Near downtown Bend, the Deschutes River is slow-flowing and crowded with inner tubes, kayaks, and stand up paddle boards on most summer days. Seven miles upstream from town, however, the river is moody and untamed, alternating between glassy/calm and angry/churning as it passes by grassy meadows, dense forests, and rugged lava flows.
We’ve hiked different sections of the Deschutes River Trail many times with Zoe (and the stretch in between Lava Island Falls and the Aspen boat launch is a regular running route) but the stretch in between Dillon Falls and Benham Falls is the most scenic in my opinion since you get to visit two wonderful waterfalls, pass through dense forests and by grassy meadows, and enjoy peek-a-boo views of Broken Top framed partially by the vast Newberry lava field.
From the Dillon Falls day use area we started by hiking north towards Dillon Falls.
This short stretch of trail is extremely scenic and watching the Deschutes River crash violently through the lava canyon is pretty entertaining. After admiring the brute force of the river for five or ten minutes we turned around and started hiking south towards Benham Falls. The first stretch of trail skirts a large wetland area and is fantastic in Fall when the stands of aspens on the far side of the river are intensely orange and yellow. This stretch is also very popular with dog owners and presented an interesting challenge since Zoe is not overly friendly with other dogs. After passing a half dozen or more dogs, we left the flats and began a rolling section of trail through the trees. After a little more than a mile we arrived at the Slough Day Use Area. This area seemed like a nice spot for a picnic but the mosquitos were out and so we continued on to Benham Falls. The next mile or so of the trail leading up to Benham Falls is very scenic and there are partial views of the Cascades from one of the high points along the way.
Benham Falls is a very popular waterfall and the viewing area was packed with people when we arrived. The hike back to the car (mostly downhill) was easy and we spent 30 minutes or so looking for geocaches along the way. Once back at the car we headed over to Village Baker in Bend and celebrated our mellow hike with tasty sandwiches and salad.