The Otter Bench and Opal Springs Loop trails are perched on a bench (with a distressingly few quantity of otters) above the Crooked River deep within Crooked River Ranch. The Crooked River, at this location, is nearing its confluence with the Deschutes River as it carves its way through a dramatic, steep sided, basalt canyon. Raptors can be seeing navigating the canyon and during the spring, wildflowers such as balsamroot and paintbrush pop up.
The hike begins from the Otter Bench trailhead and stays on the far side of the bench away from the canyon for the first 1.7 miles. The hike is relatively flat as you navigate your way through a typical Central Oregon high desert landscape of juniper and sagebrush. Once you reach a four-way intersection, head to the left and prepare to traverse the canyon on your way to the Opal Springs Loop.
The next half mile carves its way along the side of the canyon below a rim of columnar basalt as it heads towards the next bench. The views on this section of trail are pretty incredible, both up and down the canyon. For those of you afraid of heights, this section can be a little unnerving, as the canyon drops steeply away from you over 400 feet to the Crooked River below. Also watch for Raptors and other birds soaring between the canyon walls.
Once through the gauntlet, the terrain flattens out again as you reach the next bench. The Opal Springs Loop begins here. When you reach the intersection, head to the left and begin working your way around the loop. In a little over a mile, you will reach a beautiful viewpoint. Looking downriver, you can see the upper extend of the Crooked River Arm of Lake Billy Chinook, bounded by vertical cliffs on both sides. Upstream, keep your eyes peeled for Opal Springs. This area is composed of a small, 28 foot hydroelectric project. Below the dam, you can see Opal Springs itself gushing into the Crooked River at over 100,000 gallons per minute. If you’ve ever had a bottle of Earth2O, this is where it came from.
Following the lookout, the trail heads back towards the south and moves away from the cliff's edge. A little more than a mile through the juniper and sage will return you to the beginning of the Opal Springs Loop, and the mouth of the canyon side traverse once again. Plow through the half mile to return to the 4-way intersection. If it is not between February 1 and August 31, you can take the Horny Hollow Trail along the canyon rim back to the trailhead. However, if you are there during that time period (they close it for nesting birds), just return from wince you came.
From Highway 97 just north of Terrebonne, turn west onto Lower Bridge Road towards Crooked River Ranch. Travel 2.2 miles on Lower Bridge Road and then make a right onto 43rd St. This road will end in a T after another 1.8 miles, so turn left on NW Chinook Drive. You will remain on Chinook as it winds its way down the canyon and past the golf course at Crooked River Ranch. After a little over 5 miles, Chinook with turn into Horny Hollow Road. Remain on Horny Hollow for another 1.8 miles as you drive through the homes until you reach the trailhead at the end of the road.
Passes: No passes are required.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on leash or under voice command at all times.
Open Season: Year round.
Trail Closures: If you want to make a loop out of the first half of this hike as well, be aware that the Horny Hollow Trail is closed from February 1 through August 31 for nesting birds.