To say that the Deschutes National Forest has seen higher use in recent years is kind of like saying that Central Oregon offers “some” outdoor recreation or that we have a “decent” craft beer scene: technically the truth, but nowhere near capturing the whole story.
In fact, the Deschutes National Forest saw a record 3.3 million visitors in 2018, the most recent year for which data was available, and officials estimate that visitorship was a whopping 40% higher in 2020 — with few signs the surge will slow anytime soon.
It seems fitting, then, that the U.S. Forest Service has (after years of planning) announced the launch of the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit System. Starting in the spring and summer of 2021, a permit system will limit the number of day hikers and backpackers on trails throughout the Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington and Three Sisters wilderness areas of the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests.
Jean Nelson-Dean, public affairs officer with the Deschutes National Forest, says the timing couldn’t be better.
Surge in National Forest Use Prompts Permit System
As Nelson-Dean explains it, all those additional visitors have dramatic impacts on how we enjoy public lands in Central Oregon. In some cases, those impacts are obvious: Nelson-Dean says that Forest Service rangers have reported a noticeable uptick in garbage left along trails, human waste and toilet paper scattered about (like at No Name Lake on Broken Top), trees being cut down for firewood, and unapproved fire rings appearing at unofficial campsites. Those changes don’t just ruin the beauty of Central Oregon’s outdoor spaces, Nelson-Dean says; they scare away wildlife and force animals from their natural habitat.
In other ways, the impacts of overuse are less obvious — but no less important. Heavier usage of certain trails, for instance, usually leads to hikers going off-trail to give each other space while passing. Over time, those quick (and well-meaning) interactions inadvertently widen the path, trample vegetation, and lessen the “wilderness” experience so many of us seek outdoors. “People just naturally kind of create a larger trail width and, of course, that impacts the overall experience,” Nelson-Dean says, citing the Green Lakes trail as an example of where paths have been widened over time. “It becomes more of a road than a trail.”
Those impacts are exactly what the new permit system is designed to address. By limiting the number of users on each trail, Nelson-Dean hopes nature can reclaim a bit of what made those trails so special — and so well-loved — in the first place.
Already, Nelson-Dean can point to another trail that benefited from a similar system.
Obsidian Trail Offers Template for New Permit System
In the early 1990s, the Obsidian Trail — showcasing the alpine beauty of the Three Sisters Wilderness in the heart of the Cascade Range — was overrun. Unleashed dogs romped around open meadows, human waste piled up, and campers angled for sites on the ecologically sensitive shores of mountain lakes along the trail.
A limited-entry permit system was put into place to address the crisis, making the Obsidian Trail one of only two paths in Oregon to restrict use in such a way. Decades later, the Obsidian Limited Entry Area boasts one of the most pristine landscapes in Central Oregon: Wide-open mountain views, thundering waterfalls, piles of glassy obsidian, and meadows covered in summertime wildflowers are just some of the highlights in the bucolic region.
Nelson-Dean hopes the newly permitted trails will eventually enjoy a similar return to their less-trampled states. “Our expectation is that those areas will improve,” she says. “The whole point of this permitting process is to maintain access while maintaining these areas for future generations.”
More inspiring stories, adventures, and tips & tricks for planning and experiencing the best Central Oregon has to offer.
Hiking Black Butte – Central Oregon’s Iconic & Majestic Cinder Cone
From a distance, Black Butte looks like it doesn’t quite match the picturesque alpine mountains that surround it. The volcanic rock that emerges above the tree line gives the impression of a hill constructed with loose stones that was carelessly dropped in the middle of the woods. Unlike the Cascades that puncture the horizon to the west and north, Black Butte can be hiked and enjoyed in under four hours.
Accessible Adventure: Easy Hikes for Families near Bend, Oregon
There are so many great hikes in Central Oregon, it can be tough to choose where to start. For beginner hikers or families here’s a couple of easy to get to – and more importantly – easy to conquer starter-hikes. Flanking the Deschutes River near Bend’s Old Mill District, the Deschutes River Trail is a 3-mile loop that starts near Farewell Bend Park.
Adventures Abound Starting at Sunriver Resort
Sunriver is the type of place that takes your breath away no matter what season it is. During the summer you can hop on a horse for your very own wild wild west experience. The team at Sunriver Stables will make you feel comfortable on your ride, even if you’ve never saddled up before. Whether you’re in a tube or a kayak, floating down the Deschutes River is a relaxing activity that’s fun for the whole family.
Casual Family Weekend in Sunriver
Imagine this: you’re riding your bike through a rolling meadow, the Cascade mountain range in the background, and the only sound is from the whir of a prop plane taking off against a crisp blue sky. Up ahead, your children pull carrots from their pockets and present them to a gathering of friendly horses in an adjacent pasture.
Outward Bound in the City: Central Oregon’s 5 Best Urban Hikes
Hiking in Central Oregon can take you deep into the wilderness, far away from worry and stress. But sometimes all you need is a quick break from reality…just a half hour or so outside in nature, on a trail, alone with your thoughts (or with your dog, husband and two kids.) There are hundreds of hikes and trails available in and around Bend, Oregon and Sunriver, Oregon. These “Urban Hikes” are the perfect remedy to slow down our all-too-busy lives.
Lava Lands Visitor Center a Central Oregon Geologic Gem
In the late 1960s NASA looked for a place to send astronauts who were training for a mission that would change the world. But before the mission could happen, NASA needed a place to mimic what they believed those astronauts would find on the surface of the moon. Because, after all, nobody had been there before so nobody really knew what the surface of the moon was like.
Central Oregon Hiking Trails
Head east on Highway 20 (Greenwood Avenue) to the Pilot Butte State Park. The parking area and trailhead are just east of the butte. Walk on either the nature trail or the paved road. The road is also for vehicle traffic, weather permitting. It is a wonderful viewpoint for the entire Bend area. This hiking trail is one of the most popular in Central Oregon.
Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway: Pull Off For a Central Oregon Adventure
The Cascade Lakes Scenic byway is one of the prettiest drives in the U.S. But it might be the most recreationally rich road you’ll ever drive too. From Bend southwest to the Highway 58 junction, the Oregon Route 372 cuts through 66 miles unique volcanic formations and geological beauty that offers everything that makes Central Oregon an outdoor lover’s paradise.
Central Oregon’s Moonscape
Many who come to Central Oregon say it looks like nowhere else they’ve visited. Sure, there are the mountain vistas and the Ponderosa pines, the picturesque rivers and the deep blue lakes. But to many, the most astonishing aspect is the lunarscape — the lava rocks, cinder cones and lava tubes that dot the region, betraying its geologic history.
The Central Oregon Adventure 6-Pack
6 ADVENTURES…1 DAY….A LIFETIME OF MEMORIES. “You should do it,” they said. “Think about how cool it’d be,” they told me. “You get to do it during the work day, ya know,” they reminded me. So I said yes.