Seasoned Oregon hikers and backpackers will often advise taking springtime hikes because they offer cooler weather and often an endless array of wildflowers, particularly in the Columbia River Gorge area.
Deschutes River State Recreation Area
The Deschutes River State Recreation Area is a very popular place for hiking. Located about 10 miles east of The Dalles on I-84, the park, which runs on either side of the Deschutes, is beginning to burst with wildflowers. The park is about a 2.5-hour drive north of Bend through communities such as Maupin, which offer great river access for rafters and anglers.
The DRSRA is open year-round and offers a diversity of outdoor activities. It includes a well maintained bike path, boat ramp, and picnic and camping areas. Campers have access to 34 sites which provide water and electricity. Additionally, 25 more primitive sites are found upriver that have water and restrooms nearby. Reservations for these spaces can be made online or by phone at 800-452-5687.
The popular Atiyeh Deschutes River hiking trail meanders along the river and is shaded by alder trees in the summer and early fall. The area can be accessed by mountain bike and by horseback, although permits are required for horse access from March through June. Springtime offers not only wildflowers, but also the canyon walls—often rising over 2,000 feet—are a beautiful shade of green that will last until the hot weather begins in June. Western Meadowlarks, the Oregon State bird, are often heard in the many meadows that flank the nationally and state designated scenic river.
Another popular destination in the recreation area is found at the end of the trail, approximately 11 miles upriver. The Harris Homestead, built in the late 1800s, offers hikers and bikers a look into the area's rugged past. The formerly elegant wooden farmhouse is nearing its last days and will soon be nothing more than a heap of boards and rubble.
There is other history, too, of railroads competing to build lines on either side of the river. Approximately 5.5 miles into the hike sits an old rail car that offered sleeping quarters for rail workers and now provides emergency shelter for hikers. At about 6.5 miles along the trail, remains of the Free Bridge can be found. Footings exist on the east side and in the middle of the river. On the west side of the river one can see railroad tracks weaving through the canyons.
Tom McCall Preserve
The Tom McCall Preserve at Rowena is a 230-acre site located on the old Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway, 11 miles east of Hood River. It offers one of Oregon's best wildflower viewing opportunities. Named after the conservationist and popular Oregon Governor, the preserve is located in a transition zone between the damp Cascade Mountains and the dry prairies to the east. It comes into bloom every spring, boasting more than 200 plant species. Here the Meadowlark seems to thrive. The preserve is managed in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy, Mayer State Park, and the U.S. Forest Service.
At the top of the McCall Trail are expansive views of the Columbia Gorge and Cascades. This is a hiking- only area and motorized travel and bicycles are not permitted. Hunting, camping and campfires are prohibited. No dogs are allowed into the area because the preserve is a safe haven for nesting birds.
There are two trail options and hikers are urged to stay on the trails. A one-mile plateau trail begins at the interpretive sign at the entrance to the Tom McCall Preserve. It crosses a plateau area to the cliff edges and encircles a permanent pond. A second trail, the two-mile McCall Point Trail, begins at the south side of the turnaround and offers a modest 1,000-foot increase in elevation. This trail is open May through October. Visitors should be aware of windy conditions, ticks, rattlesnakes, and poison oak, all of which can be avoided with care. With an abundance of wet weather, local residents say the spring wildflower season in the Columbia Gorge should be one of the best in recent years.