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Backpacker Magazine – March 2014

Deschutes River Trail, OR

Portland, OR: Enjoy sunshine along a mighty waterway.

by: Kelly Bastone

( The Deschutes River Trail follows and old railroad grade
( The Deschutes River Trail follows and old railroad grade
(Pat and Chuck Blackley) Mountain Laurel lines the AT by June
(Pat and Chuck Blackley) Mountain Laurel lines the AT by June

In late March, when clouds cloak Stumptown and snow chokes the Cascades, escape to the sunny Deschutes. This low-elevation canyon on the range’s arid east side sees scant snow, and the easy grade along a former rail line gently reawakens hikers’ legs. The northern portion at Deschutes River State Recreation Area sees heavy traffic even in spring, so start instead at the southern terminus, at Macks Canyon trailhead. Hike 13 miles downstream for a one-night out-and-back promising solitude (even rafters and anglers don’t flock here until May) and bighorn sheep sightings; wear gaiters and treat clothes with permethrin to ward off ticks. Spring fishing is stellar as well: Anglers can cast for a unique subspecies of wild rainbow trout, called Deschutes River Redside, which averages 15 to 18 inches. The trail’s first 4.4 miles are the roughest, requiring hikers to scramble around six former train trestles. But frequent wildflower sightings compensate throughout: Fields of purple lupine and yellow balsamroot bloom in April. The path soon smooths for easy cruising to the water tower (11.5 miles in) where motivated hikers can hike off-trail up Harris Canyon to find prehistoric pictographs. Return to the river and continue downstream for another 1.5 miles to Fall Canyon Camp (no permit), where the canyon’s wrinkled cliffs surround the flat, grassy tent sites and the Deschutes’ current becomes your lullaby. Next day, retrace your steps for the fitness-building, 13-mile return. 

Drive time from Portland 2 hours, 30 minutes

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