Spring time in Central Oregon is a magical time. Sun, snow, rain, sleet, thunder, all in the same day sometimes. But it is starting to warm up and your feet are itching to hit some trails yet the mountains are still buried under feet of snow. You could wait til June, but that can feel like a kid waiting for Chirstmas. Don't punish yourself. There are plenty of beautiful places in Central Oregon to hike in the early Spring months. Here are five of our favorites. Feel free to click on any hike to go to a more detailed overview. Unless you're scared.....
The Painted Hills have been desingated as one of the 7 wonders of Oregon, and the best time to see them is in the spring. The Painted Hills are located in the very arid John Day Basin, near Mitchell, and can get crazy hot during the summer. But during the spring, the grasses are green throughout the park and, when the hills have had some recent precipiation, their colors really pop. If you have ever visited in the summer or fall and been unimpressed with the bleached out hills, give it another try during this more vibrant time of year.
We've listed all five different hikes within the Painted Hills here because they are all so short. A lot of what there is to see can be seen from the road, but a trip up Carol Rim or through the Painted Cove will really add to your apprecaition of this magical place. But because they are all so short, and because Mitchell is a little bit of a drive, if you've found your way all the way out here, you may as well do all of them.
The Scout Camp trail on the Middle Deschutes offers some spectacular canyon scenery on a relatively short, if steep hike. Here, the river has carved its ways through varying layers of basalt, tuff, and old river deposits. In addition, the trail also overlooks the confluence of Whychus Creek with the Deschutes River, granting views of two different canyons coming together.
The trail to Scout Camp is easily assessible in the spring time, being located in Crooked River Ranch. The trail is generally free of snow as well, thanks to its low elevation. Spring makes an excellent time to visit this area, when the temperatures aren't blazing, the grasses are green, and the color in the cliff bands really stand out.
Chimney Rock is a unique rock formation located on the canyon rim above the Crooked River. It resembles a chimney, if you can imagine that. It is found along the Wild and Scenic portion of the Crooked River, above Prineville. Within the canyon, 50 million years of geologic history are on display. Different colorful layers of basalt, ash, and sedimentary deposits from numerous different eruptions, occurring over thousands of years, are all visible along the hike.
Again, the trailhead to Chimney Rock is located right off a paved road at a relatively low elevation, making access during the early spring months relatevily easy. The high desert of Central Oregon can get uncomfortably hot in the summer, so the shoulder seasons are often the best time to visit. And the Crooked River Canyon is just an awesome place to see.
The Tam-a-láu trail is a beautiful loop that takes you by a point on a plateau near where the Crooked and Deschutes Rivers meet in Lake Billy Chinook. Tam-a-láu is a Native American term meaning “place of big rocks and ground” and the name certainly fits. The views from the steep cliffs looking out over the two arms of the reservoir at the same time are truly spectacular.
During the early spring season, you will find yourself nearly alone in this normally, very busy park. Beautiful wildflowers will bloom on the arid plateau and underneath the rimrocks. And you won't need to pack 16 liters to water. WINNING!
Smith Rock began its formation around 30 million years ago when a large caldera that stretched from Smith Rock, through Powell Butte, and all the way to Prineville, collapsed into an underground lava chamber. The resulting avalanche of rock and ash filled the caldera and then solidified into a rock called tuff which makes up much of Smith Rock’s amazing cliffs.
You can see the majority of the park by taking one of two trails, either Misery Ridge or the Summit Trail. Misery Ridge, the most famous trail at Smith Rock, will take you up and over the narrow strip of rock between the meander of the Crooked River. The Summit Trail will take you around the border of the park, covering the backside many visitors never see. Both trails will dump you back out onto the River Trail near Monkey Face, affording some beautiful views of the formations along the Crooked River on the way back.
Smith Rock makes for a great spring getaway. Wildflowers are starting to bloom and the heat is much more bearable (they don't call it Misery Ridge for nothing). The vistas here are some of the best and most dramatic in the state. Just don't expect to enjoy them alone.