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.
Pilot Butte Trail
Pilot Butte State Park, Bend
Two miles roundtrip | Easy
More than a century ago, Pilot Butte served as a beacon of sorts, guiding wagon train travelers to the Bend area and a manageable crossing of the Deschutes River, said to be located around the area of Farewell Bend Park. Today the dormant cinder cone is a year round destination for Bend residents and visitors who seek out this urban hike. Signage on Hwy. 20 guides visitors to an ample parking area and large park complete with playground area for young visitors. From there follow the signs to the trail head at the base of the cone.
Take a moment to survey the names and ages of the men and women, as well as boy and girls, who ascended the steep spiral path in record setting time. Set your stopwatch and track your progress to get an appreciation of their accomplishments. Follow the well maintained walking trail as it circles the butte. It’s a roughly 1 mile climb to the summit which rises some 500 feet above the surrounding terrain. From the top you can enjoy panoramic views of the Cascade Range to west, the Ochocos to the East and Smith Rock State Park to the north. Catch your breath and double back the way you came. If you’ve worked up an appetite, consider dropping by the namesake Pilot Butte Drive-In just across the street for a milkshake and burger that are second to none, after all this is an urban hike.
Deschutes River Trail/Bill Healy Loop
Farewell Bend Park, Bend
Three miles round-trip | Easy
Thanks to the shared efforts of many community members and the leadership of the Bend Park District, Bend offers multiple places along Deschutes River corridor for visitors to hike, bike and play. Foremost among those is the popular loop from Farewell Bend Park at the Bill Healy Bridge to a footbridge roughly 1.5 miles upstream.
Formerly an out and back trail, the park district closed the loop, so to speak on this trail, shortly after construction of the Healy bridge. Today walkers can start on either side of the Healy Bridge and hike upstream into a narrowing canyon that is marked by soaring ponderosa pines along the river banks and steep lava tuff walls.
Keep your eyes open for eagles and osprey and other wildlife that make the Deschutes River their home. While hikers can and often do turn back before the bridge, it’s well worth extra steps. When you reach the bridge pause for a minute and contemplate that you are still standing inside the city limits of Bend as water rushes under your feet.
Dry Canyon Trail
Four-mile round-trip | Paved, Easy
Redmond isn’t blessed with all of Bend’s geographic diversity or riverfront access, but the area is not without its natural attributes — one of the most notable of which is the Dry Canyon Trail. The four-mile paved pathway meanders from the so-called Spud Bowl area near Redmond Senior High north toward the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Since it opened more than a decade ago, the trail has become a popular destination for residents and visitors, providing a perfect backdrop for an afternoon stroll. As the name implies the trail is framed by lava cliff walls that once hemmed in an ancient river, the bed of which forms the general trail route. There are several access points, the most popular and accessible of which is found at Redmond’s Bowlby Park, about a mile north from the trail’s southern terminus.
Shevlin Park Trail
Tumalo Creek Trail (2.5 miles) Loop Trail (6 miles) | Moderate
The crown jewel of Bend’s park system, Shevlin is host to a variety of activities from wedding and family fishing at Aspen Hall to picnics, trail running and even mountain biking. The expansive forested park is open year round but best enjoyed from late spring through early fall when the long shadows of the soaring Ponderosa pine trees, left mercifully intact during Bend’s long ago logging frenzy, create an oasis for runners and hikers seeking to escape the midday sun.
If you do overheat, relief is as close as a quick dunk of your head in the icy waters of Tumalo creek that rush down from the Deschutes National Forest toward the junction with the Deschutes River below Bend. Located just west of Bend, visitors will find ample parking at park’s main entrance just beyond the bridge over Tumalo Creek. Runners and bikers can also try the small parking area in the Shevlin Commons neighborhood which offers quick access to a bike and runner friendly spur that follows the ridgeline through the Awbrey Hall burn area before dropping into the forested park and into the adjoining national forest.
Whychus Creek Canyon Trail
Six miles (out and back) | Intermediate
Like the Shevlin Park route, this trail isn’t technically “in-town” but it’s well worth the short jaunt down Elm Street from downtown Sisters. Located about four miles from the bustling Western themed storefronts, the trailhead is just off Highway 16 on the road to Three Creeks Lake. The out-and-back route follows Whychus Creek as it tumbles down from the shoulders of the Cascade Range, and includes waterfall views. The hiking-only trail is dog friendly and winds through a second generation pine forest and into the sub-alpine Manzanita. The trail includes some light scrambling over a basalt flow and down some relatively steep ascents and descents around the river, but isn’t beyond the technical abilities of most moderately fit hikers. The entire trail is a six-mile roundtrip, but trekkers can turn back wherever they like – the second waterfall at mile two making a good spot. If you’ve made good time and have a few minutes to spare, you can take a load off at the Three Creeks Brewing in Sisters where a Knotty Blonde ale and a heaping plate of Black Butte nachos are a great way to finish any afternoon.
More inspiring stories, adventures, and tips & tricks for planning and experiencing the best Central Oregon has to offer.
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.
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.
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.
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 Mountain Bike Trail Guide
The Central Oregon mountain bike scene is 300 miles of diverse singletrack through high alpine forests and sagebrush dotted deserts from Madras to La Pine, Sisters to Prineville. Bulletin newspaper reporter Mark Morical has ridden just about every one of the trails you’ll find on any mountain bike trail map – and he’s written about his experience.
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.
Pole, Pedal and Paddle Whenever You Want in Central Oregon
Every May in Bend some 3,100 people participate in the US Bank Pole, Pedal, Paddle multi-sport race. (And there’s still time to sign up for this year’s event, held on May 20th.)
How to Beat the High Desert Heat
During the dog days of summer, one of your best options to beat the heat is to head up to the high lakes and splash around. But when you’re on vacation with the family sometimes all you want to do is go and relax at the pool. Luckily, Central Oregon has a handful of great places to soak up the sun in between cooling off in the water.
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.
The Scenic Waterfalls in Central Oregon
Is there anything more satisfying—anything more awe-inspiring—than gazing upon a thundering waterfall, its raging waters tumbling over ancient rock walls? Does it get any better than seeing a waterfall reach full boil in the midst of an otherwise quiet river as it crashes through a rock-lined canyon?