Alandra Johnson / The Bulletin

I am sure a researcher in a lab somewhere has already conclusively proved this little theory I developed during my last hike: Butterflies generate happiness. Their bright colors and off-kilter fluttering — wobbly dancing in air — seem to produce a ripple of delight in us humans, particularly pronounced in those younger than 10.

This idea became clear during an outing to the Metolius Preserve with my husband and 2-year-old daughter.

I have never encountered so many butterflies before. We saw hundreds. The trail was covered with resting butterflies that would leap into the sky on our approach, filling the air with lavender, orange and white. So. Many. Butterflies. And this, naturally, resulted in shrieks of glee from my girl, which in turn led to big grins from us parents.

We had clearly wandered into some kind of magical butterfly realm. How could we not smile?

The preserve

The Metolius Preserve is a conservation area of 1,240 acres of land near Camp Sherman acquired by the Deschutes Land Trust in 2003. The area includes a web of old forest roads converted into hiking paths, as well as footpaths and a short, gravel nature trail. It includes creeks, which are tributaries of the Metolius River, and ponderosa pines. I was surprised by how lush the area is, especially near the creeks where we encountered ferns, wild rose and other wildflowers, tall grasses and shrubs.

We also walked through idyllic, open-green meadows flanked by tall trees.

Butterflies and wildflowers are what drew us to the preserve. I knew the land trust was hosting upcoming guided butterfly and wildflower walks in the area, so I figured it must be a good place to see butterflies and wildflowers (I'm quick like that).

We headed out on a hot Thursday afternoon and parked at the southern kiosk, a covered structure with maps and information a few miles north off of U.S. Highway 20 (the other kiosk is accessed near Camp Sherman).

Going off track

The preserve has numerous trail options, from long loops to short hikes. Since we had our daughter with us, we opted for the short “orange loop,” which is 1.3 miles. But we got sidetracked onto other paths and probably ended up walking close to four miles instead.

From the kiosk we headed onto the gravel Becky Johnson Nature Trail. This wide path is supposed to loop around the lovely south fork of Lake Creek, but it is currently cut off while a culvert is being removed. Of course, my family didn't read the signs relaying this factand we walked out to the end of the loop anyway, only to have our progress blocked. We also didn't realize that the trails, which are color-coded, could include different kinds of pathways; one trail may start off as a wide, old forest road, then veer off onto a footpath. The key, I suppose, is to closely follow the color markers and keep an eye on the map. But we didn't, and we still had a fine time. (And even if, like us, you do get a bit off-track, it's fairly easy to find your way again thanks to the occasional signs and frequent colored trail markers.)

Hiking with a toddler

Hiking in a spot that's about as lovely as a place can get doesn't necessarily mean a successful outing. Hiking with an independent-minded young child is challenging, regardless of the surrounding loveliness. We had walked just a few yards from our car when my daughter, Phoebe, stopped to sniff some wildflowers. This is great. I believe in both metaphorically and literally stopping to smell the flowers. But does this activity need to take three minutes, especially when you're still within sight of the car? (Her answer: YES!)

Once I pulled her away from the lovely white tufts of flowers, Phoebe quickly found another point of interest — a log covered in ants. Our outing would have stopped right there if it were up to her. Robin, my husband, didn't want her to pick up the ants and suggested the fast-moving insects were mad. Phoebe quickly disagreed saying, “No, they're happy! I think they're nice.” After a few more minutes and a reminder, “OK, it's time to say goodbye to the ants,” we marched onward.

The great thing about this hike is that it was easy to find things Phoebe would like. Lots of lovely wildflowers. Lots of butterflies and dragonflies. Lots of interesting bird, insect and water sounds. The butterflies were the biggest hit for Phoebe, who kept saying, in her singsong voice: “Hi butterfly! Hi sweetie!”

Walking through a meadow, warmed by the sun, Robin said, “It smells like summertime.” And it did — that lovely mix of flower and field (the sound of rushing water and buzzing bugs added to the effect).

Though we got turned around and overheated and endured a few fits (“I want to walk!” (5-second pause) “Up, Mama! Up!”), this was an experience I would gladly repeat.

This was our first trip to the area, but it certainly won't be our last.

If you go

Where: Metolius Preserve

Difficulty: Easy

Cost: Free

Getting there: From Sisters, head west on U.S. Highway 20; 0.7 miles after the turnoff for Camp Sherman, turn right onto Forest Service Road 2064, which is unmarked. After 2.6 miles, turn right onto Road 800 and continue for a quarter-mile, then turn right on Road 810. The parking area is about a quarter-mile after that. There are also signs leading the way.

Contact: For information about the preserve and to find out about upcoming guided hikes in the area, visit or 541-330-0017.