Riley Ranch is a nature reserve on the northwest edge of Bend that offers some great, easy loop trails with some scenic views right near town if you are looking for a quick stroll with a forested feel. Just be sure to leave you dog at home, because they are not allowed here, even on leash, in order to minimize impacts to wildlife and the landscape. The area features riparian areas along with the Deschutes River’s rocky canyon, fields of golden bunchgrass, Ponderosa Pine and Juniper woodlands, and areas of cliff and lava flows.
The hike begins at the parking area for the Riley Ranch Nature Preserve. A nice, wide gravel path leads from trailhead near a couple of informational kiosks, showing you maps of the area and describing the environment. The upper portions of the hike, along the Juniper and Sage Flat Loops are soft and wide and easy to walk on. When the trail splits quickly after leaving the parking area, head to the left towards the river canyon.
There will be several cutoffs to the loop if you are wanting to just take a quick walk in Riley Ranch. For example, only about a quarter mile from the trailhead, you will reach an intersection with the Juniper and Sage Flat trails. If you head right on the Juniper Loop, you will loop back towards the parking area after about half a mile. However, if you want to see all the Riley Ranch Nature Reserve has to offer, make a left on the Sage Loop Trail and continue.
Soon after joining the Sage Flat Loop, you will reach a beautiful overlook of the Deschutes River and its rocky canyon. There will be a couple move viewpoints as you wonder down the trail, with the Sage Flat Overlook perching on top of a small cliff over a sea of golden bunchgrass, and the Canyon overlook perching you out over a field of broken lava.
About a mile from the trailhead, you will come to the junction with the Canyon Loop Trail. Head off the nice wide gravel onto a more traditional dirt single track as you switchback down the canyon, dropping 100 feet in only a tenth of a mile.
At the bottom of the canyon, you will find yourself on a wide bench below the rimrock cliffs. The trail splits again here and the Canyon Loop does exactly that around this bench. You can go either way, but I generally think views of the river are nicer if your hiking upstream, so I choose to go right. There is a nice forest of Ponderosa Pines down here and you will even pass the remains off an old cabin that was built more than 100 years ago.
At the tip of the loop there will be a trail heading down river. If you choose to follow it, it will take you all the way to Tumalo State Park, only about 1.5 miles downstream, and past a nice log jammed up in the middle of the river where I spent a very uncomfortable night back in 1996, but we don’t need to go into that now. To continue the loop lead to the left and upstream. The trail hugs the river here and there are a few little side trails that will take you down to the water. The entire canyon loop is about 1 mile long before you find yourself back at the bottom of the canyon, looking up that fun, switch-backing trail.
Once you climb out of the canyon, head to the left and continue your journey along the Safe Flats Loop once again. There are some nice views of the mountains and the relaxing stroll on the gravel path is a great way to end your journey.
From Bend, you want to find yourself on O.B. Riley Road heading north. From the intersection with Empire Road, continue on O.B. Riley for 0.7 miles before making a left onto Glen Vista Road. There will be a sign pointing to Riley Ranch Nature Reserve. Follow Glen Vista for another half a mile and there, the road will split. Follow the signs to the reserve to the left and you will be there in a quick shake of a lamb’s tail or some offer metaphor meaning quickly.
Passes: No passes are required.
Dogs: No allowed
Open Season: The trails are open year round, but can get muddy, icy, or snowy in the winter especially down in the canyon.