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Deschutes River from Macks Canyon Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The trail follows along a barbed wire fence at the edge of the railroad grade for the first 4 miles. (Brian and Wookie)
The trail starts on the North end of the campground and goes up the diagonal path up where a trestle used to be. (Jerry Adams)


Hike Description

NOTE: The entire area of this hike was severely burned in the July 2018 Substation Fire. The water tower at the end of the hike was completely destroyed.

This hike accesses the Deschutes River from the other end than the more well known Deschutes River Hike. Beware that the first 4 miles from Mack's Canyon is pretty rough, so you might be better off doing this more well know hike instead.

This is a good winter hike because, being so far east of the Cascades, it gets much less rain than more western hikes. It can get very cold - see the weather reports for The Dalles and assume it's a few degrees colder here.

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. Expect to see a boater going down the river fishing or just appreciating the frequent rapids.

The trail starts at the north end of Macks Canyon Campground which is at the end of the road. Though it's not well marked, there's a sign saying no motorized vehicles. You can see a slope on the other side of the canyon where a trestle used to be. The trail goes diagonally up this slope. A number of faint trails head over in that direction.

The first 4.4 miles of trail is pretty rough. There are six places where there used to be trestles, where you have to climb down into the canyon and then back up the other side. The trail has some sagebrush, grass, and sharp rocks at places. You have to negotiate a barbed wire fence or two. Stay on the rough path on the river side of the railroad grade to avoid most of the obstacles. There is one place where you're better off going on the other side of the barbed wire fence. Several rock cairns show where to go.

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

At mile 4.4 from the trailhead, where the "path" climbs out of the last trestle canyon, there is a solar panel, antenna, and some sort of electronic equipment. This point is the farthest that motor vehicles and bicycles can get from the other end at Deschutes State Park, but there aren't many because it's so far away. Motor vehicles are limited to official vehicles only.

The next 7.4 miles are an easy hike, since it's motor vehicle accessible.

At mile 7.2 from the trailhead is the Deschutes South Railroad Car. You used to be able to camp there, but it got burned up in 2008. You can still walk down to the river and find a place to camp there.

At mile 10 from Mack's Canyon there is an old cattle corral and a flat area next to the trail that would make a campsite. There are a couple other similar flat areas near by and a small stream (in the winter). This is about the best place to camp on the entire hike. There are other places next to the river, but they are sort of brushy and grassy (and buggy). The only outhouse is at about mile 4. Camping isn't as good as on the Deschutes River Hike. Another possibility would be to continue to 12.5 miles from Macks Canyon to Fall Canyon Camp.

This hike ends at the water tower at mile 11.8. Return the way you came.

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.


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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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