Let me start off by saying: by no means do I consider myself an expert at trail running, nor would I even say I’m that well-run when it comes to Central Oregon trails. But I’ve done a decent job exploring the area so if you’re looking for a run that’s accessible, fun, time-efficient and beautiful, I can at least point you in the right direction.
Deschutes River Trail
Close to home is the Deschutes River Trail. If I didn’t already love Bend, this trail got my hooked. It is smack-dab in the middle town. (Now, you Forest Park-lovin’ Portlanders may not even bat your eyes when you hear this, but for all you big-city kids or small paper-town locals, a trail feature in town is incredible!)
I can have a beer at the brewery, return a book at the library, slurp down an almond milk cappuccino at one of Bend’s dozens of coffee shops and then hop on a trail for a run. Honestly, does anything sound more perfect?
You can begin just about anywhere along the Deschutes, but I tend to start at Riverbend Park, which has lots of parking. The route is half-paved, half-trail and runs by the Old Mill District before pulling you into a forest with breathtaking views — which may seem surprising considering you’re still in city. As your pace quickens, you’ll see lots of rapids and that Central Oregon sun shining through the trees. (After all, Bend is known for “300 days of sunshine.”)
A loop from the Bend Whitewater Park to the wooden trail bridge is between 5 to 6 miles. It’s not much elevation, but the run is easy and fun. Plus, everyone you see will smile at you.
Funny thing, I lived in Bend for a couple months before I finally heard about Shevlin. I don’t know if people were hiding it from me, but when I finally found Shevlin Park, I was astounded.
It’s great. And I’m not just being obnoxiously enthusiastic.
From downtown Bend, it only takes 10 or so minutes to get there. Shevlin Park is chock-full of trails. My main squeeze is the Shevlin Park Loop Trail. She’s a babe. This trail has fantastic ups and downs, which is probably why mountain bikers love it too. (But there aren’t too many bikers, don’t worry.)
Shevlin even has the coveted tree shade that evades much of Central Oregon. I like to linger at this cute spot with a little wooden bridge crossing a little blue creek; it is magical.
If you just do the loop, it’s about 6 miles. But if you’re interested in extending your run, there are several trails that branch off from the loop. If you like an obstacle course feel to a trail run, visit Shevlin Park — you won’t be disappointed.
When I first moved to Bend, I lived on China Hat Road, which links to a number of trails. And while they might not be the most picturesque running trails, they sure get the job done. If you’re looking for a one-and-done, there-and-back, take-it-or-leave-it run, then check out this spot.
Head east on China Hat Road to Bessie Butte. Those in the mood for some hill training, by all means, take on Bessie. She’s only about three-quarters of a mile to the top, and it’s a pretty sweet view from there. Note: do not try to take an alternate route down the butte. Despite the illusion of a trail, there is no alternative path down that the clearly marked one, and you will get stuck in a lot of desert brush with rattlesnakes on your mind. Trust me.
Anyone looking to get some actual mileage should take the trail across from the Bessie Butte trailhead. For whatever reason it’s called Swamp Wells — I don’t know why because I have never found a swamp. This trail is pretty easygoing, with a couple of tiny hills but otherwise flat. It’s also pretty exposed so on a hot or windy day, this might not be the best pick. I have ran around 10 miles on this trail and found it turns into a gravel road at about 8 miles. The coolest part is about 6 miles in, when after a whole lot of flat, you reach an unexpected butte in the middle of the forest. I’m certain views from this hidden gem are where gas station postcards are born.
Now, the trail you’ve probably been waiting for… Green Lakes. Gosh, it even sounds nice.
The Green Lakes Trailhead is found about 26 miles down Central Oregon’s pride and joy, the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. It’s one of my favorite parts about living in Bend.
Green Lakes is one of the more popular trails out here and once you check it out, you’ll understand why. A 4-mile run through a wooded forest, twisting and turning over creeks, ridges and wooden bridges, leads you to simply stunning lakes that provide a fantastic view of South Sister. Round-trip is roughly 8 miles. That’s all you have to give to be part of this magnificent scenery.
Do it. Seriously. Dead serious, do it.
This is another great run along the river. Park at the Meadow Camp Day Use Area. You’ll look at the river and wonder if you should go left or right along the trail. Go right!
I like this trail because 1) it’s only about 12 minutes from town, 2) it is gorgeous and 3) it’s usually not too crowded.
The trail meanders around the river, except for a few inlet spots, and it even has a land bridge you get to cross. Last time I was there, I saw a mother elk and two babies. Needless to say, this place is pretty peaceful. (Elk are there for Pete’s sake!) On the other side of the river are miles of lava fields; there are seriously no bad views.
Moral of the story: Drop whatever you’re doing, put on your running shoes and visit Bend. We’ve got trails galore. And the best part is, despite what you may have heard, you don’t have to be a pro to get in on the action. These trails are meant to be fun.
For more ideas, I recommend the book ‘Trail Running Bend and Central Oregon: Great Loop Trails for Every Season‘ by Lucas Alberg.