The creek crossing had me worried, even as I was still driving to the trailhead.
After an incredibly snowy winter, I knew Whychus Creek would be surging with force through the canyon, armed with snowmelt from the Cascades. If it was too deep and too fast to cross, I would be forced to turn around, and the adventurous 6-mile hike I had planned would become a short 1½-mile jaunt.
But no matter how far you plan to go, the Alder Springs Trail is an ideal destination to kick off the spring hiking season in Central Oregon.
Panoramic canyon views, intriguing rock formations carved by time, desert oases, yellow wildflowers and a variety of birds are several reasons to make the trip to this out-of-the-way trail in the Crooked River National Grassland. And while many other trails are still covered in snow or mud, Alder Springs is in perfect shape for an early-spring hike.
Alder Springs is located northeast of Sisters, about a 40-mile drive from Bend. Reaching the trailhead requires a slow, bumpy ride along a dirt road dotted with jagged rocks.
The hiking trail starts out on a barren ridge that overlooks Whychus Creek as it flows through the canyon. The trail follows the canyon for three-fourths of a mile before descending into the Alder Springs side canyon.
Half a mile farther down, the trail reaches Whychus Creek at Alder Springs, where, according to an informational sign at the creek, snowmelt from the Cascade Range “magically” reappears after a 40-mile downhill trip. Many migratory birds and other animals and plants not usually found on the High Desert survive on the water from Alder Springs.
At the creek, the trail seems to reach a dead end. No bridge or log is there to get a hiker to the other side and continue the trek. The only way is to wade through the water, which was rushing quite fast and rose to about knee-deep.
After scouting several different sections of the creek to find the shallowest spot to cross, I settled on an area just to the right of where the trail stops at the water. I grabbed a sturdy branch from some nearby brush to serve as a walking stick and made my way across the creek, which was about 30 feet wide. It was slow going as the water rushed past my legs, but I eventually reached the far side safely.
My shoes and socks were sopping wet, but they would soon dry during the sunny afternoon when temperatures would register more than 50 degrees.
On the other side of Whychus, the desert singletrack trail continued back up a ridge, rising above the precipitous canyon. The narrow path would lead me another 1½ miles to where Whychus joins the Middle Deschutes just south of Lake Billy Chinook.
The trail soon became littered with sharp rocks and boulders, and it became increasingly technical and steep. Eventually the trail led me downhill to a green meadow alongside Whychus Creek.
From there, the trail tightened up as long grass and thick underbrush lined the path. I could see the creek cutting through the canyon at several different vantage points on that section of the trail.
The sound of trickling Whychus Creek is never far away along the Alder Springs Trail. But eventually that trickling sound turns into a mighty roar where the creek flows into the Deschutes.
At the trail’s end, I scrambled up a small tower of rocks to take in the full desert scene. As the mighty Deschutes surged below, castlelike canyon walls rose above the river, carved into interesting rock formations with various color layers.
I have been to many spots along the Deschutes in my 16 years of exploring the outdoors in Central Oregon, but this is one of my favorite places along the region’s most well-known river. Something about the remoteness, the picturesque rock walls, and the stark beauty of the desert makes the confluence of Whychus Creek and the Deschutes River a truly special place.
On the way back, I took my time, pausing to note the small yellow wildflowers that had just begun to sprout along certain sections of the trail.
The 6-mile round trip took about four hours on the difficult path. But despite the challenges — including the rough road driving in and the worrisome creek crossing — Alder Springs is a spring hike not to be missed.