We planned to hike Black Butte today, but the weather suggested we find a different hike. Black Butte was shrouded in clouds. Back to our favorite Oregon Hiking book by William Sullivan to find another hike we could do on a cloudy day – Alder Springs Hike. It was blessing in disguise because we discovered a terrific hike with amazing views into a canyon and the multi-layered palisades and rock sculpture of the Deschutes Formation.
The Alder Springs hike takes you into a delightful canyon and to an oasis in the middle of high desert sand and juniper trees. It is a moderate hike with about 500 feet of elevation change. The hard part is climbing back out of the canyon after exploring the canyon depths. This hike is proof of the old saying that if you want to see the country you have to get out of your car and hike. We had no idea that such a beautiful canyon was so close to us.
It was a gray day when we started the hike, but by the time we were at the Springs the sun had come out and it was glorious. This hike takes you down through thousands of years of geological formations to Whychus Creek and Alder Springs. When you reach Alder Springs you can wade across the creek to continue the hike to the confluence of Whychus Creek with the Deschutes, (5 miles round trip) or you can decide to turn around here like we did (round-trip 3 miles). The creek bottom is covered with slippery rocks, so we decided to return another day with water shoes to continue the hike.
Late spring and early fall are the best times to visit the Alder Springs area because the summer is extremely hot in the canyon. If you do decide to do the hike in the summer take lots of sunscreen and water. The access to the hike is closed between December 1st and March 31st to protect the wildlife and allow the vegetation to recover. Alder Springs is a very special and unique place. Please stay on the trail to avoid furthering erosion or damaging sensitive vegetation along the creek. Camping is allowed but carry everything out and do not camp close to the creek or trail. The Alder Springs Trail was designed for hiking only. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but biking, horseback riding and motorized vehicles are not allowed in order to protect the fragile environment.
The hike starts at the Alder Springs Trailhead.
Hike about 0.2 miles and reach the Alder Springs-Old Bridge Trail Junction (The Old Bridge Trail loops is 0.24 miles one way and goes down to an old vehicle crossing of Whychus Creek). It is well worth the short side trip. The elevation change on this short side trip was 140 feet. When you return to the main trail you gradually ascend up to rock steps to a stony plateau. Here you can see for miles south down to the Whychus Canyon and Black Butte, Mount Washington, the Three Sisters, and Broken Top.
From here the trail drops off the plateau and traverses down a grassy slope, where you get good views into the canyon. As you continue down into the canyon, you see the multi-layered cliffs of the Deschutes Formation and 30-foot columns of river rock standing on the ridge line above. From here, the trail descends past gully on your right and enters the lush area around the creek, and you arrive at the Whychus Creek Crossing. See USDA Forest Service map.