WaterWatch Metolius Wizard Falls JCD CC 2

Springtime River Hikes and Cycling Outings Around Oregon

By John DeVoe with Tommy Hough

From flowering cherry blossoms to happy daffodils — to the explosions of pollen clouding car windows from Astoria to Klamath Falls — there’s no doubt spring has arrived in Oregon. And if the longer days and recent blast of warm weather hasn’t already sent you into the garage looking for your hiking gear, perhaps these river hikes and cycling options will prompt you to hit the trail and get some springtime mud on your shoes.

While conditions are always subject to change, the options listed here are primarily located at low, snow-free elevations, where you can also get back to conditioning for more uphill excursions into the high country later this summer. As always, check current conditions before you leave home, observe Leave No Trace wilderness ethics, and be sure to bring water, food, a flashlight, socks and layered clothes when heading off on an adventure.

And despite how refreshing the water may appear in the rivers mentioned in these outings, be sure to maintain your awareness and respect for the potential dangers of cold water, which can be even more powerful than usual during spring runoff. At less than six inches you can be swept off your feet by moving water, and seriously — even in the summer river water in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest is positively frigid. Be smart, hike with a buddy, and don’t become a statistic.

Lower Deschutes River Trail
One of the most enchanting riverside mountain bike and hiking trails in the west, the Lower Deschutes River Trail travels about 12 miles up the east bank of the river from the mouth of the Deschutes at the Columbia River. Bikepacking, backpacking, hiking and fishing are all available along this trail following the route of an old railroad bed. While relatively flat, winds can be fierce along the nearby Columbia River Gorge, although one direction usually gets a tailwind on this out-and-back trail. If you opt to bike this trail, be sure you’re equipped to address punctures with a repair kit and pump (or walk back the 12 miles from Harris Canyon to the trailhead as John did once). Also, bring plenty of water and sunscreen. Shade is at a premium here in hot weather.

To get to the trailhead take exit 97 off I-84 for State Route 206 to Deschutes/State Park/Celilo, and take Route 206 three miles to the mouth of the Deschutes River. Turn right on the east bank into the recreation area, where you’ll find the trailhead on your left with some designated parking. An Oregon State Parksparking pass is required and can be purchased onsite for $5.

Lewis River Trail
One of the great riverside trails in the Pacific Northwest is located relatively close to Portland, though many area hikers may be unaware of its proximity to the Rose City because of its location across the Columbia River in Washington. Named for explorer Meriwether Lewis of the 1804-06 Lewis and Clark Expedition and Corps of Discovery, this follows the Lewis River for about 15 miles through some of most magnificent, surviving mature and old-growth forest remaining in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, with several impressive waterfalls along the way. The trail is suitable for hiking and mountain biking, and cyclists can go out and back or head back to the car on forest service roads. More information, including maps, trail descriptions, and parking pass information are available at the Gifford Pinchot National Forest website.

While there are several trailheads for accessing the Lewis River Trail, the most commonly used are via Forest Road 90, including the Lewis River bridge, which requires a left turn from Road 90 onto Road 9039 and a one-mile drive to the namesake bridge. The second is accessible via the Lower Falls Campground off Forest Road 90, and the third can be reached via Trail No. 5 at the Quartz Creek bridge off Forest Road 90.

Metolius River Trail
The magical Metolius River truly offers outstanding hiking and angling opportunities. You can hike (and fish, but note seasonal regulations above Allingham Bridge) from Camp Sherman to Lake Billy Chinook. There are trails on both sides of the river, although the trail on the west bank and any west bank fishing ends at Candle Creek at the boundary of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Below Bridge 99, the trail enters wilder country until it emerges at Lake Billy Chinook. Any questions about fishing the Metolius or surrounding waters should be directed to The Fly Fishers Place in Sisters.

From U.S. 20 and State Route 126 northwest of Sisters, head north on County Road 14 toward Camp Sherman in the Sisters Ranger District of the Deschutes National Forest. Go left on County Road 1419 at two-and-a-half miles, then head straight on Forest Road 1420 toward Sheep Springs Horse Camp. Over the following four miles the road surface will deteriorate, so be wary of using this road in rainy weather and without a high-clearance vehicle. Turn right on Forest Road 1420.400 with Lower Canyon Creek Campground as your destination to access the West Bank Metolius trailhead.

Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway
For cyclists who get to the southern Oregon Coast, this 61-mile ride travels along the amazing Elk River for 17 miles and also accesses the Grassy Knob Wilderness in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, Cape Blanco State Park, the Sixes River and a great beach to look for agates at namesake Agate Beach and Tseriadun State Recreation Site. In Port Orford, you can walk the short but ridiculously beautiful trails of Port Orford Heads State Park. Expect light traffic, amazing beaches, blue pools on the Elk River, empty beaches at Cape Blanco and, if you take a little detour north to Langlois on U.S. 101, you can get great sandwiches at the Langlois Market.

More information, maps and GPS coordinates can be found at the Travel Oregon website.

McKenzie River Trail
This very popular trail on the Upper McKenzie River travels past amazing volcanic geologic features, waterfalls and offers a developed hot springs resort pool at Belknap Hot Springs to soak away any aches and pains picked up along the hike. The trail is very scenic and can be busy — with good reason. You will need a Northwest Forest Pass, with day or annual passes available online to park your car.

To access the upper trailhead go south on State Route 126 (McKenzie Highway) from its junction with U.S. 20 for two miles and turn left at the Old Santiam Wagon Rd. The lowest trailhead can be reached about one-and-a-half miles east of the community of McKenzie Bridge. For more information, visit the Willamette National Forest website.

Donner und Blitzen Trail
Flowing out of the Steens Wilderness, the Donner und Blitzen River Trail offers high desert flora and fauna next to a small river that supports redband trout. On federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the trail is not strenuous, and you can hike as far upstream as you like before returning to the Page Springs Campground trailhead. A good place to see a cougar. Can be very hot in the summer. Also, a good place to see a rattlesnake.

To reach the trailhead, travel to French Glen south of Burns via State Route 20, and then head to the Page Springs Campground area just east of French Glen. For a hearty breakfast, try the Frenchglen Hotel.

Banner photo by John DeVoe, who served as executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon from 2003 to 2022 and now serves as the organization’s senior fundraiser and advisor.