The Deschutes River can be thought of as the soul of Bend as it is responsible for much of what makes this charming mountain town such an amazing place to live and visit. There are trails that run along the river for much of its length, especially through the Bend area. This hike is located just upstream of Bend through some of the wilder sections of the river as it drops out of the Cascades.
Many of the falls and rapids along this stretch of river were created when as many as 12 cinder cones erupted on the northern flank of the Newberry Volcano. The lava that poured out of Lava Butte pushed the river further to the west, pinching it in places and creating dynamic falls and nice, soothing meadows between them.
The hike begins at the Lava Island Trailhead. If you want, you can hike downstream just a tad to where Lava Island splits the river between the main channel and the overflow channel. Unfortunately, the main channel is on the opposite side of the river, so the roaring rapids known as Lava Island Falls aren’t visible from the trail. So, to start the actual hike, head right and start marching upstream.
The trail follows the river bank through a tranquil setting of pine and fir as it moves through the slack water found above Lava Island Falls. The water and appear so smooth and still in places it almost feels like a lake. In a little less than a mile though, you will start to see lava flows on the far side of the river pinching the flow, and the velocity of the water will start to pick up. Soon afterward, you will come to a kind of opening where most the vegetation has been cleared out along the shore and the river pounds through a series of rapids. This is Big Eddy and this is the area to watch whitewater rafters drench themselves during the summer months as they plow through this class 3-4 hole.
Just past Big Eddy, the trail swings away from the river as it heads around a slough and past the big Eddy parking area. Keep heading upstream for another mile until you get to Aspen Camp. This is another parking area, trailhead, and boat launch for people floating the Big Eddy stretch of river. Just upstream of Aspen Camp, you will also see why it got its name, as stands of aspen line the shores. This can be especially spectacular in the fall months as all the leaves change.
Continue through the aspens and along the mirror-like river for another 0.4 miles until the river takes a hard left away from you. The area near the river becomes a swampy wetland, so the trail sticks to the trees for a third of a mile or so until the river bends back. About here, you should notice some rapids start to pick up as you reach the bottom end of Dillon Falls.
The trail hugs the river for a little while longer, taking you beneath some nice, mossy cliffs. You will have to climb one very steep section where logs have been placed as stairs to get out of the canyon, but its not too far, so I believe in you. Once you are top of the rocky bluff, continue upstream and take the time to venture to the edge from time to time so see the river crashing through the narrow canyon below you. This stretch lasts for about 0.1 miles until you reach actual Dillon Falls, as the river drops over a series of small falls as it enters the canyon. Following the falls, you can turn around and head back, or venture the final 0.15 miles to the Dillon Falls parking area, if maybe there is a bathroom you really desire to visit or something.
To reach the Lava Island Day Use Area and trailhead, travel west on Century Drive 7.9 miles from Bend, and then make a left onto Forest Road 41, just past the Inn of the 7th Mountain. Follow 41 for 0.4 miles before making another left onto Forest Road 4120 towards Lava Island Day Use Area. The road is paved almost the whole way, even though there are some serious potholes in it.
Passes:A Northwest Forest Pass is required.
Dogs: Allowed but must be leashed May 15 through September 15.
Open Season: Open all year, but there will be times during the winter when snow blocks access to the trailhead.
Bugs: Mosquitos will likely be present in the late spring, early summer months.