Oregon winters are a lot of fun, with plenty of snow sports activities, but by the time spring rolls around, locals are craving sun and seeing the horizon again.  The good news is that all of that winter rain and snow melt transforms the usually monochromatic arid grasslands of the state into a magical green carpet.  You’ll find the landscape dotted with rare and spectacular native wildflowers, just waiting to be discovered!

Just about an hour and half to the east of Portland, Deschutes State Park is open desert grassland.  Something about being under wide horizons in the spring and watching the sun and clouds play with each other in a spectacular display of light is enough to lift anyone’s spirits, and this is just the spot to do it.

Deschutes State Park itself has a long history.  Geologically, it is where the Deschutes River descends from the high Central Oregon plateau and meets the mighty Columbia River.   In human history, this was a home to native Oregonians who fished and lived off the land.  Despite the seemingly austere surroundings, the desert is alive with many edible plants and animals, and at one point, not too far from this park, the largest ‘city’ in North America (pre-European) existed…on an annual basis, it was estimated that up to 100,000 people from tribes all across the Pacific Northwest gathered to trade.    When the emigrants came to the area via the Oregon Trail, the Deschutes Crossing tested the mettle of determined settlers who had to try and get their wagons across the wide waterway as they continued their trek west.

Today, this area is a delightful state park with green grass and tall trees and is considered an oasis to campers, river rafters and hikers.   A former rail-way bed on the east side of the river heads south from the campground, and is a great way to stretch one’s legs and put behind some easy miles. The trail itself is level and graded, but there is a separate loop that goes down and follows the river, then climbs back up and pass on its way to the top of the ridgeline for some spectacular views of the rolling wheat lands about 1,500 feet above.

My husband Brad and I had the dogs with us and set out on our spring adventure.  The morning sunlight was almost blinding and completely glorious.  Bird song surrounded us.  After a few miles, and having the canyon arc away from the Columbia River Gorge, we saw Rattlesnake Rapids down below.  A couple of years ago when I was on this hike, I had spotted a wolverine down near the river.  (!)  Never had seen one of those before, and was glad I was far above looking down. Those are particularly surly animals!!

As we continued on our hike, swallows twittered high above us, snacking on newly hatched bugs and the like, and I heard the eerie descending chirruping of a canyon wren… I positively love the call of those birds.

Finally, as we got to about the 3.75 mile mark down the trail, there was an old corral and we stopped for lunch, enjoying the sun. Brad spotted what appeared to be a rusty wheel sticking out of some underbrush near the riverbank. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be part of an old plow (horse-drawn kind) that had gotten deposited into the ground.  “Multnomah Iron Works” read the manufacturer label, still visible.  I later researched the company and it apparently existed up through World World II, as best as I could tell.

At this point in our journey, the sun had been skittishly staying hopeful as puffy clouds strained to make their way up the Gorge, but the skies were now threatening a downpour. So we kicked it into high gear and started the return trip back.  As we were walking along, the winds picked up significantly, gusting between 15-35 mph.  This normally wouldn’t be a problem, but the previous season’s tumbleweeds had other plans.  With each long-winded gust, a group of about five to six tumbleweeds came flying past us.  Somehow, we got stuck in a tempest wind tunnel that kept reversing course; we would continue heading north on the trail, and the winds kept changing so that the tumbleweeds were passing us, then getting blown right back at our faces.  As quaint as they are in Western movies, those things hurt – with prickles all the way around! Imagine that coming at you at 35 mph!  Timmy the dog ended up getting completely wigged out as the tumbleweed would get caught on his face. Poor guy!

As we drew back closer to the car, the winds died down and the temperatures warmed back up.  Our tumbleweed friends had dropped behind us to our relief, and the blue sky was restored.  Far across the Columbia River, the hills were a soft verdant green.   Brad and I looked at each other and sighed- Oregon is such a “Gorge-ous” place to live!!

Flag as Incorrect

Is any of the information on this page incorrect?

Win a Pendleton Blanket


Subscribe to the Travel Oregon email newsletter and be entered to win a commemorative Crater Lake Pendleton Blanket.

Click here for terms and conditions.

You're almost there!
Click the link in the email we just sent you to confirm your subscription.

Hmm, something went wrong, please try later.