With the Deschutes River running straight through town and the Cascades just beyond, it's no secret that Central Oregon is an outdoor lover's paradise. The Cascade Lakes Highway and Three Sisters Wilderness are just a few miles away, providing easily accessible world-class skiing in winter and top-notch hiking in summer.
But as with most things, getting spoiled just makes people a little whiny when things don't go their way. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, friends, but demanding a big snow year and an early hiking season isn't realistic. We can't have it both ways, but each year we're eagerly optimistic enough to assume we can.
With the unofficial beginning to hiking season already upon us, the recreation areas will soon be buzzing with activity (and mosquitoes). Snowmelt thinned quickly last year, but this year will be a few weeks behind schedule. Gung-ho hikers may be disappointed when they find that their favorite trailheads are still inaccessible due to deep snowdrifts.
Even with recent high temps eating away at the snowpack, it's wise to wait a few weeks before heading out into the higher elevations to allow trail maintenance crews time to clear out fallen trees from winter storms. If you've never explored outside the stunning Cascade Lakes Highway area, this is a great time to do so. Rather than fight Mother Nature (you'll always lose), walk in stride with her by visiting areas that are ready now.
From Bend, head to the northern stretches of the Deschutes River and you'll find that trails are already snow-free with little to no blowdown. As a bonus, they're also less buggy than the alpine zones and are blooming with wildflowers. Try these two less-visited trails for prime early season hiking.
While this route may be unfamiliar to you, the destination probably isn't. This 2.3-mile trail is relatively new and travels down into a canyon to the confluence of the Deschutes and Whychus Rivers—a scene most often taken in from the opposite side of the river at the end of the Alder Springs trail. Just 0.4 miles into your hike, turn left to begin a steep 700-foot descent into the canyon. A bit after the trail turns back uphill, you'll have to scurry over a fun little rock ledge to continue. Just a tad farther and you'll see the view you came for – layered canyon walls above the two rushing rivers as they converge. Turn left at the junction to close the loop and retrace the last 0.4 miles.
From Terrebonne, turn left onto Lower Bridge Road (2 miles), right onto 43rd Street (1.7 miles), left on Chinook Drive (2.4 miles), left on Mustang Road (1.1 miles), right on Shad Road (1.4 miles), right on Peninsula Drive (3.1 miles), left on Meadow Drive (0.5 miles), and right on Scout Camp Trail Road (0.2 miles).
For a pick-your-own-adventure kind of day, take a long drive to the Trout Creek Recreation area and the old Oregon Trunk Railroad. Back in the early 1900s, two competing railways battled it out to build the first route in this area. The Oregon Trunk Railway's loss is our gain. As you would expect from an old rails-to-trails conversion, this path is long, straight, and flat. From the trailhead, walk as far as seven miles one way right alongside this wild and scenic chunk of the Deschutes River. Bring binoculars to eye nesting eagles atop the Trout Creek Bluffs at 0.7 miles. Continue another 1.25 miles to the pretty Frog Springs footbridge. The trail keeps on for another five miles to Mecca flat, offering plenty of places to relax and enjoy the beginning of hiking season before you turn back.
Follow Highway 97 north from Madras (3.5 miles), turn left on Cora Drive (3.9 miles), stay left onto Clark Drive (4.3), right on Clemens Drive (5 miles), and left through the campground to the day use area at the far end.
For more information on these two hikes, check out Day Hiking Bend & Central Oregon, recently released by Mountaineers Books.