Benham Falls is one of several Class VI (that’s a rafting term that means if you try to float through here, you will likely die) drops located along the upper Deschutes River. The falls were created when the northwest flank of Newberry Volcano, and specifically here, Lava Butte, erupted, pouring cubic miles of lava out onto the landscape. The lava from Lava Butte rushed to the Deschutes, pinching and damming it several locations and creating these narrow, steep chutes of water.
Benham Falls can be reached by several different methods, the Deschutes River Trail downstream from Dillon Falls, from upstream along this trail, or you can just drive straight to the dang thing. But what fun is that. To reach Benham Falls from upstream, head to the Benham Falls East trailhead near Sunriver and Lava Lands. This area can get extremely busy, so parking is always an adventure. Find the trail as it travels along the river and heads downstream.
The trail quickly comes to a nice, wooden pedestrian bridge that crosses over the Deschutes. The river is so calm here, it is hard to image what is to come. After crossing the river, the trail proceeds downstream along the western shore. This is a mulit-use trail, so expect to see families biking, people jogging, forest people riding bears. They are all there. The riparian forest along the river is lush with aspen and brush, which change to beautiful colors in the autumn. Looking across the river, you can also spot the lava flow that originated from Lava Butte.
After about half a mile, you will begin to see the speed of the river picking up, and will be able to hear the roar of the falls in the distance. Watch for some side trails off to your right to get some better views of the falls. Just don’t take the ones that have been closed for restoration. You will reach the Benham Falls West trailhead after about ¾ of a mile. Don’t stop there though. Continue just past it down a series of switchbacks to a viewpoint, looking straight up the gut of Benham Falls. And be thankful you aren’t on your prized SUP trying to navigate that sucker right now.
To reach the Benham Falls East Trailhead, head south of Bend on Highway 97 for 11 miles and take the exit for Lava Lands. If you are coming from the south, take the Cottonwood Rd exit 1.5 miles north of Sunriver. Follow Cottonwood Road for 2 miles and then head left onto Crawford Road towards Lava Lands. Continue past Lava Lands for 3.7 miles until the road ends at the trailhead.
Passes: Northwest Forest Pass is required at the parking area of the visitor center.
Dogs: Dogs are required to be leashed between May 15th and September 15th.
Open Season: The trail and access road will likely be snow free from late March into Novemeber, but this can vary by year.