The Cline Buttes Recreation Area is home to miles and miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, all within a short drive from Bend, Redmond, or Sisters. The Tumalo Canal Historic Area is a spot that has been set aside for hikers only, in order to try and preserve the historic canals as much as possible. Much of the hike here is typical of the Central Oregon High Desert as you march through Juniper, sagebrush, and sand. But the weather can be very temperate in the cooler months and the site is accessible year-round. There is also a cool historic component to the hike.
The history of the area dates back to 1903 when it was planned as part of the Southern Irrigation Project. The project was advertised throughout the U.S. and abroad to promote settlement in the region. A 72-foot tall earthen dam was constructed about 7 miles to the southwest of the area, creating Tumalo Reservoir, and an extensive network on canals was planned to deliver that water to over 27,000 acres of potential farm land. Everything went downhill in 1915 when Tumalo Reservoir suddenly began to drain. Witnesses described seeing a whirlpool in the reservoir as geologic fissures and cracks emptied the lake and the project died a waterless death.
The hike begins from a newly developed trailhead just off Barr Road. If you head towards the restroom, you will see a head heading back towards Barr Road and around a picnic table and some informational kiosks. Take it and cross over Barr Road. The trail will head towards a rock wall up ahead of you. Climb a small, steep hill and find yourself on one of the historic canals planned for the abandoned project. You can head either direction here, but I went right. So now you have to read about it that way.
You will follow the path of the historic canal for the first 2.5 miles of the trail. You can spot being in a canal by looking for side cast, or a mound of dirt, along the side of the trail. You will also proceed along an amazing flat trajectory, losing or gaining almost no elevation in those 2.5 miles. There are also numerous other trails present within the area, so you can alter to route to make it shorter or longer as you see fit. The path described here takes you around the perimeter of the area.
You will encounter your first trail junction just a quarter mile from the trailhead. Most all the junctions are marked with signs, helping to inform you as to your location. This particular junction is marked as Junction 1. Keep heading straight down the trail on this as. If you follow it to you left, you will be heading towards the equestrian part of the area.
Follow the trail/canal for the next 2 miles as it snakes through the juniper and around rocky ridges. There will be a couple other trail junctions along the way if you wish to shorten your hike. About 2.1 miles from the trailhead, you will encounter an old road the cuts across the canal. Follow the road to the left as you finally leave to old canal. But keep your eyes open because as soon as you leave it, you should notice a concrete structure in the canal. This is an old raceway which was sued to funnel water uphill! Magic is real. Well, fluid mechanics is real, but it’s practically magic.
Follow this section of trail, called Bennett Road, as I slowly heads downhill back towards Barr road for the next mile. You will pass by a couple more trail junctions on your left as you go, which would take you back to the canal you already hiked along if you take them. About 0.6 miles from the raceway, you will reach Junction 8. If you are tired of walking on the old road and prefer a more traditional hiking trail, and you don’t mind adding about a quarter mile to your hike, you can take a right here. I will swoop to towards the base of a small hill before looping back towards Bennett Road.
Once you reach Junction 11, leave Bennett road and head left on a single track trail that feels more like a bike trail and a hiking one. The trail will weave and curve through the trees as it climbs a small ridge. You may start to wonder why all the curves, but I have no answer for you. It is kind of fun though.
After a mile along this path, you will reach your final junction, Junction 12. Here, the trail will drop down into another canal and there will be a four way intersection. Head right, not straight. Straight will take you all the way back to Junction 2. So go right and be happy. Its only about half a mile along that initial rock wall and you will be back to the trail head.
To reach the Tumalo Canal Trailhead, hop onto the Cline Buttes Highway by heading north from Tumalo or South of the Cline Falls Area off of Highway 126, 4 miles west of Redmond. Off of the Cline Buttes Highway, head west on Barr Road, which you will encounter 4 miles north of Tumalo or 6.2 miles south of Highway 126. Follow Barr Road for 1.6 miles until you reach the trailhead, which will be on your left. Barr Road quickly becomes a dirt road, but is well graded and most all cars should be able to reach the trailhead, no problem.
Passes: No passes are requried.
Dogs: Allowed and must be on least or under voice command at all times.
Open Season: Open and accessible all year. The trail can get hot and dusty in the summer and may be covered in snow or will be muddy at times in the winter.