The Deschutes River can be thought of as two distinct areas. The lower Deschutes is well known among boaters for its excellent fishing and exciting whitewater, and it cuts a deep canyon through Oregon's desert and farm country. The upper Deschutes, in contrast, is a wild mountain flow that emerges from the Cascades through lava fields and forests of golden ponderosa pines. The trail that follows this section of the river is open to hikers, runners, horseback riders, and mountain bikers. Located just south of Bend, this trail follows 8.5 miles of the river that epitomizes the wild and scenic character of this upper stretch. The Upper Reach section of the Deschutes River Trail System starts on the southern end just outside of Sunriver at Benham Falls. After passing countless turbulent cascades and calmer pools, this section of the trail ends at Meadow Camp.
What makes this relatively short stretch of water so dynamic is Newberry Volcano. Roughly 7,000 years ago up to a dozen cinder cones and lava flows on the volcano's northern flanks erupted. A lava flow stemming from Lava Butte burned through 6 miles of dense forest and dammed the Deschutes, completely moving the river further west and squeezing it into a narrow channel. This lava flow and subsequent narrow passage is what makes the Upper Reach so spectacular, accounting for the formations of Behnam Falls, Dillon Falls, Big Eddy, and Lava Island Falls.
The area is also uniquely accessible. It can be accessed from numerous trailheads and day use areas, whether you want to hike the entire length, check out the rapids individually, or simply picnic under one of the aspen groves.
Notes about heavy use: To protect the area, camping is not permitted along this stretch of river. Also, expect to share the trail with other users.