Trip Reports » Deschutes Rail Trail, Oregon

The last weekend of April, 2010, I went for an awesome bikepacking trip with a small but great group of folks from the Portland Hiking Meetup Group. We spent three days leisurely exploring the lower Deschutes River area in central Oregon. Along the way we enjoyed the expansive views, relished the fine weather, and poked around some of the ancient farm buildings and railroad relics.

The route is a Rails to Trails project. It runs from the state park near Interstate-84, upstream to a place called Macks Canyon. It’s about 24 miles one way, though we only did the rideable part which is the first 20. Our group was led by my pal Claudio, and included my friend David from Portlandhikers.org, a nice chap I’d not met before named Mark, and myself.

For three of us, this was our very first bikepacking adventure. Mark was the only one with bona fide bike camping chops. Claudio, David and myself are all experienced backpackers though, and I thought our first bikepacking trip went really well.

Here’s Mark doing a few laps around the trailhead parking lot as Claudio snaps a few pics:

.

We rode the single track that hugs the river’s edge for the first two miles, then cut over to the actual railroad grade. This is Mark, David, and Claudio as we make a quick stop for pictures by the rock arch about 2 miles in:

Mark, David & Claudio

About 5 1/2 miles in we encountered the first of two old railroad cars:

.

.

.

Two miles later, we stopped at the more dilapidated second car:

.

.

Farther along we caught a glimpse of a coyote as he or she scurried away from our considerable ruckus:

.
Photo by David

April is really the perfect month for this trip as the weather is usually decent, the rafting season isn’t yet under way, and the canyon is verdant and lush with spring grasses and other vegetation. Lots of gorgeous wildflowers too. In another month or two this place will be baking hot, brown, and crispy.

By late afternoon we were making camp at Fall Canyon Camp, otherwise known as Operation Desert Snore:

.

Fall Canyon is just one of the many campsites along the Deschutes that were set up primarily for rafters. We didn’t see anyone rafting the river this weekend though.

Afterwards we struck out to explore the eerie, yet strangely beautiful Harris homestead a mile down the pike:

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Back in camp, Mark and David watch as a freight train rumbles by on the opposite shore:

.

Saturday morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, then left our camp set up as we headed upstream for more explorations.

Getting our gear together for the day’s ride:

.

The view from camp that morning:

.

Beyond the Harris homestead were more old buildings to explore:

.

.

.
Photo by Claudio

And then it was on to the old railroad water tower:

.

.

Continuing upstream:

.

.

A gorgeous butterfly along the way:

.

And caterpillar:

.
Photo by Claudio

Around mile 20 we came to the end of the official bike trail. The path continues for several miles to Macks Canyon but it gets very rugged. There are six side canyons on that stretch that were once spanned by trestles. The trestles are gone now, and the only way through each of these canyons is on sketchy foot paths. Also, the unimproved railbed between canyons is rocky and difficult to ride.

Claudio and Mark forge ahead through the first canyon with their bikes to see how feasible it might be to continue:

.
Photo by David

David and I followed on foot. After some discussion we decided the remaining few miles likely weren’t worth the effort, so we opted to end our upriver explorations here and have some lunch:

.

The river wraps 180° around a bend at this spot:

.
Photo by David

Mark takes in the view:

.
Photo by Claudio

Mark and Claudio hefting their bikes back through the side canyon:

.

Back on the rideable stuff:

.

.

The skies had threatened to rain on us all day, but only managed to spit a little here or there. Then as we headed back toward camp the weather began to improve quite nicely:

.

.

When we got back to the water tower, we decided to head up the nearby side canyon to see if we could find the remains of the old Mays homestead that had been mentioned in an old trip report on portlandhikers.org.

A look back at the water tower from the road up to Mays Canyon:

.

Along the way, Mark and Claudio spotted some deer on a distant hillside:

.

All we found at Mays Canyon were a few pieces of metal roofing and other bits of debris. Nothing resembling a cabin, or much evidence of the fire that was mentioned in the report either. It’s all very lush, green, and overgrown now:

.
Photo by Claudio

The area was simply gorgeous though, so we scrambled up an adjacent hillside in search of some views:

.

.

.
Photo by Claudio

Heading back down:

.

On the home stretch, Mark had a blowout about a mile from camp. Rather than fix it there, he opted to walk his bike back to camp so he could work on it in relative comfort:

.

Actually, he ran with his bike and hardly broke a sweat. The guy’s in amazing shape.

Nature’s bike rack:

.

Back at camp another freighter rolls by:

.

The evening turned breezy and chilly. Later on Claudio and Mark hunted up some firewood for a very welcome fire.

David played his harmonica as we sat around the campfire:

.

With David’s harmonica, the roaring campfire, and the rumbling freight trains, the evening took on a sort of folky – hobo – Woody Guthrie kind of vibe that was really fun. OK, granted, Woody didn’t have lycra shorts or titanium cookware, but it’s still fun to think about. As we reflected on the day’s adventure we realized we hadn’t seen any other people all day. And only a few the day before. Amazing considering how beautiful this area is.

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. The nice weather made it all the harder to pack up and head back to the big city, but return we must.

My little corner of the campground, ready to pack up:

.

I started the trip with about 11 pounds in the day pack, including food, and 8 pounds in the trunk pack. Plus my Tarptent strapped to the handlebars. I think the main thing I want to change for next time is to switch to a hydration bladder.

My rig, all packed up and ready to roll:

.

Our four aluminum steeds, ready to roll:

.

Yours truly, ready to roll:

.
Photo by Claudio

On the road again, headed north:

.

The remains of an old trestle caught our attention:

.

.

.

The day was young with plenty of time left to explore, so we headed up the side road called “Rattlesnake Grade” for some views. Claudio and Mark motored all the way up to the canyon rim on their bikes, some 1400 feet vertically. I didn’t have the legs for that steep, long climb, so I hoofed it about halfway up. Got some nice views nonetheless:

.

.

The awesome view from the top of Rattlesnake Grade captured by Claudio:

.
Photo by Claudio

Back on the main trail:

.

.

Near the end of our journey is a short, wet, paved section of roadbed with a “Caution Wet Floor” cone, the kind you see in the supermarket.

Yeah, I’m not making that up:

.

.

Great group and an awesome trip! Thanks guys, I can’t wait to go back!

Lots more pictures here..

Gordon

Comments (14)

ScottMMay 5th, 2010 at 8:27 am

Wow, some very interesting photos. Thanks a bunch for the trip report. Sounds like it was a great first trip for you guys, congrats! LOL at the slippery when wet cone.

Will NesseMay 5th, 2010 at 9:24 am

This is great! The Deschutes is near and dear to my heart since I was born not far from there. Thanks for sharing. Beautiful pictures as well.

GordonMay 6th, 2010 at 11:40 am

Great Stuff!!

Chris HuntMay 8th, 2010 at 7:15 am

Beautiful report! Makes me want to go there. My first bikepacking excursions were on the unpaved railtrails in the southeast, Greenbrier, New River Gorge, Virginia Creeper, etc. It’s a great way to get into the sport and get used to what one needs without too much suffering from early on bad decisions. Nice photos too! Exceptionally clear and sharp. You must have had some good glass on that camera.

KenJune 2nd, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Pls provide the directions to the trail head parking coming from the Richland, WA area.

sparklehorseJune 3rd, 2010 at 1:11 am

Hi Ken,
Looks like a little over two hours and you’re there:

Google Map

FYI, if you’re planning an overnighter, there’s a $5 per night fee to park your car at the Deschutes State Park. You could park it outside the gate I suppose, but it’s likely safer inside the park. There’s a campground there, camp host, even what looks like a ranger residence. Drive as far south as you can in the park. That’ll be the overnight extra car lot, and the trailhead is right there. Enjoy!

Gordon

DavidJune 15th, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Awesome Photography!!! If that isn’t what you do as a profession….it should be!

TommignonAugust 6th, 2010 at 8:08 am

Awesome report. Great trip.

Dan OSeptember 26th, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Nice write and pictures – enjoyed it. Cool trip.

IsauraAugust 21st, 2011 at 10:39 pm

The core of your writing whilst sounding reasonable at first, did not really settle well with me after some time. Somewhere within the sentences you were able to make me a believer unfortunately only for a very short while. I however have got a problem with your jumps in assumptions and one would do well to fill in those breaks. In the event you can accomplish that, I will surely end up being impressed.

sparklehorseAugust 22nd, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Isaura writes:
>>I however have got a problem with your jumps in assumptions and one would do well to fill in those breaks. In the event you can accomplish that, I will surely end up being impressed.<<

I re-read my report and didn't notice any jumps in assumptions. I'm more of a photographer than a writer, so I primarily let my photos tell my story. If you can be more specific I'd be happy to fill in any details.

Gordon

Gabriel AmadeusDecember 28th, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Nice report! I actually did a 1-way trip down from Maupin, and I can assure you those middle 5 miles are NOT a place to drag a bike into!

Check out my photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gabrielamadeus/sets/72157622073441673/

JoDecember 28th, 2011 at 11:15 pm

I go up there 2x/yr. It is beautiful, but you broke one rule that could have gotten you in big trouble if sheriff boat had come by (and they frequently patrol). No fires…ever! Also just 3 miles past Harris ranch there are a lot of big horn sheep in the area. go farther next time and you will see them.

Rustam N. (Moscow)September 2nd, 2012 at 6:39 am

SooGood Foto! Thanks!!!

Add your review / comments

Your comment

Protected by WP Anti Spam

bikepacking.net is powered by WordPress | Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS)|