24. Deschutes River Trail by Matt Reeder

Distance: 11.2 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
Trailhead elevation: 217 feet
Trail high point: 331 feet
Season: January - May, October - December
Best: January - April
Map: none needed
Pass: none ($5 fee if parked overnight)
Drivetime from Portland: 95 minutes

• From Portland, drive 75 miles to The Dalles on Interstate 84 and continue another 13 miles to Exit 97.
• Following signs for the Deschutes Recreation Area, leave the freeway at Exit 97 and arrive at a junction.
• Turn left and drive 3 miles to Deschutes State Park.
• Cross the river and turn right into the campground.
• Drive through the campground and park at the south end of the B campground loop, near the camp host and bathrooms. The trail is straight ahead at the end of a grassy field.

Hike: Just 90 minutes from the Portland metro area, the transition from wet Western Oregon to dry, desert-like Eastern Oregon culminates at the mouth of the Deschutes River. Follow an old road and riverside trail up this gorgeous, nearly treeless canyon to a plethora of great campsites and fantastic views of the river. A fire burned this canyon in the summer of 2018 but the vegetation is already returning; in some ways this hike is even prettier now than it was before the fire. Just make sure you avoid this canyon in the summer when it bakes in 100º heat; this is often the hottest place in the state of Oregon.

A snowy Deschutes River canyon, February 2019.

The trail begins on the lawn at the end of the B-Loop in Deschutes State Park Campground. Look for a trail heading upstream that follows the river. Shortly you will reach a junction with a trail darting uphill; this is the way to the road and a possible return trail. Here you are presented with a dilemma; the trail ahead follows the river closely but is in spots poorly defined. The fire cleared much of the brush here, making the trail easier to follow. If you are interested in the most scenic hike, follow the river. You will pass a narrow
spot at about 2 miles, where the trail climbs a bit to avoid a boulder field. Look uphill to an arch on the canyon wall above. At a little over 3 miles, come to the first campsite at Colorado Rapids, complete with a vault toilet. Here the user trail ends, as the canyon narrows upstream; instead follow the access road up to the road bed above. If you’ve arrived here by hiking the road and wish to visit this nice campsite, head downhill on the access road towards the bathroom. If you’re camping, there are plenty of spaces to pitch a tent.

The narrow spot in the Deschutes River canyon about 2 miles from the trailhead.

From here join the road as it climbs above the river next to an incredible basalt cliff. Notice how the rock has formed in numerous strange and phantasmagoric formations, among them a bizarre eye of radiating basalt emanating out of a cave about 30 feet above the road. The canyon here is stunning with basalt cliffs, green treeless slopes and, amazingly, what look like tide pools in the river below. The road parallels the river from this vantage point for a mile before opening back up again into the sunshine. At 5.6 miles from the trailhead you will come to an open spot. Until the 2018 fire, an abandoned wooden boxcar stood here, just off the trail to your right. This is still the recommended turnaround spot, but it isn’t as exciting now that the boxcar is gone. Maybe some day Oregon State Parks will see fit to place another boxcar or some sort of memorial here; we can all hope. Return the way you came.

In memorium: The Deschutes River Trail boxcar, January 2018. The boxcar burned in the Substation Fire during the summer of 2018.

35. Tygh Creek by Matt Reeder

Distance: 4 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 1,700 feet
Trailhead elevation: 2,580 feet
Trail high point: 4,252 feet
Season: April - October
Best: April - May
Map: Flag Point (Green Trails #463)
Pass: none needed
Drivetime from Portland: 135 minutes

• Drive Interstate 84 east of Portland 78 miles to The Dalles.
• Leave the highway at exit 87 and follow signs to US 197, heading south out of The Dalles.
• Drive US 197 south 27 miles to a junction with Shadybrook Road, just north of Tygh Valley.
• Turn right on Shadybrook Road and drive 1.1 miles to a junction with Fairgrounds Road, where you turn left.
• After just 0.7 mile, turn right on the Badger Creek Road and drive this gravel road 6.6 miles to a junction with Ball Point Road, FR 27.
• Turn right and drive 3.5 paved miles to the unsigned Tygh Creek Trailhead, located at the crossing of Tygh Creek. There is room for 2 – 3 cars in the pulloff to the right. The trail departs from the left side of the road.

Hike: The Badger Creek Wilderness is a paradise for the solitude-seeker. With mile after mile of uncrowded trails and spectacular scenery that straddles the transition zone between lush western Oregon and arid eastern Oregon, there are many fantastic hikes to be discovered here. One of the best is the steep climb up to the ridge above Tygh Creek on the eastern edge of the wilderness. Here you will see an almost sublime melding of west and east and be treated with views from Mount Hood to the Three Sisters. The price for this awesomeness is steep though – or rather, the middle third of the hike is one of the steepest stretches of trail in this book. Bring trekking poles!

Flowers and oak trees along the Tygh Creek Trail.

Begin by following Tygh Creek for the first half-mile. Given the name of the trail, you would expect to continue following the stream – instead, reach a vague trail junction at 0.5 mile. Here you should bend to the right uphill (going straight will lead you to a dead end at the creek) and begin climbing. The uphill begins gradually but soon intensifies into some of the steepest, dustiest trail in the Badger Creek Wilderness. In the summer this dry, south-facing slope can be quite hot, so be sure to pack lots of water and rest when needed. On the flip side, this slope also hosts an impressive variety of flowers, among them balsamroot, lupine, paintbrush, larkspur and yellow fawn lilies. Be on the lookout for juniper trees here, at the far western edge of their habitat in Oregon, as well as several impressive groves of ponderosa pines. After 1.4 miles and 1,450 feet of ascent, reach the top of the ridge. Behind you, central Oregon stretches out
into the horizon. To the south, Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters loom in the distance over nearby Ball Point. This is an impressive spot!

The helispot viewpoint just off the Tygh Creek Trail.

Rather than stopping, however, crest a small ridge and reach a junction with a user trail on the left. Turn here and 100 feet later reach a large, rocky meadow that is sometimes used as a helispot. Ahead of you looms Mount Hood over the crest of the Badger Creek Wilderness. This is the most logical stopping point for this hike., as the trail beyond here becomes faint. If you wish to continue, you will reach a junction with the seldom-used Jordan Butte Trail in just 0.2 mile. From here, the trail becomes faint but is still relatively
easy to follow as it passes through a park-like grove of Ponderosa pines. As there is almost no undergrowth, staying in a straight line should keep you on track most of the time. That being said, I cannot recommend this stretch of trail to hikers unfamiliar or uncomfortable with following faint and abandoned trails. After another 0.7 miles, look for a spur trail darting off to your left – hike this out 100 feet to a rock garden with a view up to Mount Hood. As this is the last viewpoint for many miles, you should return the way you came. The Tygh Creek Trail continues another 3.5 miles to the Flag Point Road, about 0.5 mile
below the lookout (see Hike 34).

The Tygh Creek Trail is faint in some spots - this is a trail that could use some more boots!

7. Silver Falls Backcountry Loop by Matt Reeder

Distance: 9.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
Trailhead elevation: 1,363 feet
Trail high point: 2,374 feet
Season: all year (you may hit snow in winter)
Best: March – May, October - November
Map: follow the park map of the trail system
Pass: State Park Pass ($30 annual, $5 day, purchase on site)
Drivetime from Portland: 80 minutes

• From Portland, drive southeast on OR 213 for 30 miles towards Molalla and Silverton. Stay on OR 213, following signs for Silverton.
• In downtown Silverton, turn left on OR 214 and follow signs to Silver Falls State Park a total of 15.7 miles to a four-way junction signed for the South Falls Lodge.
• Turn left instead, onto a road signed for Overnight Facilities and the Campground.
• You will soon arrive at a fee booth. If you do not own the annual State Parks Pass, you can purchase a day pass for $5 at the fee booth.
• Continue straight to a T-junction. Turn left here, following signs for Overnight Facilities and the Conference Center.
• Drive 0.6 mile of paved road to a junction with a gravel road, signed for Howard Creek Horse Camp. Turn left here.
• Drive 0.1 mile to a turnoff for the Howard Creek Trailhead on your left.
• Turn left and drive into the trailhead, where you will find another fee booth should you still need to purchase a pass.

Everybody comes to Silver Falls State Park for the waterfalls. Can you blame them? Where else can you find 10 waterfalls in a narrow, verdant canyon so close to civilization? But the Silver Falls canyon is most definitely not off the beaten trail. Most people never visit the trails in the interior of the park, and
that’s a shame! While lacking in waterfalls, the interior of the park is home to impressive stands of ancient forest, woodland wildflowers, nice displays of fall color and the kind of solitude that really speaks to the heart. This lovely loop doesn’t go anywhere – there are no waterfalls, no views and no destination of note – but it does take you deep into the woods, into the solitary backcountry of the park. Even though you’ll
mostly be on abandoned logging roads, you will most definitely be off the beaten trail.

Begin at the Howard Creek Trailhead. From the signboard, walk straight to a junction and turn left. You’ll hike 0.6 mile (ignore signs for the horse camp, which just take you back to the trailhead) to a junction near Howard Creek signed for the Buck Mountain Loop. Turn left and begin hiking north until you reach another
junction at 1 mile. Turn right to stay on the Buck Mountain Loop and begin climbing up into the woods. The trail ascends into deep forest, passing occasional ancient trees that survived the logging prevalent in this area once upon a time. The forest is overwhelmingly green, but never more so than in early spring – the forest comes to life, glowing in the rebirth that spring brings. It will not surprise you to learn that this is an excellent hike on a rainy day.

Deep in the Silver Falls backcountry on a rainy day.

At 2.3 miles, 3.5 miles and 4.7 miles, you will reach junctions that may or may not be well-signed; in all three cases, keep right to continue this loop. You will reach the trail’s high point around the last of these junctions, where you may find snow in the winter months. Once you pass the third junction just after 4.7 miles, the trail begins a gradual descent to a junction at 5.4 miles. Here you keep right again and continue losing elevation to a junction with the Smith Creek Trail at 5.7 miles. Keep right yet again and drop down to a junction at 6.3 miles, where you are at last faced with a decision. The shortest way back to the trailhead would be to keep right again, staying on the Buck Mountain Loop to its end back near where you started; but the prettiest way is left, down into Smith Creek’s canyon. I recommend turning left on the Cutoff Trail. This short trail drops steeply down to a junction near a bridge over Smith Creek, just opposite the Silver Falls Conference Center. At 7.1 miles from the start of your hike, it’s not a bad idea to cross the bridge and
walk into the Conference Center, where you’ll find bathrooms, picnic tables…and people. If you’re not crossing the bridge, keep right here to stay on the loop. Continuing your hike, you’ll follow Howard Creek north, passing several enormous trees along the way, to a reunion with the Buck Mountain Loop at 8.5 miles. Keep left, cross a bridge over Howard Creek and reach a junction. Turn left and hike 0.7 mile to the Howard Creek Trailhead.