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Deschutes River Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

You get a great view down to the many rapids on the Deschutes River (Jerry Adams)
At mile 2, off the main trail, is a viewpoint down to Rattlesnake Rapids. (Jerry Adams)
The main trail follows the railroad grade. Expect a couple pickup trucks per day from the Fish and Wildlife people or the farmers that have a plot at the Harris Homestead. You can see a train going by on the other side of the river. (Jerry Adams)
For the first two miles, and occasionally thereafter, a hiker trail follows close to the river. Watch out for ticks that can climb onto you from branches and grass you brush up against. (Jerry Adams)


Hike Description

The Deschutes River is best known for river rafting and fishing, but in the winter it offers a good opportunity for backpacking or day hikes.

The trail goes along the river on an old railroad grade offering typical eastern Oregon scenery - broad spaces, cliffs and rock slopes, and sparse juniper and grasses. The river has some spectacular rapids and wildlife including steelhead, ducks, herons, geese, otters, and squirrels. There are some relics of the railroad and farming.

The main trail is a gravel road. You may see a farm or Fish and Wildlife truck going down the road but there's a locked gate preventing most travel. In the winter, there are a few hikers, bikers, and possibly horses each day, more on the weekend. On the opposite side of the river, there are a several trains each day, during the day or night.

Watch out for ticks, especially where you brush against grass or brush. Try to avoid that. Check yourself for ticks afterward. Wear gaiters....

You can start the hike at the parking area next to the main highway, but it's better to drive through the state park as far as you can and park there, because your car will be more visible to the ranger and thus safer from break-ins.

Deschutes State Park is the first 2 miles. There is a lower trail and a middle trail for hikers only, below the railroad grade. There is an upper trail for hikers only that takes off from the main trail at mile 1, goes up to Ferry Springs, and then goes back to the main trail at mile 2. Be careful of these hiker only trails, because you'll brush against plants that may transfer ticks to you.

Beyond the state park, the trail is maintained by the Oregon Fish and Game people. The main trail follows along the railroad grade. There is occasionally a hiker only trail down by the river.

There are railroad and farm relics all along the trail. At mile 1, off the hikers trail next to the river, there's some sort of cable car that goes across the river. At mile 5.6 there's an old railroad car with an intact wood floor that might offer protection in inclement weather. At mile 6.6 is the remains of a bridge across the river (Free Bridge). There's one footing on the east side and another footing in the middle of the river. At mile 7.8 there's an old wood trestle and another railroad car. As of 2014, this car is now gone - I have to go see if there are any relics. At mile 10.9 is the remains of the Harris Homestead - a dilapidated house, some dilapidated farm buildings, a dilapidated cabin, and another farm building that has some current materials like hoses and fence posts.

There are a number of campsites. For each one, there's a road down from the main road with an outhouse, and areas to camp near by. You can camp elsewhere but it's requested that you camp at one of the outhouses to control waste. During the summer there are hoards of boaters that would pollute the area if allowed to put human waste wherever. There are camps at mile 3.3 (Colorado Camp, probably the least scenic), mile 5.3 (Gordon Ridge Camp), mile 7.8 (Bedsprings Camp), and mile 10.1 (Fall Canyon).

This hike ends at the water tower just beyond the Harris Homestead at mile 11.3. Return the way you came. See Deschutes River from Macks Canyon Hike for a description of the next 11.8 miles to a trailhead at Macks Canyon.

The Deschutes River drains off the east side of the Cascades from south of Bend to Mount Hood. The infamous White River on Mount Hood drains into the Deschutes River. There is a large urban area around Bend that drains into the Deschutes River. There is a lot of farming area that drains into the river also.

Fishing season is May 1 to October 31. There are steelhead. The river rafting season is in the summer. Hikers may want to avoid the area then, to avoid the crowds, also it gets very hot then. There is better hiking in the gorge or on Mount Hood.

The Deschutes State Park at the trailhead has a nice camping area. A loop has electricity for trailers and is $12 per night in the winter. T loop is next to the trailhead for tenters and is $5 per night. T loop is basically a circular grassy area with about a dozen sites with picnic tables and fire pits.

It costs $5 per night if you're backpacking. The ranger recommended, to minimize risk of vandalism, parking your car at the end of the road next to the T loop camping area below the camp host, or the parking area a bit before below the full time ranger residence.

Interesting article about railroad history

For more info call:

    BLM (541) 416-6700 
    State of Oregon Fish and Wildlife (541) 296-4228
    State of Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation (541) 388-6211


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Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

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