Just a 45-minute drive north of Bend, several miles south from where the Deschutes River cuts through the soaring escarpments of the Cove Palisades State Park and adjacent to the rolling prairies of Crooked River National Grassland, you’ll encounter one of Central Oregon’s most photogenic cascades.
Steelhead Falls forms at a point where water has colorfully eroded the area’s cliffs over several million years. Here the Deschutes, which flows north, tumbles down a 20-foot cascade into a rippling canyon pool surrounded by colorful rimrock. On warm summer days, especially if you’ve worked up a sweat climbing or hiking at nearby Smith Rock State Park, this easily accessed spot on BLM land is perfect for a refreshing dip, and you can also fish for steelhead in the river below the falls. In winter you may see the falls caked in ice and the surrounding canyon covered with snow (the trail is open year-round).
To reach Steelhead Falls from Redmond, drive north 6 miles on U.S. 97, turn left in Terrebonne onto Lower Bridge Market Road, turn right onto Northwest 43rd Street, and then follow the signs along back roads through Crooked River Ranch to the trailhead parking area and campground on River Road (about 9.5 miles from the turnoff from U.S. 97). Parking is free; no pass is required. The juniper- and scrub-dotted trail meanders from the parking area for about a half-mile, with a slight incline — including a couple of short but slightly steep stretches — to the falls. Be on the lookout, especially when it’s sunny, for rattlesnakes, which do sometimes hide in and around rocks and bushes. And also let your eyes wander skyward, where you might spy golden eagles and raptors overhead.
Pets are permitted but must be kept on a leash. There’s limited parking for trailers, and there is an outhouse but no potable water. Campfires are permitted, but there are fire restrictions in effect in summer. Of course, pack a towel and swimsuit, as on hot days there’s nothing like a refreshing dip in the pool at the base of the falls.