March 7, 2023

The "Walking Away" Part of the Writing Life

Sometimes the very best thing I can do for one of my stories is to walk away from it. I often come back to the stories I've set aside, but setting a story aside and coming back to it with fresh eyes after some time has passed helps me see problems (and solutions) I didn't see before. 

Dawn's beloved purple hiking boots

Stepping out into nature is also extremely helpful to me in terms of generating new story ideas. It's as though the story-generating part of my brain requires motion and beautiful scenery in order to operate properly! 

I live in Portland, Oregon and spend quite a bit of time in Central Oregon. Both areas offer many beautiful opportunities to explore the great outdoors. This past week I had the good fortune of enjoying several snow hikes, and I also spent one (long and exhausting!) afternoon snow shoeing. 

I decided I would create a blog post to help me organize and share some of my favorite places to hike in Central Oregon. I'll populate this initial post with the places I most recently explored, but I'll add new locations/updates over time, so definitely bookmark this page for your own reference. 

And now for the obligatory disclaimers and safety tips: I am not an outdoor guide. This blog post summarizes some of the beautiful places I've enjoyed hiking and snow shoeing, but please do your own research before you head out into the woods. Bring food, water, and emergency supplies with you when you go out exploring; be a good steward of our natural spaces and places; let folks know where you are going before you head out; and travel with a buddy.

For those of you looking for an actual guidebook, one of my favorites is Bend, Overall by Scott Cook. The most recent edition of this book was published in 2010, and the author has since moved to New Zealand, so I don't anticipate it will be updated again. I'm sure there are more current (and thus more accurate) books available, but this is the one I've dog-eared over the years and still turn to as a general starting point for Central Oregon outings. My husband regularly references the AllTrails Website and App before/during our outings, for more up-to-the-moment info about trail conditions and routes.  

Here are some of the routes we have recently enjoyed:


Deschutes River Trail at LaPine State Park (PDF of LaPine State Park Map):

During the winter months we have hiked this trail with snow shoes, slip-on traction cleats, and snow boots. This is trail I prefer in the winter vs. the spring/summer because the "walls" that border the far side of the river are prettier when they are covered with snow versus bare soil. One of the times we walked this trail we were escorted by a very vocal eagle. It was a breathtaking experience and one that has not repeated itself, but we keep hoping we will cross paths with such a majestic living creature again in the future.  We park near the Don McGregor Memorial Viewpoint and hike along the Deschutes River Trail with the river to our left until just past the cabins for rent when the trail makes a sharp turn to the right. When we hiked in snow boots on 2/28/23, the sun came out at our turn around spot where we stop for lunch. It was glorious! (Last visited 2/28/23)

View of Deschutes River from Don McGregor Memorial Viewpoint

The sun shining down on us and on the snowy trail alongside the Deschutes River

Dutchman Sno-Park Trail Head to Todd Lake (PDF of Nordic Map):

We've done this route previously when the snow shoe trails were more groomed/packed down, but our visit on 3/1/23 was timed directly after some significant area snowfall, so the trail was very soft, deep, and not very wide. We even made the mistake of going along the nordic trail for a bit of time, (which also wasn't groomed, but was a bit wider,  and which (rightfully) irritated a pair of nordic skiers we briefly crossed paths with). The route to Todd Lake is about 3 miles in (and apparently down hill, which we didn't fully grasp until the 3-mile hike back out)! We hiked to the lake, patted down a section of snow alongside the frozen lake to sit on while we ate lunch, and took in the glorious views of Broken Top until our fingers froze and we needed to get moving again. The soft, deep snow combined with the climb out (and it being our forth straight day of snow hikes, but our first hike of the season with snow shoes) left us more exhausted than exhilarated, but the views on this trail and at our lunch break spot are absolutely spectacular and well worth the trek. (Last visited 3/1/2023)

Heading out on Dutchman Flat Trail with Broken Top Mountain in View

Heading deeper into the forest on Dutchman Trail

View of Broken Top Mountain from our lunch spot along the snow covered shores of frozen Todd Lake

Fall River from Day Use Parking Area Near Fall River Campground to Fall River Guard Station:

This is one of our very favorite go-to outings. It's easy to get to from our place in Sunriver, it's a simple walk alongside one of the clearest and most beautiful rivers I've ever seen, and it's as gorgeous and satisfying in the summer months as it is in the winter months. We park at the day use area of the Fall River Campground, which is near a beautiful wooden bridge. We don't cross the bridge, but we nearly always hang out on it for a few minutes to spy on the fish and/or watch the fly fisherman. We walk along the fisherman paths with the river on our left until we reach the end of the river (or more accurately, the beginning of the river). This river literally springs out from ground. Coming from the other direction, one minute there is nothing but forest, and the next minute there is a majestic long and winding river that  springs from the ground. This area is our turnaround spot. It's also the place we typically break for lunch or a snack before turning around. There is a parking area and a primitive rental cabin in this location, so the hike we typically do could easily be done in reverse, starting where the river begins, and ending at the wooden bridge. I never grow tired of looking at Fall River and can't wait to return. (Last visited 2/27/23)

Winter view of Fall River from the bridge

McKay Crossing up to Island Falls alongside Paulina Creek

The official name for this trail is the Peter Skene Ogden Trail. We park in the (very small) day use parking area near the McKay Crossing Campground and follow the creekside trail up for about three miles until a trail sign points to a turnoff to a small wooden bridge that crosses Paulina Creek just above Island Falls. This trail passes several waterfalls (several of which are frozen or nearly frozen during the winter months). In the springtime, as the ice begins to melt, dozens of mini "waterfalls" appear, and the large waterfalls take on new shape. We take the trail to the bridge, then back track along the creek to a natural view point at the top of Island Falls where we stop for lunch. After we have eaten and rested, we head back down the trail with the river on our left. I particularly like that this trail starts uphill and ends going downhill. The hike back to our parking spot is always easier than the hike up, and there are a few sneak-peaks of mountains on the way back down to add to the waterfall views! When we did this hike on 2/26/23, we walked the path in our snow boots. During other winter visits we have used snow shoes or slip-on traction cleats. During the summer months we've hiked in sneakers or even water sandals. (Last visited 2/26/23)

View from the bridge over frozen and snow-covered Paulina Creek looking the direction of Island Falls

I look forward to returning to each of these beautiful places again and agin. 

Stay tuned for additional favorites in future updates to this post!

(And for more of Dawn's thoughts on The Writing Life, click here.)

Last updated March 7, 2023

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