Highlights include the stunning Deschutes River canyon, exploring the old Harris Homestead, petroglyphs, and the opportunity to reel in your first winter steelhead.
The trail is railroad grade with the exception of one short up-and-down section where an old bridge was removed. There’s maybe a total of 500 feet of climbing on the whole route, combined, round trip. It’s as easy as it gets.
The majority of the route is decent gravel. Trail conditions begin to deteriorate after you pass the Harris Homestead at mile 11. Goat heads become a serious issue around mile 14, if not sooner. Unless you have legit thorn protection, it might not be worth riding the last couple miles up the canyon. The trail unceremoniously ends around mile 19 where an old train trestle was removed.
Summer can bring extremely hot temps and it can snow in winter. Fall and Spring are ideal, but it’s good almost year round if you’re prepared. The crowds are minimal except during busy fishing weekends. You may want to check the powerboat schedule – they alternate weekends in summer. It can be a bit off-putting having boats running up and down the river all day and it’ll mean bigger crowds and some competition for good camping spots. But even at its busiest, this place is never overcrowded once you get a couple miles up river.
The Deschutes River State Recreational Area has overnight parking. There is a fee for overnight parking. To access the trail backtrack to the entrance of the park near the small gravel parking lot by the park sign. Cell service is non-existent once you get a mile or two up the canyon.
There is no potable water on the route. We don’t endorse drinking from the Deschutes River, regardless of any filtering or water treatment. The river has a lot of agricultural runoff, which isn’t something treating or filtering will remove. There is a small seasonal creek at the Harris Homestead, but it likely has the same agricultural runoff issues.
Although we’ve been known to drink from the river on longer trips, the ride in is easy enough that we usually haul in water for the entire trip.
Also, be advised that in the winter months they shut off the water at the Deschutes River State Recreational Area. Plan accordingly.
The established BLM campgrounds are marked on this map – the trail is on the east side of the river and located on maps 8, 9, and 10. The trail poops out right around river mile 19 on map 8.
Maps 8, 9, and 10 at this link are probably sufficient, if you feel compelled to bring a map. If you’re a map geek consider the Lower Deschutes and John Day Rivers map, or the free 7.5×7.5 US Topo quads you can download for free off USGS.gov.
There is an old road heading up a side canyon at the Harris Homestead. It narrows down to an animal trail as you get further up the side canyon. This will dead end into private property.
One not-to-miss highlight is checking out the petroglyphs. Continue a short way on the main trail past the water tower at the Harris Homestead, and keep your eye out for a short, steep trail heading up the hill on the left.
Hunting and fishing is popular along the river. We’ve done a couple bird hunting trips, but the decent bird hunting areas are pretty limited. Deer and bighorn sheep are the bigger prize, but mostly it’s about the steelhead and salmon. Folks come from all over to fish this river.
Mind the rattlesnakes, they can be pretty thick in summer. Also, the semi-recent fire burned down one of the old rail cars. Bummer.