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Whitewater rafters, anglers, kayakers, horseback riders, hikers, and mountain bikers are all drawn to the beauty, wildlife, and history of the Lower Deschutes River, a designated national Wild and Scenic River. The Deschutes River Railbed Trail extends from the shaded camping and family river activities of Deschutes River State Recreation Area into a rare, remote, and scenic river canyon.
You should expect intense heat in the canyon; snacks, liters of insulated water, and hats are recommended. A spring jaunt in moderate weather highlights lupines and other wildflowers—a perfect renewal from the rainy northwest winters. Equestrians may request a trail reservation from March to June.
Caution: The route is dotted with tire-slicing puncture vine, which is cleared by rangers. Bikers should carry tube sealant, along with a patch kit or extra tubes. If you take a side trail, be alert: Grasses may hide rattlers and bull snakes, as well as nestling fawns and ticks. If you leave the wide-open path, consider gaiters or pants tucked into socks.
The trains that used to roll by across the river were built during a turbulent, political east–west clash, when two railroad companies fought from 1908 to 1911 to dominate the route from the mouth of the Columbia River to Bend. The Deschutes Railroad, where you stand, extended 95 miles to Metolius, while BNSF Railway now owns the 156 miles of the competing Oregon Trunk.
Begin your journey from the state recreation area trailhead, located uphill via a short, narrow pathway. Watch for western meadowlarks, ospreys, doves, golden eagles, herons, and the distinctive black on white of magpies.
At 3.5 miles, you'll approach a patch of shade trees, as well as a trail to the river (with picnic tables and a toilet). Horse troughs and hitching posts begin at 4.5 miles, accompanied by the first of several renovated boxcars providing shelter and history. Along the way, you'll also pass a small trestle and a rock wall built by Chinese railroad workers. A toilet and boxcar at mile 8 offer a good spot for a river swim and respite from the sun. Cottonwood trees planted for shade and grains planted by rangers attract pheasants, quail, chukars, foraging deer, and elk.
Ten miles into the route, the canyon widens and flattens under towering rock formations beside a remnant of a river bridge. The horse path ends at the old Harris Ranch and railroad water tower at mile 11, where many hikers and bikers also turn back.
The bike trail ends at mile 17, as does an accommodating hike. The trail continues 7 rugged miles to Macks Canyon Campground, going up and down the canyon walls once traversed by trestles.
From The Dalles, head east on Interstate 84/US 30 to Exit 97. Take a right and then an immediate left. Follow State Route 206/Celilo-Wasco Highway for 3 miles to the Deschutes River State Recreation Area, on your right, just past the Deschutes River Bridge.
If you're heading west on I-84/US 30, take Exit 104. Turn left, and then make an immediate right onto Biggs-Rufus Highway. Continue for 4.4 miles, and turn left into the Deschutes River State Recreation Area.
Park at the end of the park road. Follow a sign up a steep narrow path to the Railbed Trail.
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