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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.
We just mountain biked this trail (in May) and it was really beautiful! It was a pretty hot day, so we didn't go as far as we would have liked because our water supply was running low. It's really hard to stay cool out there because there's absolutely no shade, so be prepared! We also stayed on the path and still managed to run into TWO rattlesnakes! Bring plenty of water, a snake bite kit, and know your stuff! The view of the river is breathtaking, as well as the abandoned buildings and minty green sagebrush! We're gonna go back as soon as it cools down.
This trail is not paved, but most of what I traversed was compact ground. It follows the Deschutes river and has some wonderful views. I have only ridden up this trail 5 miles, but take trains up the opposite side almost daily.
June 16, 2012
I'm writing this review two years after the above date.
I took the trusty BikeE on the trip. It did ok but the mountain bike would have been a better choice as I destroyed my rear tire on the way back when I hit a big rock.
The Scenery was amazing. The typical desert rolling hills of eastern Oregon punctuated by the blue and green ribbon of the Deschutes River flowing through the canyon. I saw some deer and even bighorn sheep. There is no shade or water so plan accordingly. The trail is high above the valley floor. The surface is hard-packed crushed rock double track. Sometimes it was just easier riding in the center. Several rafters went by during my journey. There were several outhouses along the way and what looked like camping areas down below along the river.
The grade is slightly uphill from the start at the Columbia River where there is a great place to spend the night at the campgrounds. I van camped for only a pittance which included a great shower facility. The camp hosts were super nice and even gave me a bottle of water as I was hitting the trail.
Warning, it can be hot. Ride early and take lots of water (3-4 liters per person). There is no shade and the afternoon sun creates a furnace in the canyon.
We (myself, wife, kids 15,13,11--all on front suspension hybrid bikes) rode 26 miles without any problems. The road surface is mostly packed small gravel with some washboard areas that can be avoided by riding toward the center of the road. We were told the road runs out around mile 17.
Great sights along the way include the rocky cliffs, boxcars, homestead, watertower, large birds and snakes. The river beckons but it generally too hard to get to. Beware of rattle snakes but enjoy!
Some sections of this railroad grade are infested with a weed called Puncture Vine or Goat Head. In the fall this plant produces sharp seeds which puncture bicycle tires and ruin both tires and tubes. This is a noxious weed and each infestation encountered should be reported to the Bureau of Land Management in Prinville Oregon. This weed cost me two tires and tubes and a long push out on Oct 20, 2009.
"This trail is still firmly in the ""it's got potential"" category. On many other rails to trails rides that I've been on, there was a bit of romance to riding on a railroad bed that had been resurfaced. This particular railroad bed is little more than a well used and quite washboarded double track road. Between the corrugated surface and long stretches of dirt mixed with chunky volcanic rock, it's a 35 (GPS measured) mile long bone-shaker of an expedition. Don't even THINK about doing it with a regular street bike. I have a dual suspension quality mountain bike, and I still took a beating. It didn't help that the ambient temperature was over 105. I'd suggest that you make the trip out to the abandoned station houses/ranch house, going past that point (around mile 12) nets you nothing but more rocky going. Bring lots of water (I went through a full half gallon), don't bring kids unless you wish to have your folly brought up at every future family reunion."
"This trail is a must for history buffs who like a taste of the outdoors. Along the trail are two old wooden box cars and two trestles. The trail was re-graveled and compacted in September '04 to about mile 7. At mile 11, there is an abandoned station that is in remarkable shape. Inside is the original sofa, icebox, stove, fireplace, and other furnishings from 1935 when the line was abandoned. At mile 12, the water tower used to refill steam locomtives is still standing. Truly an awesome trail."
"This trail is a favorite of ours. We did 28 miles (round trip) this spring 2003. I had my 7-year-old on a hitch-hiker attached to my mountain bike. It took us about seven hours total with plenty of stops.
The trail is bumpy, rocky, windy, dry and rugged with spectacular views. Check out the abandoned cattle ranch about 11 miles out. Watch out for rattle snakes!"
"Good trail, not for the novice. Kinda' bumpy and rocky in spots. Dry and dusty in the hot months. It's nice having the great river with ample swimming opportunities. Try spring or mid-fall when the temperature is better and people are less frequent.
Nice views. CLEAN air! Worth a look if you want a semi-challenging ride."
"Since this former rail line is not a paved trail it is not ""kid-friendly."" Even the older kids have problems going more than a few miles on the trail since it is not maintained with gravel, but a lot of rocks. It makes for a very rough, bumpy ride.
I really like the view of the river and the countryside. There is a box car along the route, which is a nice touch. I just wished that this trail was better maintained."
"Enjoyable bike ride when the weather is not hot. Hard packed gravel,low use during a weekday, spring/01. Carry water."
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