area for sipping fresh cocktails as they revel in the day’s accomplishments.
  • Stay Overnight: Sleep among the trees outside Sisters at The Lodge at Suttle Lake, with waterfront cabins, lodge suites, and lakeside fire pits for evening reflections.
  • Do: Kick back on a blanket in the grassy knolls at Bend’s Les Schwab Amphitheater, and enjoy a summer lineup that ranges from Willie Nelson to Wilco to Weird Al Yankovic. 
  • Go Big: Take the true plunge in Central Oregon: pack up that backpack and set forth on the three- to six-day, 48-mile Three Sisters Loop through alpine meadows, lush forest, and volcanic landscapes, with plenty of jaw-dropping views of the peaks. 
Filed under
Show Comments