A view of Crooked River slowing through Smith Rock

There are so many hiking options in and around Bend, you might not know where to begin, especially if you prefer to make a loop that will take you right back to your vehicle.

We’ve compiled a list of the top hiking loops of different lengths and varying levels of difficulty. Each one gives you the opportunity to take in breathtaking vistas, ranging from soaring mountain peaks to dramatic waterfalls and mesmerizing canyons.

Follow the directions for each of these loops and prepare to be amazed.

Riley Ranch Nature Reserve

The newest hiking option in Bend is simply gorgeous. You’ll find Riley Ranch Nature Reserve on the northwest edge of Bend, offering awesome views of the Cascade Mountain Range and the river canyon.

Thanks to the lower elevation of this expansive reserve, you can access it from town, so you don’t even need to drive into the mountains to begin your exploration. 

This hike takes you to the rocky canyon floor along the Deschutes River and up close to a 30-acre band of rimrock cliffs. Above the canyon, you’ll find 1.57 miles of soft-surface trail and there are 1.25 miles of rugged trail on The Canyon Loop. There is a figure-8 loop that allows you to cover both the upper and lower areas, but if you prefer to hike the upper section alone, you’ll find there’s an easy loop for you. If you’re short on time, this is the perfect choice.

The pristine landscape combines sprawling meadows with juniper and pine forests and lava flows like none other. For many native plant species, migratory birds, and wildlife, this park is their home.

Individuals and small groups of up to 30 people are welcome. You should be aware that social distancing is required when you visit a Bend Park & Recreation District park, trail, recreation center, and even the river. Both indoors and outdoors, you are asked to stay six feet away from others. If you cannot maintain a six-foot distance from others, wear a face covering. A face covering is required for anyone age 5 and over.

Dogs, even on a leash, and bikes are not allowed because they have a greater impact on the landscape and wildlife than pedestrians do.

Remote controlled devices are not allowed as this is a nature reserve.

The 184-acre Riley Ranch offers a unique experience of unspoilt nature in all its glory and has connectivity with Tumalo State Park.

Sparks Lake Hike (Ray Atkeson Loop Hike)

The Sparks Lake area offers such spectacular mountain views, it’s no wonder this loop has been named after one of Oregon’s most famous landscape photographers, Ray Atkeson (1907-1990). As a 2.6-mile loop around the gorgeous lake, it’s just short enough to make it very manageable for everyone in the family.

Sparks Lake Sparks Lake with snow-capped mountains in background

Start at the Ray Atkeson Trailhead, where you’ll head into a lodgepole pine forest in the foothills below Mount Bachelor and the Three Sisters. From this point, you’ll find the terrain is mostly flat as the track takes you to the south and east of Sparks Lake. The elevation gain is only 165 feet.

Todd Lake Loop Trail

Just a short drive from Bend, the Todd Lake Loop Trail allows you to take an easy stroll through the backcountry, with some beautiful vistas of course. The elevation gain is a mere 78 feet.

Todd Lake, early spring Todd Lake, early spring

The loop is 1.7 miles long and starts near the Todd Creek Trailhead. From there it’s just a short distance to the Todd Lake Campground, located at the south end of Todd Lake. Continue around the lake along this mostly flat trail until you return to your original starting point.

Families will find this is a fun lakeside outing but in the winter there tends to be lots of snow, so it’s best to aim to do this hike between May and October. You should also be aware that there is a $5 fee for parking at the trailhead or you’ll need to have a Northwest Forest Pass (or equivalent).

The Waterfalls Loop Trail

Part of the 27-mile long McKenzie River National Recreation Trail, the 3-mile Waterfalls Loop Trail is spectacular. It is located 17 miles northeast of McKenzie Bridge and takes hikers and mountain bikers along the McKenzie River to Sahalie and Koosah Falls. Using log bridges, you’ll cross several tributaries of this whitewater river, which flows down from the high Cascade Mountains.

At the lower levels of the trail, pass through 600-year-old Douglas-fir forests while at the higher elevations the trail takes you past dramatic waterfalls and lava flows. Expect 3,000-foot elevations.

Cyclists must dismount when traveling between Koosah and Sahalie Waterfalls on the eastern side of the loop.

The Tam-a-láu Loop

The Tam-a-láu Trail takes hikers on a mile-long ascent up to the Peninsula in Cove Palisades State Park, a lava plateau. The trail continues for roughly four miles of flat terrain around the rim. As you head across the plateau, it will be hard to take your eyes off the view of the Crooked River and Deschutes Arms of Lake Billy Chinook. At the lookout point, you can take in the view across to The Island, a smaller plateau which is now protected and has been off-limits to hikers since 1997.

From the Cove Palisades Upper Deschutes Trailhead, you’ll head towards Jordan Road and descend to the day-use area access road. At the information kiosk at the Tam-a-láu Trailhead, you need to sign in and sign out.

Soon after this point, the views of the Cascade volcanoes and the Deschutes Arm of Lake Billy Chinook begin to appear. It’s not long before you can take in views of the Deschutes Arm and the Cascades, including the Three Sisters, Broken Top, and Mount Jefferson.

To make the loop, keep left (facing south) and take the foot trail near to the rim. Keep an eye out for vistas of the Three Sisters and views down to the Crooked River Arm and the striking canyon.

From here, the trail heads into the plateau, you’ll have a chance to walk through older junipers, some at least 250 years old. The trail descends gently to the Tam-a-láu Loop Junction. Go left and head back down the rim and you’ve completed the loop.

Deschutes River Trail/Bill Healy Loop

The 3-mile loop from Farewell Bend Park at the Bill Healy Bridge to a footbridge upstream is a popular choice for hikers and bikers. This park is conveniently located in town. If you’re driving, the only drawback is that finding somewhere to park the car can be challenging. If you can’t find a spot on the east side of the river on Reed Market Road, a handy alternative is the larger parking area on the other side of the river near the Bend Park and Recreation District Office off of Colorado Ave.

You can start your hike on either side of the Healy Bridge. The Deschutes River is a habitat for eagles and osprey so keep your eyes peeled as you stand on the bridge.

The hike will take you along the Deschutes River south for about 1.5 miles until you reach the footbridge, which you can use to cross the river and complete the loop. It’s generally easy going, although there are a couple places where you will make a gentle ascent.

The highlight of the upstream walk is finding yourself in a narrowing canyon with majestic ponderosa pines along the river banks and steep lava tuff walls.

Tumalo Falls

View of Tumalo Falls
View of Tumalo Falls

The Tumalo Falls Trailhead parking lot may be busy but the breathtaking views of the 90-foot Tumalo Falls are sure to catch your attention. Don’t worry, there are many more views of this amazing waterfall throughout this moderate hike. Solo hikers and families alike will enjoy this loop, which has an elevation gain of 1460 feet.

To get started on this 7.0-mile hiking loop, follow the North Fork Trail upward through fragrant snow brush under canopies of ponderosa pines. As you ascend the trail, you’ll be following a meandering creek, but you should be aware that mountain bikers may be heading the same way as part of a one-way loop. The good news is that it gets less crowded the higher you climb. If you have small children with you, you can all walk up the North Fork Trail as far as Double Falls and then turn around.

Also, you will continue to catch sight of the falls cascading over basalt bedrock, at least until you go up the enchanting Middle Fork Tumalo Creek, but don’t despair, more waterfalls await you there. At the last waterfall, Middle Fork Tumalo Falls, you can get up close to the powerful rush of water before you take the loop across the City of Bend Watershed.

By the way, you also have the option of turning back and taking in the spectacle in reverse. The distance is practically the same either way but there tend to be fewer people on the loop paths because it is not as scenic.

Dogs and cyclists are not allowed on this loop and there is a permit box where you need to sign in. From this point, a gradual descent begins and follows Spring Creek for a short distance before crossing it. By the time you reach the first junction between Swampy Lakes Trail and Bridge Creek, the path will become level. Continue to the North Fork-Bridge Creek Trail Junction, and head right to descend to the parking lot where you started.

Along the way, you’ll get nearly constant views of the 90-foot Tumalo Falls as it cascades over its basalt bedrock.

A great hike for families and individual hikers, alike, the Tumalo Falls is a great moderate jaunt in the woods with fantastic views!

The Misery Ridge Trail

This trail is located in Smith Rock State Park and offers amazing views. Located near Terrebonne, Oregon, the Misery Ridge and Summit Trail Loop is a popular 6-mile trail, which is a favorite for hiking, running, mountain biking, and snowboarding. Dogs are allowed but they must be kept on a leash. The best months for enjoying this trail are May to October because of the weather. At any time of year, expect to find crowds at this famous climbing destination but this is a hike you won’t want to miss.

Monkey Face from Misery Ridge Trail at Smith Rock
View of Monkey Face from Misery Ridge Trail at Smith Rock

The trail should be considered difficult to avoid surprises. Although most of the hiking is easy, climbing over the ridge is strenuous. There is one main trail even though there are many optional routes through the park.

The roundtrip route combines parts of the Misery Ridge Trail, Mesa Verde Trail, and River Trail. You’ll ascend the ridge to the highest overlook. As you descend the back side, you will pass a volcanic bubble. Take advantage of the opportunity to crawl inside and get awesome photos from your bird’s eye view. Next, go past Monkey Face Pinnacle, join the Mesa Verde trail, and pass by the picturesque Crooked River on the River Trail. This eventually brings you around the south end of the Smith Rock Group along the river.

Some hikers may choose to do this loop backwards, beginning along the River Trail then heading up the loose pebble paths along Mesa Verde on the west side of Misery Ridge trail. Take the stair system to go back down to the canyon floor, where you’ll find yourself in a strange landscape that fuses tuffs with striking rhyolite rock, and volcanic basalt flow bordering the river.

Anyone who wants to enjoy this unique river canyon trail should be aware that there is a $5 parking fee for anyone who does not hold an Oregon State Park Pass.

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