This time of year, skiing and snowboarding are on the minds of many Central Oregonians.
Cascade peaks have a fresh coating of late fall snow, and locals are picking up their season ski passes for the coming winter.
But hiking is a year-round pursuit here on the High Desert, and during the late autumn and into winter, trekkers have many options to continue their hiking pursuits even during the snow-sports season.
Many areas east or north of Bend offer dry trail options and light crowds for late fall hiking.
One such location is the Whychus Canyon Preserve just northeast of Sisters. The area includes nearly 1,000 acres of stunning canyon and stream terrain where the ponderosa pine forest meets the desert.
The Deschutes Land Trust has protected 8 miles of Whychus Creek and more than 2,200 acres of adjacent flood plains, wetlands and forests. The 930-acre Whychus Canyon Preserve was established in 2010, and it includes several miles of hiking-only trails that parallel the creek and the canyon rim.
I made the 30-minute drive northwest from Bend on a cold and sunny morning this week. Trails include a rim trail and a creek trail that can be combined for about a 5-mile loop that is fairly moderate with about 500 feet of elevation gain. A trail also cuts through meadows above the rim and follows the Santiam Wagon Road.
I hiked down to the creek first, immersing myself in this remote part of Central Oregon. The trail followed the creek in the bottom of the canyon under the towering rimrock.
The 41-mile Whychus Creek flows out of glaciers on Middle Sister then carves through steep, boulder-lined canyons before making its way through the town of Sisters. Past Sisters, the creek continues northeast through pine forests and high desert rimrock, eventually converging with the Deschutes River just south of Lake Billy Chinook.
Salmon and steelhead once called Whychus Creek home, and a main objective of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s ongoing reintroduction effort is to bring those fish back to Whychus and other streams in the Upper Deschutes watershed.
I linked the creek trail to the rim trail on the north end of the trail system, climbing a steep path out of the canyon. I made my way back toward the trailhead along the rim of the canyon, taking in views of the creek far below and of the Three Sisters on the distant horizon.
A viewpoint along the rim trail offers a chance for some boulder scrambling and a sprawling view of Whychus Creek cutting through the canyon, with the snow-dusted Three Sisters and Mount Jefferson rising in the distance above the rimrock.
At the south end of the trail system near the trailhead and information kiosk, hikers can take in more views of the canyon and the Cascade peaks.
The 5-mile hike required about three hours and was only moderately difficult along the short, steep locations that connect the creek trail and rim trail. The trails were in prime condition, too, after recent rainfall and freezing overnight temperatures have quelled the dust and sand that accumulates on the paths during the summer.
The Whychus Canyon Preserve is an ideal area for trail runners and birders as well, with multiple loop options and busy wildlife.
As the season changes and we hunker down for another Central Oregon winter, places like Whychus Canyon remind us not to put away our hiking shoes just yet.