Last year at this time I had already practically worn out my skis, but La Nina has yet to show her face this winter in Central Oregon. However, one of the best things about this area is that it doesn’t really matter what the weather is like. There is always something to do outside! I’ve spent some of my Christmas break exploring a few lesser known (and less crowded) trails that make for great hiking when the weather is cold but the snow has yet to fly. I would not want to do either of these hikes in the summer heat! Read on to learn about hiking the Tumalo Canal Historic Area and Scout Cove along the Deschutes River.
Both of these trails have been recently developed by the Prineville BLM district.
Tumalo Canal Historic Area
Tucked back in the public lands between Cline Buttes and the small town of Tumalo is the Tumalo Canal Historic District. This is a small network of pedestrian only trails in an area that has been popular with equestrian, mountain bike, and OHV users. I visited on a quiet Thursday morning and although there were a couple of other cars at the trailhead we didn’t see anyone else on the trail. It is off-leash dog friendly so Thor got to sniff and wander to his heart’s content.
The terrain of the area is like a lot of the high juniper desert around Central Oregon, with occasional panoramic views of the cascades and an interesting spin on history. Signs at the trailhead give a brief overview:
In 1903, lands in this area and the planned Columbia Southern Irrigation Project were advertised throughout the U.S. and abroad, promoting settlement in Central Oregon. Construction began on a 72-foot high earthen dam and an extensive network of canals to deliver water to 27,000 acres. The project failed in 1915 when Tumalo Reservoir, filled nearly to capacity, began to drain out through the geologic fissures and cracks. The historic dam is located 7 miles to the southwest on Sisemore Road, just north of Couch Market Road. Relic canals, like those that form the trail system in this area, are still visible today throughout the area at a 3,200 ft elevation. Some of these relic canals are near or connect to operating Tumalo Irrigation District Canals.
The trails we followed were a combination of new trail, road, and old canal. We found some interesting ruins along the way (including old stone foundation that I dubbed a moonshiner’s hideout thanks to the trail name of “Whiskey Still Ridge”).
Scout Camp Trail
Scout Camp Trail has been on my todo list for a while, but it was always too hot outside when it popped up as an option. The trail is a short (~2.4 miles) loop from the plateau of Crooked River Ranch down to the Deschutes River. It is very steep and slippery due to pea gravel, but absolutely worth the views! Follow the loop in a clockwise direction to go up the steepest part instead of sliding down, but to be honest it’s super steep in either direction.
The trail starts flat and boring out of the trailhead, but it isn’t long before you reach the canyon edge and spectacular views. Look around for wildlife; we saw deer, an otter, and plenty of signs of raptors. As you descend to the river you pass through layers and layers of rock formations, each one different from the last. Before climbing back out of the canyon, there is a fun little rock scramble to get over.
We hiked this on a cool Friday morning and saw only one other person, a fly fisherman down along the river. For the record, he said the fishing was quite good that day. This wouldn’t be as pleasant a hike in hot weather, and I’ve been told of numerous rattlesnake dens. Although there are no signs prohibiting them, I left the dog home for this one. There are too many places for him to injure himself.
Lollipop Loop hike from a small trailhead in Crooked River ranch
Trailhead and Permit Notes:
As a BLM managed area there are no permits required to park or hike here. There are no facilities at the trailhead and room for 6-8 cars.
The Scout Camp trail is a short loop that will take you down to the edge of the river, but beware – although short, it is very steep and loose! I highly recommend taking the trail in the direction recommended by the little “trail” marker at the point where the loop splits. Lots of pea gravel and narrow trail alongside steep drop offs mean this is not a trail for acrophobics or those with weak knees. But if you can handle the trail, the Scout Camp loop is worth it for the views alone.