Central Oregon Winter Hikes
The past six weeks of spring-like weather could almost make you forget that it’s still wintertime. Lots of hiking trails are normally buried under snow…and Central Oregon thoughts turn to snow and skis. Now that the snow’s back and the temps have dipped back down, you aren’t going to be doing any high-altitude trails without boards strapped to your feet. If you didn’t get your fill of mid-winter hikes and still need your fix, many lower altitude trails remain clear most of the winter and make great hikes, any time of the year;
We thought we’d offer up some ideas for those hikes here on our blog for the next time your hiking boots are calling.
Remember, Central Oregon is high desert – defined as an area with low rain/snow fall and high altitude between 3000- to 4000-foot elevation. A beautiful, sunny winter day’s high temperature still often stays below freezing. Check the weather before you go to make sure we aren’t going to have one of our rare lower elevation snowstorms. Dress appropriately for the temperatures with layers as you warm up and cool off. Be prepared for dry cold.
CENTRAL OREGON WINTER HIKE #1:
Riley Ranch to Tumalo State Park Hike
This hike is on the north side of Bend, a short drive with easy trail access. Great for a quick winter hiking adventure or a trail run, this route offers a little elevation change and a well-built and maintained trail.
There are a few miles of trails in Riley Ranch itself along a nice section of the Deschutes River. For a longer hike, the trail at the Northwest corner of the park continues along the river to Tumalo State Park. You can start at Tumalo State Park and hike the other way, but parking at Riley Ranch is free – the state park has a user fee.
Adding the various loops and return from Tumalo, this is a nice 7-mile hike, with options to make it longer or shorter as your desire and schedule needs. Here’s a popular route for starters:
Start out at the Riley Ranch parking lot at the end of Glen Vista Road off O.B. Riley Road. At the first two junctions, go to the left to follow the river on the Juniper Loop Trail, then the Sage Flat Loop. Don’t worry too much if you take a wrong turn, as the trails are loops (as you may have guessed by the names) and well signed.
At the furthest NW corner of the Sage Flat Loop is a junction trail to the Canyon Loop trail. This is probably the roughest, steepest part of the trail, but is only a hundred feet or so until you drop down to the Canyon Loop. Stay to the left to continue, and enjoy views along the river with a couple of spur trails to viewpoints. Don’t miss the one that goes to the top of a large rock!
As you reach the NW corner of Canyon Loop, there is a trail that goes 1.4 miles further to Tumalo State Park. Close to the Riley Ranch – Tumalo trail junction, look for the remains of an old cabin. There’s not much left that looks like a cabin, but still a cool historical interest stop.
The Tumalo trail offers a nice section with an impressive boardwalk (with steel “boards” through huge boulders.) About halfway down the Tumalo trail, watch for Tumalo Creek where it joins the Deschutes River on the other side of the canyon. At the State Park end, you can go even further past the state park on the Deschutes River Trail for a longer option.
On the return, you can follow the river back or take the other part of the loop trails.
Helpful hints for this trail:
I was at Riley on a sunny day in February, and the parking lot was fairly full. Be patient, some people use this for a short hikes and spots open up fast. There is no street parking near the park! Consider parking at Tumalo State Park lot if you have an Oregon State Park pass.
While much of the ground remains snow-free, most of the winter there are often patches of ice/snow in shaded areas. Watch for ice in the winter particularly along the trail to Tumalo Park.
There are multiple river access points. CAUTION: It is nice to get closer to water, but Deschutes River winter water is deep, fast, and very cold. Be very mindful of small children near the water.
Riley Ranch is a nature reserve park, you will probably see deer and other wildlife but dogs are not welcome. In our next post, we’ll cover a great area near Bend that is a great dog-friendly hike.
Enjoy your hike!