I’ve probably thought about this list of the best fall color hikes in the Bend, Oregon area way too much. I love Bend and the Central Oregon area as much as anyone and as a landscape photographer, I’ve done an extraordinary amount of hiking and scouting in the Bend area for photography purposes. So, with lots of hiking experience in the Bend area and with a strong desire to represent the Central Oregon area very well, I present you my first top 10 list ever! Top 10 fall color hikes in the Bend, Oregon area.
1. Metolius River– The Metolius River is gorgeous any time of the year but autumn is my favorite season and the Metolius has an abundance of fall color in good years.
I captured the above image of the Metolius River this fall and I can’t wait to make some beautiful fine art photographs. The Metolius River has several great trail heads for hiking purposes. The West Metolius trail, easily accessed from the Wizard Falls fish hatchery is one of my favorite trail heads for fall color hikes and another is the Metolius River Trail accessed from “Lower Bridge”, also know as Bridge 99, which is located downstream from the fish hatchery. Below is another new image of the the Metolius, which can be accessed via these stretches of the Metolius.
Vine Maples, like the one seen here are the primary source of fall color along the Metolius but a bit later in the season, Larch trees begin their seasonal glow. The Camp Sherman Store is a great base camp for exploration in the Metolius River basin. They are quick to give advice and it is a wonderful little place. They have all the basic provision you will need for hiking, camping, and flyfishing, they make an epic cold cut sandwich and they have my favorite drink coolers in the world! Additionally, the Camp Sherman Store carries my line of Oregon greeting cards, so stop in to the store, grab a sandwich, buy a greeting card and tell them that I sent you!
2. Deschutes River Trail. The Deschutes River Trail is one of Bend’s prime hiking destinations and in autumn, it can be phenomenal. The following image of the Deschutes River, from the trail was captured several years ago at the height of autumn color.
The Deschutes River Trail can be accessed via Century Drive which heads south from Bend. The Meadow Camp trail head is located on the left, just before you get to Widgi Creek golf course as you head south on Century Drive, towards Mt. Bachelor. There is another Deschutes River trail access point located just past the Inn of the Seventh Mountain, also on the left side of Century Drive as you head south. Some of my favorite trail heads along the Deschutes River Trail include, Benham Falls, Dillon Falls, Aspen Camp, Slough and Meadow Camp. While you will not find vine maples along the Deschutes River Trail, you will find some glorious groves of Aspen trees, like the one seen below as well as choke cherry, fireweed and red osier dogwood, all of which offer some excellent fall color.
3. Tumalo Falls and Tumalo Creek. Like the Deschutes River Trail, the Tumalo Falls area also has some stunning stands of aspen trees which light-up in autumn. Tumalo Falls is located west of Bend and is another wonderful epicenter for hiking in the Bend area. The North Fork Trail which climbs along Tumalo Falls, passes by many other waterfalls and it is a great hiking trail in spring, summer and fall. In winter, the Tumalo Falls area is usually snowed in and it offers some excellent snowshoeing or cross country skiing options.
Another great hiking trail in the Tumalo Falls area is the Tumalo Creek Trail which can be accessed from Near Freemont Meadow, located in Bend’s Shevlin Park and off of Skyliners Drive, west of Bend. To access the Tumalo Creek Trail off of Skyliners Drive, drive west out of Bend on Skyliners Drive. 2.4 miles west of Mt. Washington Drive, turn right on a dirt/gravel road then turn left on to forest service road #4606. Continue on FS 4606 for 1.5 miles until you reach a bridge over Tumalo Creek. The trail is on the far side of the creek but take any parking spot you can find. From here you can travel downstream to Shevlin Park or upstream towards Tumalo Falls.
4. Shevlin Park. Shevlin Park is part of the Bend Oregon park system. It is a gem of a park, encompassing 652 acres and 9.8 miles of trails within its boundaries. As I previously mentioned, by following the Tumalo Creek Trail upstream from Fremont Meadow, one can hike all the way to Tumalo Falls. Shevlin Park, Like the Tumalo Falls Area, has some wonderful stands of aspen trees as well as some special larch groves.
Some of my favorite parts of Shevlin Park are the aspen groves near Fremont Meadow and the riparian areas near the far footbridge at the back of the park.
5. Santiam Pass/North Santiam River. A favorite drive for visitors to the Bend area is a loop which encompasses both Santiam Pass and Mckenzie Pass. The lava fields on Santiam Pass are decorated with vine maples which typically peak in color early in October. The North Santiam River offers many roadside stops which are great locations for fall exploration. There are many vine maples in this area of Santiam Pass including those you see below, overhanging the North Santiam River.
6. Mckenzie River/ the Blue Pool( aka Tamolitch Pool). The Mckenzie River which originates along Highway 126, west of the cascades crest is another autumn wonderland with lots of hiking options. Vine Maples like those seen below are plentiful in the McKenzie River area.
The Mckenzie River Trail, also located along Highway 126 extends 26 miles along the Mekenzie River and includes highlights such as Sahalie Falls, Koosah Falls, Clear Lake and My favorite, the Blue Pool, also know as the “Tamolitch Pool”. The Blue Pool is one of those magical locations which is better experienced than read about. The Mckenzie River disappears underground not far from the Blue Pool and the Blue Pool is where the River re-surfaces. The water in the pool is so blue that it is mind boggling, making this section of the McKenzie River a must see for hikers with a passion for mystical places. The Blue Pool is crystal clear and quite deep and gladly offers some attractive fall color.
I’ll soon release a new fine art photograph( not the image you see here) of the Blue Pool, so please check back as I think it will be stunning. To visit the Blue Pool/ Tamolitch Pool from Bend, travel west on Highway 20, through the city of Sisters and over Santiam Pass until you get to Highway 126 where you will turn left. Continue straight until you see a sign for TrailBridge campground where you will take a right. Cross over the river, stay to the right and continue to the parking area a couple of hundred yards away. The signage at the parking area mentions the “Tamolitch Pool” but it does not mention the “Blue Pool”. Never fear, they are one and the same. From the trail head, the Blue Pool/Tamolitch Pool are approximately a 2 mile hike away. The hike is attractive and the Blue Pool is sublime!
- 7. Smith Rock State Park . Smith Rock State Park is internationally renowned for its rock climbing but it also has some subdued yet attractive fall color. Color at Smith Rock is focused along riparian areas near the shores of the Crooked River. Hikers can find Red osier dogwood and cottonwoods in several areas of Smith Rock but my personal favorite area for color is the Crooked River Canyon, upstream from the park where there are nice riparian color displays with the stunning backdrop of “The Monument”, one of the more prominent rock features in the park.
To get great views of the Monument at Smith Rock, drive to the end of NE Crooked River Drive and hike the “Homestead Trail”.
8. Sparks Lake. About 25 miles south of Bend along the Cascade Lakes Highway is the beautiful Sparks Lake. Sparks Lake is an iconic daytripping destination for paddlers and hikers alike. Sparks Lake has some excellent displays of wild blueberries in fall but my favorite thing about it is the wonderful light that falls upon the lake in autumn. The sun stays low along the horizon in autumn and there are often turbulent weather fronts with interesting cloud formations. This combinations makes for some stunning sunrises and sunsets in Fall. Below is my favorite fine art landscape photograph of Sparks Lake taken in autumn.
In addition to stunning morning and evening color, Sparks Lake also offers some wonderful macro photography opportunities. Below is a macro of autumn ground cover I captured along the shores of Sparks Lake.
9. Tumalo State Park. Another beautiful fall hike in the Bend area is along the shores of the Deschutes River in Tumalo State Park. Tumalo State Park always has impressive rock formations but the riparian foliage really comes to live in autumn in Tumalo State Park. The hike through the Park is out and back with a turn around point when you reach the confluence of the Deschutes River and Tumalo Creek. Below is one of my favorite images from Tumalo State Park.
10. Mirror Pond/Drake Park. Last but certainly not least in my list of favorite fall color hikes in the Bend area is Beautiful Drake Park. While far from “remote’ or “wild” Drake Park is undeniably beautiful. Drake Park is situated in downtown Bend along the Deschutes River. In this part of downtown, the Deschutes River is dammed, forming the stunning mirror pond. Below is Mirror Pond with Middle and North Sisters framed in the heart of downtown Bend.
The color in Drake Park is primarily from domesticated maple trees but they are beautiful and no list of the best fall color hikes in the Bend, Oregon area would be complete without Drake Park.
If any of you readers have further recommendations for Oregon fall color hikes in Bend or the Central Oregon area, please leave them in the comments section below.
Thanks for Reading,