A rugged little trail just a few miles west of Bend can, in mere minutes, transport you from the High Desert into a verdant environment reminiscent of what you'd find in the Willamette Valley.
From the bridge where Forest Road 4606 crosses Tumalo Creek, west of Shevlin Park, an intriguing path heads upstream into a lush, damp canyon; a perfect place to explore during this temperate time of year.
Tumalo Creek was raging after a recent precipitation. Its water tumbled over boulders, creating background music along the trail that mostly follows the creek.
As the trail climbs high above the creek, exposing expansive views, you'll see the yellow of the deciduous larch trees boldly contrasting a sea of green conifers, like a fire blazing through the dark. The trees in this canyon are amazing. Douglas and white firs and ponderosa pines grow big. Impressive stumps along the creek hint at a prosperous logging history.
The undulating Tumalo Creek Trail is tight and raw. There's no sign at the trailhead. It's incredibly quiet and private — I didn't cross paths with anyone. In some places, it's easy to lose the trail if you're lost in reverie or if you're moving faster than your eyes can scan ahead. Don't worry, it's just as easy to find the trail if you stop and look around for a second.
It's a trail that calls for stopping occasionally anyway, or at least slowing down, to savor the view and to save your shins. Bitterbrush, branches and rocks crowding the narrow path can bang up exposed legs if you blow through too fast.
In some places, you have to climb over rocks and squeeze between boulders. It's not the kind of running trail where you can maintain a steady rhythm for long. For me, dressed for running, it became a run-hike.
Rumor is the trail originated from rock climbers who like to boulder on the basalt cliffs that loom over Tumalo Creek. There's evidence of sport climbing along the first sections of the path — climbing anchors and chalk fingerprints on the rock wall.
There's also some evidence of camping farther up the creek, where old pillows and blankets and clothes were scattered around a flat spot.
Rocky overhangs and cougar-friendly caves made me wish I had my dog on this solo outing. Alas, she's getting too old for such distances. And, of course, I didn't see any cougars lurking in caves in the middle of the day.
I turned around after about 3.5 miles, more than an hour of running-hiking, because I had an appointment to keep back at the office. But the trail goes a bit farther to connections with Forest Road 4609 or the Mrazek Trail, if you want to make a longer loop. The 4609 road and Mrazek will both bring you back to the 4606 road in a few miles, where a right turn would lead back to your car if you parked by the bridge. I couldn't imagine either of the alternatives being any prettier than this trail, so I wanted to return the same way I'd come anyway, to see it again from another angle.
The trailhead is just minutes from town, making it an any-day outing. I left the office around 9 a.m. on a weekday last week and squeezed in an approximately 7-mile out-and-back run-hike that took about two hours, putting me back in the office at lunchtime, so I could write this story by 5 p.m. My shins are bleeding. My shoes are muddy and my socks are wet. My legs are tired and my stomach is growling. And I am terribly happy to be sitting at my desk, in front of a computer, reliving the day that I discovered another fabulous trail in my backyard.