558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
Go take a hike
Central Oregon is filled with hiking opportunities including these four great hikes that are kid-friendly
Hikers are treated to several scenic vistas on the Rimrock Springs Trail including this view of Gray Butte.
March 11, 2013
Even though several feet of snow still blanket the higher mountains, this is the time of year when I opt for hiking boots instead of cross-country skis and snowshoes — after all it is almost spring.
Until the snow melts up high and trails dry out a little lower, hiking is limited to the lower elevations and a few river canyons. Here are a few of my favorite late winter/early spring hikes.
1 - Metolius River Trail - 5-6 miles – easy to moderate
The natural beauty and the geologic history keep drawing me back to the Metolius River. Its crystal clear water often takes on a beautiful aquamarine or turquoise blue hue where it encounters turbulence.
My favorite hike is from Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery up to Canyon Creek, a five-mile roundtrip. Before starting the hike, be sure to stop in at the Head of the Metolius to view the birth of this river. Most rivers usually have their beginnings from small springs or converging streams, but the Metolius skips that process and boils out of the ground into a full blown river. It is considered one of the nation’s largest spring-fed rivers.
The trail begins at the hatchery parking lot and heads upriver, passing through old growth Douglas fir, ponderosa pine and cedar. Osprey nests can be seen in the tops of snags along the river. Canada geese and dippers are the most common sight on rocks and islands. Bald eagles and a variety of songbirds can also be seen darting in and out of the riverside vegetation.
Just before reaching Lower Canyon Creek Campground, a series of large springs flow into the river from the opposite bank. From here it’s a short walk up to the confluence of Canyon Creek and the campground. The river is very deep and narrow just below where the creek empties in and I can just picture Native Americans standing there on the boulders hundreds of years ago, spearing or netting salmon.
2- Tam-a-lau Trail – 7-mile loop - moderate
If I had to choose one trail that best represents Central Oregon, it would have to be the Tam-a-lau Trail at Cove Palisades State Park.
This trail is one of the state’s newest, constructed after the trail to The Island was closed to protect its fragile ecology. From the trail, hikers get to experience the open views of the high desert with its junipers and sagebrush, the glacier-clad Cascade peaks rising to the west, the deep canyons of the Deschutes and Crooked rivers, and the overall volcanic geology of the area. There are also remnants of old homesteads along the trail.
Perhaps the best view of the hike is from the point of The Peninsula looking north toward The Island. Formed almost 1 million years ago, The Island is a remnant of a 60-mile-long lava flow from the Newberry area. The lava entered the Crooked River near Smith Rock and followed the canyon until it reached the area of the present-day Round Butte Dam where it backed up and filled the Metolius, Deschutes, and Crooked River canyons to within 200 feet from their rims.
The trailhead is located at the south end of the park’s campground. Parking is at the Upper Deschutes Day-Use Area, a half-mile farther down the road. A $3 fee or a state park pass is required for parking.
3 – Rimrock Springs Trail - 1.3 mile loop - easy
When I hear red-winged blackbirds and western meadowlarks singing, I know that spring is definitely in the air. Each spring, I make a visit to a hidden oasis on the grasslands — Rimrock Springs Wildlife Management Area.
Located about halfway between Prineville and Madras just off Highway 26 on the Crooked River National Grassland, Rimrock Springs is a great hike for kids and birders alike. The first half-mile of trail is paved and leads through juniper and sagebrush until reaching the springs and the first viewing platform.
Be sure to bring binoculars and spotting scope and scan the ponds and surrounding riparian area for a variety of ducks and songbirds. Marsh hawks can usually be seen flying low over the cattails.
The combination of marsh and open water provide a rich habitat for more than 500 species of birds, mammals, amphibians, insects, and invertebrates. Rimrock Springs bubbles to the surface at the south end of the wetland. In 1992, the dam was reconstructed and potholes were built, along with nesting platforms and anchored logs to provide more habitat.
The trail turns from pavement to gravel after the first viewing platform. The second platform is a few hundred yards farther down the trail.
4 – Ancient Juniper Trail – 3-mile loop – easy to moderate
The Badlands. The name sounds worse than the hikes in it. The Badlands is one of the newest wilderness areas in Oregon and has about 50 miles of trails that lead through some of the oldest junipers in the state.
The area’s unique geology has allowed the junipers to reach such an old age. Living in pockets of soil in the lava has protected the trees from wildfire. While most trees average between 400 and 1,100 years old, the oldest juniper in the state (estimated at around 1,600 years old) is located just outside the Badlands.
The Badlands itself and all of its associated features formed about 80,000 years ago via a large lava flow from Lava Top Butte, about 10 miles to the southwest. The flow apparently developed a hole in the roof of its main lava tube, sending lava flowing out and forming a shield volcano. However, this mini-volcano is referred to as a rootless shield volcano since its source of magma did not originate directly beneath it.
To reach the Flatiron Rock Trailhead, travel east from Bend about 17 miles on Highway 20 and turn left at a new trailhead sign.