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Riddle Ranch Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Fred Riddle house and smoker, Riddle Ranch (bobcat)
View to the Little Blitzen Gorge from the Riddle Ranch Road (bobcat)
Elkhorns clarkia (Clarkia pulchella), Riddle Ranch (bobcat)
Blacksmith shop, Riddle Ranch (bobcat)
Inside the willow corral, Riddle Ranch (bobcat)
The road walk and trail at the Riddle Ranch (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps

Contents

Hike Description

Three Riddle brothers, lifelong bachelors, settled here on the Little Blitzen, beginning with Ben in 1896. Later, Walt built a cabin upstream from Ben’s, and Fred bought a spread downstream from another homesteader, Scott Catterson. The brothers owned the water rights to the area, grew hay for sale, and raised horses and mules for the cavalry. Walt participated in cattle drives down to Winnemucca, Nevada. Ben died in 1915, and Walt passed away in 1950. Fred sold the ranch to Rex and Ethel Clemens, who continued operations there. After Rex Clemens passed away, the Bureau of Land Management bought the property from his widow, and it was proclaimed a National Historic District. You can poke around the buildings here (most are open), and also take a short trail to the confluence of the Donner und Blitzen and Little Blitzen Rivers.

The Riddle Ranch Lower Trailhead is open Wednesday – Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Memorial Day through October. The road is narrow but has been upgraded recently and is suitable for passenger cars. When the gate is closed, you’ll need to park at the Riddle Ranch Upper Trailhead, and walk 1.3 miles down the road to the Riddle Ranch. You can do this at anytime as there is a caretaker in residence. The description in the next paragraph follows the road walk down.

Read the interpretive signs at the upper trailhead, and then walk through the fence and down the gravel road. You’ll get a great view across the valley of the Little Blitzen River to the mouth of the Little Blitzen Gorge and, to its right, the Rooster Comb on Steens Mountain. Across the river, you’ll see Ben Riddle’s cabin and, to its left, a low stone structure that had a sod roof. The green fields below were hay fields irrigated from the river. Along the road, you’re passing by typical high desert vegetation: low sagebrush, bitterbrush, rabbitbrush, and groundsel. Above the hay fields, there’s a slope of western juniper. When you reach the junction with a driveway that leads up to a BLM administrative building, formerly a ranch house, keep right. Pass through a couple of old gate posts, and note the rusting sodbuster near the road. The road passes close to the river, with a former hay field being taken over by willows. Tall cottonwood snags tower above. Reach the caretaker’s cabin. The Levi Brinkley Memorial Trail begins to your left. There’s a small grassy parking area, the Riddle Ranch Lower Trailhead, and a footbridge that leads over the Little Blitzen River to the Riddle Ranch's main house and outbuildings.

Cross the bridge to visit the complex. The house here was lived in by Fred Riddle and his 40 cats, while Ben and Walt Riddle’s cabins were farther to the east (Walt’s cabin burned down in 1996). You are permitted to enter both the house and the bunkhouse to its right. Tacked to the wall of the front porch of the house is a history of the Riddle’s tenure here and a few old photographs. Upstairs there is a single bedroom. Behind the house, there’s a stone-lined cooler, a chicken coop, and the smoke house. Down by the river is the bath house. Walk to the west to visit the blacksmith shop, tack room, and storage room, all in one low building. Behind a corral fence is the barn.

Recross the river to take up the Levi Brinkley Trail, named for a young firefighter, one of the Prineville Hotshots, who perished on Storm King Mountain on July 2nd, 1994. Hike up above corrals and fences, and then drop to an old road bed to hike along a fence and reach the “willow corral,” whose intertwined arrangement has lasted since the Riddles constructed it. Sign in at the wilderness register, and continue along the riparian corridor in a lush meadow. Pass under a rock face where the trail leaves the road bed, and then descend to cross a rocky draw. Walk along a linear meadow, head up a slope, and drop past three gnarly and ancient junipers to reach the meadow again. Leave the meadow a couple more times before arriving at the grassy expanse where the Donner und Blitzen River meets the Little Blitzen. The rivers were named by a group of the 1st Oregon Cavalry, who passed by here under Captain George M. Curry in 1864. They were struck by a massive storm, and named the watercourses ‘thunder’ and ‘lightning’ in German. They host a singular population of native redband trout (catch and release only). This is one of the few areas in this part of the Steens country where you might be bothered by mosquitoes. Enjoy the quiet spot before heading back.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Wilderness registration on Levi Brinkley Trail
  • Vault toilet
  • Campground with restrooms and drinking water nearby
  • Respect the historic structures; don't move anything!

Maps

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Oregon Favorites: Trails and Tales by William L. Sullivan

More Links


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.