The Best Hiking Around Sunriver, Oregon
Sunriver, Oregon is known for two things that might not come as a surprise: ample sunshine, and plenty of rivers and waterways. Nestled in the Deschutes National Forest at the base of the Cascade Range, Sunriver is a perfect destination for people who want to explore and see the best of the local landscape. The surrounding area is filled with tall pines and forested lands with meadows dotted throughout. The forest often gives way to a dry and volcanic landscape, contrasted by the refreshing rivers, lakes and ponds that can be enjoyed on a hot summer day. Want to get going? Here are five jaw-dropping hikes for you to try in and near Sunriver.
1) Green Lakes Trail
The Green Lakes Trail is one of the most popular in Central Oregon, and with good reason. This 9-mile out-and-back trail is moderate in difficulty and typically takes hikers more than four hours to complete, making this a great day hike from Sunriver, which is only 30 minutes away by car. A Central Cascades Wilderness Permit is required for this hike between Friday of Memorial Day weekend and the last Friday of September. Outside of these dates, a Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking.
From Sunriver, take Spring River Road west, turning right on Forest Road 45. Once this road intersects with the Cascade Lakes Highway, take a left and watch out for the trailhead, which will be on your right, across the road from Sparks Lake. The trail takes hikers along Fall Creek for a couple of miles before granting views of Fall Creek Falls. Eventually, hikers will reach the Green Lakes, three connected bodies of water between Broken Top and South Sister. From here, the trail loops around all the lakes to provide views from every angle before sending hikers back down the path they came. Families of active, avid hikers will enjoy this one, but small children or inexperienced families might find this one to be difficult. The trail surface is a well-beaten pathway with a slow grade and a few steep spots. Dogs are allowed on this trail year-round, but must be leashed between July 15 and September 15.
2) Benham Falls Trail on the Deschutes River
The beauty of Benham Falls and the entire section of the Deschutes River leading up to the falls cannot be understated. Access the falls from the Benham Falls East Day Use area, offering access to hop on the Deschutes River Trail. The seemingly calm waters turn into cascading waterfalls and huge rapids that spray mist into the dry air and cool off hikers. The trail is surrounded by old growth ponderosa pines that provide shade from the summer sun.
From Sunriver, leave town on Highway 97 going north, towards the city of Bend. Look for “Lava Lands Visitor Center” signs and take the turn going right to follow these signs. Follow Benham Falls Road until you reach the Deschutes River. The entire drive should only take around 15 minutes. From here, park and get ready for a short, 1.5 mile out-and-back hike that is perfect for people of all ages and abilities. The day use area offers fully-paved accessible trails and the hike itself if a flat, wide, packed gravel surface. The hike does not have significant elevation gains, and offers great river views, making it a family-friendly choice. Dogs are allowed on the trail year-round but must be leashed between May 15 and September 15.
3) Lava Butte Hiking Trail
For expansive views of nearby and distant mountain peaks, try out the Lava Butte Hiking Trail. This trail leads hikers up and around Lava Butte, a cinder cone that is part of the greater Newberry Volcanic Monument, which includes a massive shield volcano with a peak that rises to the southeast. The full trail is a little less than 4 miles, out and back, following a road to the Lava Butte summit parking area, before turning into a paved pathway for the last mile, gaining a total of about 500 feet in elevation. The first third-mile of the pathway at the summit is completely accessible for hikers of all abilities, including those in wheelchairs, while the final two-third mile push to the top is paved, but more steep and bumpy. Dogs are allowed on this trail.
From Sunriver, leave town on Highway 97 going north, towards the city of Bend. Look for “Lava Lands Visitor Center” signs and take the turn going right to follow these signs. Once you have arrived at the visitor center, take the trail heading northwest towards the butte, or just follow signs for “Lava Butte Trailhead.” If choosing to drive up to the summit, the parking lot is limited to 10 vehicles, so 30 minute time passes are issued at Lava Lands Station on a first come, first served basis.
4) Paulina Falls and Paulina Creek Trail
For a jaw-dropping destination, it’s tough to beat Paulina Falls and the Paulina Creek Trail. The trail itself follows a forest service road that is used by snowmobilers and cross country skiers in the winter. Regular hiking season begins around June, with a trail taking hikers through an old growth forest of ponderosa pines before offering access to Paulina Falls at the end of the hike. The trail is an out-and-back of about 5.5 miles with minimal elevation gain; perfect for families. Dogs are allowed on this trail.
From Sunriver, take Highway 97 south towards La Pine. Take a left on Paulina East Lake Road and continue until you reach the trailhead. The drive to the trailhead from Sunriver Resort is about 30 minutes.
5) Fall River Trail
The Fall River Trail is a 6-mile out-and-back trail of moderate difficulty, with an elevation gain of only around 100 feet, making it a suitable choice for adults and children alike. Depending on the season, hikers are likely to see fishermen on the banks of the river casting their flies. The well-worn riverside trail is shared with mountain bikers, so be sure to listen for any indication that bikers are coming down the path. Aside from those activities, the area is popular for bird watching and is a great place to spot wildflowers. Dogs are allowed on this trail.
From Sunriver, head south on South Century Drive, continuing for about 15 minutes to reach the trailhead. Hop on the trail, following Fall River for its entire length. Along the way, lookout for cascading sections of the river and take a moment to really soak in the views.
As of February 2022, the Fall River Trail area is closed. Check the U.S. Forest Service website for trail updates.
When you get back to Sunriver after a day on these trails, you’ll need to refuel for any future adventures. Be sure to check out the top restaurants in Sunriver while you’re visiting. And within the resort, enjoy some of the best food, drinks, golf and spa amenities around.
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