The Deschutes River Trail is a network of trails on which one could walk from the north side of Bend all with way to Sunriver, if one was so inclined, with a few detours away from the actual river, from time to time. The Lava Island section of the trail is the furthest downstream section of the trail located along the river in the Deschutes National Forest. Well, kind of along the river. There is an island of lava between you and the main channel, hence the name. But you do get to stroll along the overflow channel.
Begin your hike from the Meadow Camp Day Use area, right before the Widgi Creek Golf Course on Century Drive. You will be leaving from the furthest upstream parking area, so the closer you can park to the end of the road, the better. There is a loop around a restroom and the trail leaves from the backside of the loop, heading up a hill.
The trail climbs as you move past the confluence of overflow channel and the main channel of the Deschutes River. There are some cool rapids and small falls here as the flows combine. The island of lava was created 6,200 years ago when flows originating from Lava Butte poured into the river. The Deschutes split around the flow, creating the island we see today. Lava Island is a unique place, with twisted junipers and dwarf pines struggling to survive in the rocky landscape. There are even mosses and ferns tucked away in cracks in the rock, sustained by the moist, river air.
The trail continues along the overflow channel for half a mile before reaching a backwater slough and pond. There are a lot of cattails growing here and the trail will make a sharp turn to the left, crossing over an earthen dam. After across the berm, the path climbs back up the hillside a little and traverses the canyon below some cool rock formations.
At the one mile mark, you will encounter a small cave/overhang that early hunters used in the area. It was believed that this cave was used as far back as 7,000 years ago, and as recently as just 200 years ago. It also means you are nearing the turnaround point for the hike. It is just a little over a tenth of a mile further to reach the Lava Island Falls Trailhead and Boat Takeout. The falls themselves are found along the main section of the channel, and aren’t really visible unless you are on Lava Island itself. You can choose to turn around here, or keep on trekking towards Big Eddie and Dillon Falls. Cause the trail just keeps on going..
This hike begins at the Meadow Camp Day-use area, just west of Bend on Century Drive. From the traffic circle at Mt Washington and Century Drive, continue along Century Drive towards Mt Bachelor for 3.3 miles. Make a left towards Meadow Camp along a gravel road that runs right along the side of Widgi Creek golf course. You will reach Meadow Camp in about a mile along this washboardy road. The road will veer to the right and continue upstream once you reach Meadow Camp. The trailhead is all the way at the end of the road, but there isn’t a ton of parking up there, so look for any available space you see along the way.
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.