Trout Creek Bluffs is a remarkably cool rock formation high above the Deschutes River north of Madras. It’s a haul to get there — about 45 minutes north of Smith Rock, per the Bureau of Land Management — but the drive is worth it. For one, it’s cool just to see the tiny community of Gateway, where you might spy with your little eye some funny signs in front yards and on local buildings.

For two, the monolithic Trout Creek Bluffs are, in a word, incredible, as are the views of the Lower Deschutes. On one end, the leaning basalt columns call to mind a fossilized wave at the moment it was just about to break.

For three, on the other end, the vertical columns and their crevices are a magnet for technical climbing. I recalled being told that during a previous visit 11 years ago by my guide, Scott Cook, author of “Bend, Overall,” but we were the only souls on hand that day.

For four, finally, and I will retire this device, the climbing area and the trail up to it are closed annually from Jan. 15 to Aug. 31 to protect nesting golden eagles, which means you have two more months before you’ll have to wait 7.5 months to get up there again.

During a hike on the last weekend of October with my wife, Catherine, we saw maybe a half-dozen climbers making their individual ways up the bluffs.

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We began our hike from Trout Creek Campground, parking in the small day-use parking spot at the south end, taking Trout Creek Trail, built partly atop the abandoned grade of an unsuccessful railroad company. (You’ve heard of “Rail to trail” efforts to convert old railroad tracks to trails, but this is more of a “Fail to trail.”) The 7-mile trail is relatively flat and connects Trout Creek Campground to Mecca Flat Campground upstream from Trout Creek.

Here’s the bad news: It’s a bit of an uphill battle to get an up-close look at Trout Creek Bluffs. After a very easy mile on the river trail, you reach the signed turnoff for the trail to the bluffs. It’s a steep and rocky .8-mile hike to its base. I was reluctant myself, content to meander atop the green grass of the river trail, but as is usually the case when you reach your destination, the effort was well worth it. If it’s any measure, our 12-year-old mutt made it up, so you probably can too. If you like to use trekking poles on hikes of a certain challenge, this would not be the time to skip them.

We lingered a while, taking in the beauty of the bluffs as well as the Deschutes River below and Mt. Jefferson in the distance. We slaked our post-hike hunger with the Mexican fare of Mi Cielo in Redmond en route back to Bend. An excellent lunch we’d earned — one steep step at a time.

Getting there: From Madras, head north on U.S. Highway 97 for 3 miles, then turn left onto Cora Drive. Continue onto Clark Drive and Bulkley Lane for 8.3 miles. At the community of Gateway, turn right on Clemens Drive. After navigating the narrow railroad tunnel and crossing Trout Creek, turn left on Coleman Road and proceed a few more miles to Trout Creek Campground. The trail starts at the southern end of the campground adjacent to day-use parking.

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djasper@bendbulletin.com

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