Central Oregon wildflowers beckon

Whychus Canyon Preserve offers early flowers, canyon views

By Alandra Johnson / The Bulletin

If you go

What: Whychus Canyon Preserve

Getting there: From Bend, head northeast on U.S. Highway 20 for about 13 miles. Turn right onto Fryrear Road, then left onto U.S. Highway 126. After 1 mile, turn right on Goodrich Road. After 1.5 miles, the road will curve to the right sharply, stay straight onto a gravel road. After 1.3 miles, the road will split. Go straight, following the sign to “Turin” and the preserve. Park in designated spots near the kiosk.

Cost: Free

Contact: www.deschuteslandtrust.org

Having lived in and hiked around Central Oregon for eight years, I sometimes feel like I’ve seen all the really cool places. And then I end up at a place like the Whychus Canyon Preserve and feel dumbfounded. Here’s a place that I never hear mentioned, which is not lovely, but worthy of “wows.” While the canyon is certainly not undiscovered, (there are even a few homes lining one wall of the canyon) it was well off my radar.

I decided to check out the canyon thanks to the Deschutes Land Trust, a nonprofit group that helps preserve this piece of land as well as several others throughout the region.

This time of year, I start to crave bursts of color. Spring in Central Oregon can be a slow affair, and I invariably grow impatient for blooms and color. With flowers on the brain, I noticed the land trust was hosting a hike focused on wildflowers in Whychus Canyon on Friday (the event has sold out).

My husband and I decided to do a little preview of the hike ourselves, with the intent of finding some springtime color.

We found plenty of flowers, plus other signs of spring, such as buzzing bees, hammering birds and darting butterflies. We enjoyed all of this in a dramatic canyon setting featuring sharp rock walls rising high above the bubbling, clear Whychus Creek. It’s a place worth checking out any time of year, although the bright flowers make a good case for going sooner rather than later.

Flowers

Whychus Canyon Preserve is fairly easy to get to, just north of U.S. Highway 126 between Sisters and Redmond. Driving to the canyon, I wasn’t sure what kind of flowers to expect. When I think of wildflowers, I think of the alpine flowers that bloom after the snow melts in July. Turns out there’s plenty worth seeing now, too.

Once parked, we headed down a path and quickly came to a red gate. Just beyond, the trail split. The entire trail system featured excellent signs, making navigation easy. We opted to turn left and follow along the slope of the canyon before dipping down to the creek below. We then looped back along the creek and back up to the top of the canyon. In all, the hike was about 3 miles.

As we walked, we enjoyed the views from the top of the canyon, which took in the far canyon wall as well as the creek rushing at the bottom.

Finding flowers wasn’t hard. Right away we saw yellow-gold fields in small bursts along the rocky ground. Nearby we saw white sand lilies scattered along the trail and delicate light pink prairie stars. As the path headed down the canyon, we heard the buzz and quickly spotted numerous giant bumblebees humming around the pink and white flowers of the wax currant.

The terrain was dry and loose, with some steep slopes. I would not recommend this hike for young children or those who have mobility issues. I slid down one particularly steep section of trail due to the loose dirt.

At the bottom of the canyon, we enjoyed listening to the rush of the creek burbling along over smooth stones. The water was incredibly clear and numerous flat boulders along the side of the creek would have made perfect picnic spots, had we not already had some lunch. Along the canyon floor we saw a handful of butterflies.

After about a half-mile walking beside the creek, we followed a trail back up the side of the canyon. Along this portion, we came across other flowers, including delicate orange yellow bells (probably my favorite) and the happiest small purple bunches of phlox. With the sun streaming down on us — and little shade to be found on this portion of the hike — it almost felt like summer.

For those craving the delight of wildflowers or those just looking for a lovely way to pass a couple hours, Whychus Canyon Preserve is well worth a trip.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, ajohnson@bendbulletin.com