“Those aspens almost look like they’re on fire!” Connie observed as we rode out into a clearing beside the Deschutes River Trail near Bend and caught sight of a stand of trees on the opposite bank. “This has to be one of the best fall-foliage trails ever!”
We were on the west side of Bend, riding the Deschutes River Trail.
This trail is stunning in mid-October when the brilliant fall foliage contrasts with the blue sky and water and the nearby black lava flows.
The Deschutes River Trail is also a very nice trail in spring and summer, with excellent views of the river and the lush vegetation it supports.
Along the way you’ll see several rapids created by the ancient lava flows on the east side of the river.
And thousands of cubic feet of water per second crash over basalt ledges to create Dillon Falls and Benham Falls, both spectacular destinations along the trail.
The Deschutes River Trail roughly parallels the river, and has five trailheads with room for horse trailers arrayed along its length. The trail is popular with bicyclists, hikers, and dog walkers, though dogs are required to be on leash from May 15th to September 15th.
From Lava Island to Dillon Falls you’ll find separate trails for horses, hikers, and bicyclists. From Dillon Falls to the Slough trailhead the horse trail skirts around Ryan Ranch Meadow to the west on a closed forest road that has gates at both ends. From the Slough trailhead to Benham Falls, all users share the same trail.
Ride Statistics: This easy out-and-back ride is 7.5 miles round trip from Lava Island trailhead to Dillon Falls, or 13.5 miles round trip from Lava Island to Benham Falls. You can vary the length of your ride depending on which trailhead you park at. Elevations are 3,950 to 4,100 feet. Stock water is available on the trail. The trail is suitable for barefoot horses. The best trail map is the Adventure Map Central Oregon Hiking-Trail map, though you can also find it on the Deschutes National Forest map.
Getting to the Trailheads: You can park at the Lava Island, Big Eddy, Aspen, Dillon Falls, or Slough trailheads. (The Benham Falls trailhead is too small for trailers.) To reach Lava Island trailhead from Hwy. 97 in Bend, take Exit 138 (Colorado Ave.). Follow the signs toward Mt. Bachelor through three traffic circles and veer onto Hwy. 46, the Cascade Lakes Hwy. Continue for 7.5 miles and turn left on Road 41, the first road on the left after passing the Seventh Mountain Resort. Follow the signs about 0.5 mile to the Lava Island trailhead. To reach the other trailheads, continue along Road 41 and follow the signs.
Trailhead Facilities: Each trailhead has a toilet. Lava Island and Dillon Falls trailheads each have parking for 2-4 trailers, depending on where hiker cars are parked. The Big Eddy, Aspen, and Slough trailheads each have parking for up to two trailers.
More Information: The Deschutes River Trail is covered in the Bend Area chapter of Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2012).