Where the Rivers Flow 5

Alder Springs and Whychus Creek

With many world-class features and landmarks less than an hour from Bend—including Mount Bachelor, Smith Rock, and the Badlands—at times we forget about the natural beauty in our backyard. The watchful mountains may stand guard over the High Desert, but a leisurely stroll by a river helps to wash away the daily stresses in our lives. One such hike, Alder Springs, showcases the stunning history of our Central Oregon landscape.

The Alder Springs area is an 840 acre in-holding within the Crooked River National Grasslands—about an hour northwest of Bend—between Redmond and Sisters. Whychus Creek cuts through the Alder Springs property, on its way to meet up with the Deschutes River.

The Alder Springs hike used to be a local legend, complete with vague directions and a long dirt road approach. While the dirt road access still remains, word has spread about the trail and the beauty that surrounds it. In fact, the Deschutes Land Trust (DLT)—which has set its mind on protecting Whychus Creek—offers guided spring tours, focusing on the area’s restoration process.

The hike begins at the Alder Springs Trailhead with a curved and switchbacked descent into Whychus Canyon. 360 degree views along the way show Black Butte, Mount Washington, the Three Sisters, and Broken Top on the horizon, as well as the creek slicing through the canyon below. The sparse landscape allows for patches of random wildflower blooms set against the juniper grassland. The trail passes by and under multi-layered cliffs and columned palisades highlighting the Deschutes Formation. The layers tell the story of wind and water erosion battling lava flows for lasting legacy in the desert.

Once hikers reach the creek’s lush bottomland, the realization of a pending creek ford becomes clear. While only ankle-level in the late summer, a spring crossing means cold, thigh-high water flows. With some care—and help from a downed tree limb—the wade across Whychus Creek is simply a wake up call and nice barrier trimming the mass of hikers unwilling to make the journey.

Continue another 1.7 miles past several creekside campsites to the destination: Whychus Creek-Deschutes River Confluence. A sign, nailed to a towering ponderosa pine tree reads “Maintained trail ends here.” Across the river, spot the colorful layers of the appropriately-named Rainbow Ridge.

The confluence is a massive display of water’s great power. The river and creek siblings bitterly crash together and then become one, all in an instant. The scene lies in the present, while explaining what happened to the canyon in the past. Between the adventurous creek crossing, the beautiful views, and the short environmental science and history lesson, the 7.2 mile out and back hike is well worth it.

Dogs are allowed on leash and be careful of snakes in the summer. The road to the trailhead is closed December through March.

Directions to Trailhead

  • Take Highway 126 west from Redmond.
  • Turn right on Holmes Road.
  • At the 7-mile marker, turn left on FR 6360 at the Alder Springs Trail sign.
  • You will drive 4.0 miles on a gravel road that progressively deteriorates.
  • Turn right at a sign for Alder Springs and go down a narrow, rocky spur 0.7 miles to the trailhead.