Here's the scoop on the South Canyon Trail Bridge. Nine out of 10 day hikers agree: Loop is better than out and back. It's nice to walk new ground.
The South Canyon Trail Bridge along the Deschutes River Trail, upstream from Farewell Bend Park, gives runners and walkers an agreeable option. They can cover the 1.6 miles from Farewell Bend to the bridge and turn around or cross over to the other side for a different experience.
Like many others, I was comfortably familiar with the stretch of trail that ambles along the north side of the river on a Mt. Bachelor Village easement, from Healy Bridge south a couple of miles until it peters out at a rock slide. But the other side of the river was uncharted territory, previously glimpsed only across a chasm of rocks, riffles and whitewater.
What a wonderful thing to be able to cross the river and loop back to where you started. The first half of the loop passes through Mt. Bachelor Village Resort property owned by Brooks Resources. It's a self-guided tour route, which actually highlights several worthwhile points of interest.
There's a lyre-shaped pine that was ravaged by a porcupine as a seedling, another tree girdled by hungry beavers, a prime example of riverside riparian habitat and a cool little rock grotto where Oregon grape (our state flower) has colonized and is thriving. Of particular note are the snags out in the main channel, placed there to enhance trout habitat.
The footbridge itself is attractive, as bridges go. Installed by Bend Metro Park and Recreation District, the 85-foot steel and fir structure was built in one piece by a company in Missoula, Mont., and placed into position by a large crane. The railings and girders already boast a pleasant patina of rust.
”It blends very, very well into the natural colors of the canyon,” said Bend Metro's Bruce Ronning, who was in charge of the $200,000 project.
I stood for a moment or two at the middle of the span and got an osprey's-eye view of the river below. Nothing doing with the sun high overhead except for the whoosh of the water and a picture window on the rocks and sand and woody debris on the river bottom. The trout - rainbows and brown - that lurk along this stretch of the Des-chutes, are tucked unseen into the downstream eddies behind boulders, waiting for their food to come to them.
Across the bridge and heading back downriver, the banks are thick with alder and other streamside vegetation. Just downstream of the hydro power plant, the trail slithers through a dense thicket of short, stocky plants that look a little like bamboo. They're equisedum hyemale (horsetail), according to Ronning, one of the oldest life forms on Earth (according to the fossil record).
The area is a wetland, and Bend Metro has thoughtfully placed boards in the soggier places so hikers don't get utterly muddy. Ronning said plans call for installing more permanent ”bridges” over the muck as well as adding informational signs all along the loop.
Mountain bikes are verboten on the Mt. Bachelor Village side of the river, a condition of the easement. In addition, summer fun-seekers are discouraged from launching their inflatable craft along that section. Allow about an hour and a half to complete the 3.1-mile loop if you plan on taking the self-guided tour and stopping occasionally to admire all this Central Oregon abundance.
The best place to park is at Farewell Bend Park, if you can find a space. There's also overflow parking across the river, accessible off Columbia Street near the bridge in the Old Mill District.
Aside from a few area homeowners with crowding concerns, the new South Canyon Trail Bridge has been ”very well received,” Ronning said. As word gets out, more and more hikers are getting into the loop. So is the rest of the world.