The Otter Bench Trail System provides year-round hiking opportunities just outside of Bend. From these hiking trails there are nearly constant viewpoints of the Crooked River, a 125-mile river that crosses Central Oregon. The river cuts through a steep-sided and picturesque canyon. Nearly 10 miles of trails lead through high desert crossing Otter Bench, and there are two spur trails that descend steeply to the river itself. There are several out-and-back and loop options. Three are described below.
For a short but steep hike, explore the Lone Pine Trail. From the parking area, follow the fenceline toward the river to search for the trail. It is not well-marked, but there are several use paths leading in the general direction. You'll know you found the right path when you start heading straight downhill. This trail is closed to bikes. Remember, you've got to walk uphill to get back! From the bottom of the trail you can get excellent views of the river. Look upstream for a waterfall pouring down the southwest canyon wall.
For a longer but less strenuous hike, take the Otter Bench Trail. This wide path is suitable for bikes, horses and hikers. Walk across a flat bench dotted with sage and juniper. In the spring, watch for a profusion of blooms, including balsamroot, phlox, prairie stars and paintbrush. Bring your camera and a wildflower guidebook. When you reach the four-way junction, you've got some choices. For the easy loop hike, take the Horny Hollow Trail back to your car. The Horny Hollow Trail is closed from February 1 through August 31 for nesting birds, so return the way you came.
To extend your adventure even further, continue on the Opal Canyon Trail. This lollipop-loop follows the canyon wall out to a lovely viewpoint of the Crooked River. You could also descend the Pink Trail to access the river itself. Watch the skies for circling raptors overhead and pack a lunch to enjoy at your private riverside resting place.
The best times to explore Otter Bench are late fall to early spring. Watch for rattlesnakes and prepare for intense heat in the summer. Be wowed by the colorful wildflowers and butterflies in spring. Enjoy seasonal colors and fog in the fall. And layer-up for cold, winter hikes! Otter Bench is the place to go when other trailheads are snowed in.