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Alder Springs-Lower Whychus Creek Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Canyon ramparts, Alder Springs Trail (bobcat)
View down into the Whychus Canyon from the Alder Springs Trail (bobcat)
Bee on green-banded mariposa lily (Calochortus macrocarpus), Alder Springs Trail (bobcat)
Deschutes River below the confluence with Whychus Creek (bobcat)
Dry waterfall, Alder Springs Trail (bobcat)
The hike to the Whychus-Deschutes confluence (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo



Alder Springs used to be one of those local favorites, unknown to the masses, and was accessed by a rough trail that followed an easement through private land. An official trail has now been established here and this has become a very popular short backpack destination on weekends in spring and fall. The excursion offers a variety of natural wonders: views down to the central Cascades, the multi-layered palisades and rock sculpture of the Deschutes Formation, a cooling creek ford and lush springs, and wildflowers in season. It is recommended that you continue 1.7 miles from the springs down the canyon to Whychus Creek's confluence with the Deschutes as more geological wonders await there. Do this hike in a cooler season as the canyon bottom can be scorching in the summer months, but note that road access is closed for four months (December through March) to allow the area to recover from human affections. Most topo maps will show Whychus as Squaw Creek; the latter moniker is now deemed offensive and the new name, which means "water crossing," was approved in 2005.

Descend from the Alder Springs Trailhead in an open juniper grassland. Pass under telephone lines and reach the Alder Springs-Old Bridge Trail Junction. (The Old Bridge Trail loops down to an old vehicle crossing of Whychus Creek.) From this saddle, ascend rock steps to a stony plateau. At this, the high point of the hike, you can get expansive views south - down to the Whychus Canyon and then, on the skyline, Black Butte, Mount Washington, the Three Sisters, and Broken Top. At this point, you will also begin to notice trees and shrubs charred by the September 2011 Alder Springs Fire. The trail drops off the plateau and traverses down a grassy slope blooming with golden weed, rabbitbrush, and flax in late spring. Round a rocky promontory and get good views into the canyon. Head below the multi-layered cliffs of the Deschutes Formation and apes under looming, columned palisades to get views of some remarkable 30-foot columns of river rock standing on the ridge line above. Pass a short spur up to a cleft displaying a "dry" waterfall and continue around behind the the pinnacles to a view from the north side of the promontory. From here, the trail descends past a brushy gully on your right (this splits into two short box canyons), reaches the lush bottomland of the creek, and arrives at the Whychus Creek Crossing.

Wade the creek here and come to the grassy flats that offer several campsites. Pass the first of the Alder Springs, and continue past more campsites shaded by ponderosa pine, western juniper, white alder and willow. Monkey flower and columbine bloom in a spring-fed stream. After the last big camp area, the trail rises above the creek to avoid tangling with the thick brush. Also, you are now out of the burn area. Get a view across the canyon to rocky battlements and a couple of hoodoos high on the ridge. The path keeps about 50 feet above the canyon before descending to another creekside camping area. From here, the trail is separated from the creek by the thick wall of vegetation, especially willow, ninebark, and mock orange, the latter suffusing the area with its perfume in late spring. The rocky tread is narrow and undulates gently. Overhanging shoots of wild rose may tug at your sleeves and ground squirrels dart off into the underbrush. Magpies and orioles clatter throughout the shrubbery. You pass through patches of horsetail and sight a dark cliff on the opposite bank. This structure looms above the Whychus Creek-Deschutes River Confluence, which can be reached by stooping through a brushy tunnel. Continue on the main trail to a beautiful stand of ponderosa pines and a rocky platform which overlooks the rushing Deschutes. A sign on one of the pines declares "Maintained trail ends here." Across the river, you can admire the colorful layers of spectacular Rainbow Ridge and discern the tread of another trail, described in the Scout Camp Trail Loop Hike. A use trail continues to a nearby campsite and then pushes much farther downstream in riverine scrub and rocky talus to the waters of Lake Billy Chinook.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Access road gated December 1st - March 31st
  • Dogs on leash
  • Creek ford required


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Alder Springs Trail (USFS)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Crooked River National Grassland
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Ochoco NationaL Forest & Crooked River National Grassland
  • Pacific Northwest Recreation Map Series: Central Oregon Cascades

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Day Hiking: Bend and Central Oregon by Brittany Manwill
  • Best Hikes Near Bend by Lizann Dunegan
  • 52 Hikes for 52 Weeks by Franziska Weinheimer (Hike Oregon)
  • Central Oregon: Walks, Hikes & Strolls for Mature Folks by Marsha Johnson
  • 100 Hikes: Central Oregon Cascades by William L. Sullivan
  • Bend, Overall by Scott Cook
  • Oregon Favorites: Trails and Tales by William L. Sullivan
  • Oregon's Southern Cascades: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill

More Links

For a description of a hike to connect with the Alder Springs Trail during the December-March road closure, see:

Page Contributors

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.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.