Three Waterfalls, One Spring, One Lake, Another Waterfall, 11 Miles, One Day

Fair Warning: This is going to be a longer, more picture-heavy post because this was a longer, picture-heavy day.

We’ve used our camping spot in the Deschutes National Forest as a base of operations to visit several attractions within the Newberry National Volcanic Monument but weren’t finished with the area just yet. Knowing we were going to head out the next day towards La Pine and the southern end of the monument we wanted get in a full day of sites, sounds and smells (for the girl) before we left. We remembered a bit of information from our visit to Lava Butte about the lava flows between 6000-7000 years ago filling in 6 miles of the Deschutes River channel. When the flow of the river was plugged up a lake was created called Benham Lake. Within a few hundred years the lake rose to about 80 feet deep and submerged the forest where the town of Sunriver now sits. At its largest the lake spanned nearly 30 river miles and had an area of 17 square miles. The erosive effects of the river eventually wore the lava dam down enough that the lake drained and in the process three waterfalls were created; Benham, Dillon and Lava Island. Looking at a mapping app we saw those three waterfalls and several others within a 30 mile radius and decided to see how many we could visit in a day.

Map View With Waterfalls and Todd Lake
Map View With Waterfalls and Todd Lake

The Benham Falls East Trailhead was the closest to our campsite and so we started there. From the parking area our first hike of the day took us on a relatively flat and easy 7 mile round trip to both Benham and then on to Dillon Falls and back again along a portion of the Deschutes River Trail.

Willow sitting beside the Deschutes River Trail sign with mileages to the three nearby fallsWe soon saw a sign from a distance that said Dogs On Leash which deflated our spirits a bit but when we got closer we saw that restriction was in effect from May 15th to September 15th and this being September 25th Willow could run free!

Dogs On Leash signNothing indicated why this date range and we thought it might be due to a particular animal’s migration route or birthing season intersecting the trail and the desire to keep dog vs. wildlife interactions to a minimum. Sadly, we later saw a blurb on the USFS official Deschutes River Trail page indicating that dogs must be leashed in the Deschutes River corridor throughout that date range “due to heavy use and repeated conflicts” so, in other words, because irresponsible and clueless owners do not clean up after their dogs or cannot (or will not) control them.

The trail was well maintained dirt which paralleled the river for the most part. In many spots along the route were views across the river to the ancient lava flow that once covered the area but eventually lost the battle with the river.

Willow sitting on the trail with the Deschutes River and ancient lava flow behind her

Fall #1: Benham Falls

We eventually made it to Benham Falls which are more of a rapid than a traditional falls. The falls were named for a J.R. Benham, who failed in an attempt to file a claim on land near the falls around 1885. We’re not sure why that gets a falls named after you but there you have it.

There are several viewing areas and we walked off the trail to each one to try to get some beauty shots of the girl…semi-successfully.

Willow standing on a rock outcropping above Benham FallsNear the base of the falls the trail came right up to the river and Willow decided to take a quick dip.

Cooled off and thirst quenched we continued on towards the next falls on our agenda. Along the way we met up with other hikers, some with dogs, stepped aside for a few mountain bikers and waved to some horseback riders on the trail reserved for horses a few dozen meters away from the hiking path we were on. Hearing voices coming from the direction of the river itself we wandered down a side trail and saw a group of kayakers heading upstream.

kayakers on the river
They Are Working Harder Than We Were

The Deschutes Paddle Trail was developed by the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance in partnership with Oregon State Parks and the National Forest Service and includes 95 miles of the Deschutes River, 26 miles of the Little Deschutes River and ten of the largest Upper Cascade Lakes. If you are a kayaker or canoer this water trail offers many opportunities to enjoy your recreational pastime.

Fall #2: Dillon Falls

Another hour on the trail and we arrived at Dillon Falls. While still considered rapids they are substantially steeper in pitch than Benham Falls (76.5° vs 22.5°) and so seemed a bit more like the traditional falls we were looking for this day plus they start off with a nice 15 foot drop and then cascade the rest of the way down.

After the solid hour of hiking we both needed a quick break and the mist put off by the falls was a welcome treat.

Willow yawning right above the Falls
Bored. Next Falls Please.

A bit below the falls, down in the 30 foot deep cut made by the river we found some rocks, obviously placed by humans, which looked like they calmed some of the wave action and offered a relaxed area to take a cool dip in right on the river. We’ve seen things like this before at hot springs to keep the cooler river water separate from the spring water but I didn’t scramble down the rocks to check that little detail out. As is usual my girl took the opportunity to do some power wading and on-the-fly drinking.

Willow wading in the Deschutes River within a small rock enclosureBack up at trail level we found a couple of rock outcrops overhanging the river and I sent my furry test dummy out to check the solidity of the perches.

Willow sitting on a rock outcrop over the Deschutes River below Dillon FallsFrom her reluctance to go out to the very edge I decided to stay back myself and just take in the view from there. Back from that outcrop we found two, stout, steel rings embedded in the ground.

Willow sitting next to two steel rings embedded in the ground
Heavy Duty

There was nothing indicating what they might have been used for in the past but it was obvious they could handle some weight and torque. From this point the trail continued on towards Lava Island Falls but that would have been another 3.5 miles so we decided to retrace our steps back towards the Tacoma which had snacks and beverages awaiting our return.

Mmmm, Beeeer
Mmmm, Beer

A little over an hour or so later we made it back to the Tacoma, had some snacks and a cold drink (thanks ARB fridge 😉 and plotted our driving course to the next Falls on our to-do list. 7 miles on foot roundtrip total so far.

Fall #3: Lava Island Falls

Arriving at the parking area and trailhead we took the short walk towards the river and saw…not much. In the middle of the flow was the upper tip of the Lava Island itself with the main river channel closer to us and the overflow channel curving around the back side of the island.

Willow at the edge of the Deschutes River with the tip of Lava Island in the middle of the river behind herThe creation of the island began from an earlier eruption of Lava Butte (about 6200 years ago) when the lava flow blocked the Deschutes River and forced it to relocate. The center of the island (before it became an actual island) was higher than the sides which offered two easier zones for the river to flow around the higher lava dam. The two sides of the river rejoin about one mile downstream. The waterfall is on the east side of the island while we were standing on the west bank of the river. At another, higher vantage point a bit further down stream we could see a picturesque cascade from above.

Willow looking down on a cascade near Lava Island FallsFrom yet another area we looked across the river and could see what we at first thought were railroad tracks.

A view across the river showing an irrigation flumeUpon a more thorough inspection we decided they were flumes which collected water from near the tip of the lava island where the river first split. We wanted to get a better look at the flumes and the falls from the east side of the river but were told that was all private property. A small informational sign let us know the flume is a mile long, is called the Arnold Canal, was built by the Arnold Irrigation District in 1905, rebuilt in 1947 and still carries water for use on thousands of acres of fertile farm land downstream.

We heard some commotion ahead and, cresting a slight rise in the trail, saw a group of people with a commercial river rafting outfit loading up their inflatable rafts. We walked down to the Lava Island Falls Takeout just as they were finishing up and pulling away. This gave Willow yet another opportunity for a refreshing dip in the river.

Willow taking a quick dip at the Lava Island Falls TakeoutSeeing as we could not get a good view of the main falls we opted to cut our losses and head to the last falls on our agenda for the day. 1 Mile round trip here is my guess. Total for the day on foot = 8 miles.

The drive to Fall Creek Falls was going to be about 20 miles and 30 minutes. Right about the time we were getting close we saw a turnoff for Todd Lake and decided “Why Not.” We turned onto NF-370 and…apparently had both our heads swiveling in the wrong direction at the wrong time and totally missed the parking area for the short hike up to Todd Lake. At first we didn’t know this though and so were happy to transition from normal, maintained Forest Service Road to non-maintained, bouldery “road” suitable only for high-clearance vehicles. I didn’t have to put the Tacoma in 4-Lo but 1st gear in 4-Hi was prudent. We pulled of the side of the road twice, the first time for a new model Tacoma coming the other direction and the second for two horses, riders dismounted, walking their steeds over the slippery and larger rock road base. We received a friendly nod and a verbal “Thank You” for knowing horses have the right of way and pulling to the side to let them pass calmly.

Now, knowing we had obviously missed the Todd Lake turnoff, we were in “What-the-Hell” exploration mode. Looking at a non-Google mapping app we could see an icon for a spring just off the forest service road we were on.

Map with Red arrow pointing to A Small, Blue "S" Indicating A Spring
The Red Arrow Points To A Small, Blue “S” Indicating A Spring

Even though it was close to 5pm we continued on for 2.5 more miles to the turn around at the Crater Ditch Trailhead.

Willow sitting in front of the trailhead signage
End Of The Line

On our way back towards Todd Lake we decided to find that spring. Pulling off at the side of the road we took a bearing to the spring and started in that direction. At the top of a low rise we looked back towards the Tacoma before heading deeper into the woods.

Willow looking back down towards the TacomaThe path through the wooded area towards the spring was not heavily traveled and a layer of pine needles seemed undisturbed by earlier visitors as we walked over them.

The "path" into the forestThere were no signs pointing the way to the spring and we got turned around a couple of times trying to follow our progress on my phone while stepping over, under and around a selection of logs, boulders and trees. Eventually we saw an area of ground that obviously had more moisture in it than the surrounding area. We were getting close. We followed the line of moisture until it became spongy wet and then heard trickling water. Willow jogged ahead and ended up toes-deep, the perfect depth for a drink.

Willow standing toe-deep at the source of the spring
The Unimpressive But Active Spring

Seeing no moisture on the little rise behind the standing water we decided we had found the little, unnamed spring, congratulated ourselves on our successful exploration and headed back towards the Tacoma. I’m guessing about .75 miles for this little detour. Total mileage on foot so far for the day, about 8.75.

Back in the Tacoma and heading down the rocky Forest Service Road and this time we kept our eyes open until we saw a couple of cars parked across from a closed and locked Forest Service gate leading up towards Todd Lake. We parked and headed in that direction. A quick .25 miles and we reached the large informational sign.

Willow sitting in front of the Todd Lake informational sign
Welcome To Todd Lake

About 100 meters past that sign we came to a little viewing area that seemed to had been recently fenced off to dissuade people from continuing straight on to the lake through the obviously overused path along the lake’s outflow corridor. Willow hopped over the little, two-foot-high, wooden fence and I stopped her to take a quick picture before calling her back to find a better vantage point.

Willow, in shadows, at the foot of Todd LakeJust up to the right of the above picture was a little day use picnic area with a table and fire ring. Past that was a trail that presumably led onward around the lake as well as several little paths through the trees down to the lake’s edge. Knowing our time was short we chose to take one of the quick paths to the water to keep my girl fresh and happy for the upcoming adventures the day would bring. The views towards the back side of the lake were quite spectacular with (I believe) Broken Top sticking its craggy summit up above the treeline.

Willow standing knee-deep in Todd Lake, Broken Top mountain in the background
Beauty Shot
Willow bending over to take a drink in Todd Lake
Action Shot

Still with one more falls on our day’s itinerary and just past 5pm we headed back down to the Tacoma once again. I’m guessing about 1 mile for this little detour. Total mileage on foot so far for the day, about 9.75.

Back out on the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway (also boringly and administratively known as Hwy 372) we drove the short 3.5 miles to the Green Lakes and Soda Creek Trailheads parking area. We didn’t see any sign letting us know how far the hike to the falls was and AT&T was its usual sucky self and offered zero internet access but it didn’t look too far on our mapping app so we just took the plunge and started off.

As soon as we stepped off the pavement there was a Y in the sandy path with a little wooden sign telling us we, as hikers, should take one branch while people on horseback should take the other. We had not seen any horse trailers in the parking area so did not expect to cross paths with any of those majestic beasts on this hike. Willow didn’t care as she likes horses but is a bit afraid of them and is even more happy to gloriously explore their poop piles than she is to sit calmly off the trail as they walk by and sniff them from a distance. Within a hundred meters we came to a creek crossing managed with the help of one of the same style of stout, one-railed log bridges like we had used to cross the White River in Mt. Rainier National Park.

Willow on log "bridge" going across Fall CreekOnce across the bridge a nice, little, old-school sign let us know that we were in the Three Sisters Wilderness portion of the Deschutes National Forest.

Willow sitting at the base of the Three Sisters Wilderness signSince this was past the season when dogs needed to be on leash Willow led the way. She took a slower than normal pace both because of needing to stop and smell the markings of previous canine visitors (which she then overmarked and won the Chemical Warfare Scent Marking Game) but also because we had hiked so far already today. She wasn’t wearing her GPS tracker so I couldn’t be precise but, if I had hiked about 9.75 miles so far, she had definitely done at least 30% more by her weaving and wandering ways. We only passed one group of people on the way to the falls and heard the crashing water about 15 minutes after we left the parking area. The trail T’s into the creek right above the falls and so we scrambled down a 10 meter section of rocks to get to the base of the falls.

Fall #4: Fall Creek Falls

Willow sitting in front of Fall Creek FallsThis was easily the nicest waterfall of the day and more of what we consider to be falls than the cascades we had seen so far. With the sun low in the sky and the trees blocking most of the remaining light it got a bit chilly down at the creek’s edge. A lot of water was flowing over the falls and the sound was kind of deafening that close.

Sadly, our nice experience here was tainted when we walked a bit further downstream to get a different vantage point of the falls and came across one of the classic Signs Of The Scumbag. I blurred the picture. You’re Welcome.

Picture of a blurred out pile of human feces and toilet paper left on the ground three feet from the creek's edge
I Vote For Public Beatings For This Sort Of Behavior

This person had “planned” ahead and brought toilet paper but no bag to collect and remove their waste. On top of that, instead of finding a spot 100 feet or more away from the water and off the beaten path they, literally, walked towards the creek and did their dirty business within three feet of the water’s edge. As hard as it was we stuck to our normal practice of Poop Karma and used one of the Mutt Mitts which we brought on the hike (and that we buy several boxes of a year) to pick that mess up and hike it back out to the parking area…where there were no garbage cans. Grrrr. As there was no way that was going to be brought back towards Sunriver in the cab with Willow and I or in the camper shell where we sleep we secured that bag and several other bags full of dog poop people had left on the trail up on the roof rack for stench-free travel.

If an adult did this they should be beaten, publicly shamed and forced to work on a honey wagon crew cleaning out vault toilets in National Forest campgrounds and trailheads or with a roadside crew wearing reflective vests and picking up litter on the side of local roads for a substantial amount of time (I’m thinking hundreds of hours). If this is someone’s child, you are shitty parents and should be sterilized to stop the possibility of you bringing any more of your horribly raised crotch spawn into the world. I have, literally, zero shreds of remorse or regret for those statements and I challenge anyone to try and change my view.

Deeeep Breath in through the nose…waaaait…aaaand back out through the mouth.

Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Willow further down stream with the Falls in the background
A Feces-Free View Of The Falls From Further Downstream

Now that we had experienced a couple different views of these, the best falls of the day, we headed back out the trail towards the parking area. Momentarily distracted by the stench of the bags of poop we were carrying we missed the Y in the trail heading back to the trailhead. I slogged along uphill for another couple hundred feet just starting to realize that I had missed the correct trail turnoff when I came to a smaller waterfall just upstream of the main named falls. Wanting to get a picture of the girl with this new waterfall I turned to shepherd her into place and noticed…she was nowhere to be seen! Now, I’m not going to panic at this as Willow is a good and smart girl and I figured she had just found something even more stinky and alluring than the bags I held in my hand. First things first – I whistled for her and…nothing. FYI – I am a really good whistler. Either with the two-finger method, the one-finger method or even just through the teeth I can make a high-pitched, loud, piercing sound that travels a long distance. Thinking the sound of the water might have overshadowed the whistle I tried again and…again, nothing. Willow is a good girl and I have always allowed my dogs a great deal of freedom which they have repaid with strong loyalty, good manners and prompt (enough) response to my commands. If they want to finish sniffing what they’re sniffing and then come running to my summons that has always been acceptable although, to me, that means within one minute. Longer than that and I get annoyed and/or worried and this non-response was longer than that allotted time frame and so I morphed into annoyed/worried human and started back down the hill looking for her and the correct trail turnoff back towards the trailhead.

Happily she was there, a couple hundred feet back down the trail, sitting right at the Y, waiting for my dumb ass to figure things out. Frankly, she could totally hear my whistle and so she was a bit of a bad dog for not coming when she was called but I held off on any chastisement because I remembered that, oh yeah, we’ve been hiking all day and she’s hiked longer than I have and so she is probably dead tired by now and was just conserving her energy. Smart Girl. But, there was one. more. waterfall. So…back up those couple hundred feet to the overlook above the smaller waterfall for that inevitable and expected picture.

A tired Willow sitting on the trail above the smaller waterfalls
My Tired Girl Putting Up With Her Human’s Requests

The above picture was taken at 5:58pm. There was no more direct sunlight left, the temperature was dropping, we were both dead tired and we still had over a half mile of hiking to do to get back to the Tacoma before driving another hour to our campsite outside Sunriver. So, back down to the correct split in the trail and 15 minutes or so later we arrived at the trailhead. That last out and back of the day was about 1.5 miles which brings my total mileage on foot so far for the day to about 11.25. The girl put probably 15 miles on her little tootsies so I made a promise to her that, once we got back to camp and tucked into bed I would give her a foot massage with Musher’s Secret…if I could stay awake.

We stopped in Sunriver to get some gas for the Tacoma which was actually a good excuse to dump the bags of crap we had collected on the last leg of the day’s explorations. We eventually made it back to our campsite just after 7pm and had about 20 minutes or so to get situated before full dark descended on us. I was able to keep my promise to the girl and slathered her paw pads in Musher’s Secret before crashing asleep myself (she was snoring before I finished her first paw). The next day we were both a bit gimpy and sore but it was a good type of pain, the kind of pain that reminds you that you used your muscles, hard, and for a good purpose.

While we were able to finish our list of falls for the day it was a bit much. Next time we would do Benham, DIllon and Lava Island Falls and leave the long drive and Fall Creek Falls for another day. Looking closer at the map we can see other falls in the general area such as Tumalo Falls and we will definitely check those out on our next visit to the area.

If you are in the Bend area and have an itch to check out some falls and cascades you are definitely in the right area. All the places we visited except the spring require you to have a Northwest Forest Pass (you can even buy it online and print your own), a Federal Interagency Pass or simply pay the $5 day use fee at the parking areas. Each individual hike was not difficult and can be completed by anyone in reasonable health. Good shoes (my Keen Durands worked outstanding as usual) are a must though; flip-flops, crocs or the like won’t cut it so, please, it is in your best interests to dress appropriately. If you choose to do more than one of the falls in a row you should bring water and snacks for you and your dog.

Have a great Hike (or hikes) !

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