Deschutes River State Recreation Area sits on the banks of its eponymous waterway, just as it exits into the mighty Columbia River. The park is an excellent stopover, or launching point, for those exploring the region; towering, ice-capped Mt. Hood, the stunning Columbia River Gorge, dense forests and a myriad of roaring waterfalls are just short drives away. But Deschutes has plenty of its own beauty to offer. Hikers, bikers and horse riders can take one of several trails leaving from the park, which wind their way upstream along the Deschutes River canyon. Avid anglers can access premium trout and salmon fishing spots.
The canyon and its surrounds are much drier than areas just to the west, so it has a character (and flora and fauna) which sets it apart from other popular destinations along the Columbia. Willows, Ponderosa pine, scrub, brush and grass predominate, with wildflowers stealing the show in early spring.
Deschutes River State Recreation Area boasts 63 RV-suitable campsites, 34 of which are open year-round. Hookup, water availability, and spot size vary from site to site, so if you’re looking to set up camp, call ahead to make sure there’s a site which meets your specific needs.
The park’s main road branches of the Celilo-Wasco Highway, which itself splits off of I-84. You can reach the park from the interstate in just a few minutes, making it an extremely convenient stopover point for those traveling up or down the Columbia River. The roads to the park are flat, manageable and paved.
There aren’t any supplies for sale at the park itself; the small nearby towns of Wishram, WA and Biggs Junction, OR offer some basic services, including markets, restaurants and ATMs, and Hood River, OR, a larger, full-service town is just a 40-minute drive to the west.
Once you’ve arrived, you’ll find the park layout fairly simple. The park’s main road leads to one loop and three spurs (still referred to as “loops” on reservation material) where campsites are located. Hiking, equestrian and bike trails are all accessible by foot from campsites, though if you’d like you can drive to a small parking area right at the trailhead.
If you’re looking to launch from Heritage Landing, the park’s boat ramp, simply head from the campsite to the Celilo-Wasco Highway (the road you turned off of to arrive at the park), turn left, and make an immediate left once you cross the river, onto Old Moody Road. You should see the ramp immediately after turning.
The recreation area’s campsite sits right up against the Deschutes River. Spots are partially or mostly shaded by stately willows and other planted trees. The largest camping loop, the A-Loop, is open year-round and has 34 sites with electric and water (however, water is turned off during the winter). 29 other primitive sites are available, though they are closed during winter and do not offer water or electric hookups at any time.
A modern restroom with showers is located at the A-loop (it also closes during winter) and vault toilets are located at each of the other three loops. Potable water is available at all loops.
Reservations can be made up to nine months ahead of time, and are taken for all sites (except for A-Loop sites during the winter months, which are first come first served).
The longest site has a length of 57ft, though most spots have lower length limits for RVs and trailers.
Whether you charter a guide or head out on your own, the recreation area offers access to world-class fishing. Head up the quiet Deschutes and find a serene spot to go fly fishing, or take a boat downriver and merge onto the mighty Columbia. Trout, steelhead salmon and sturgeon – which all grow to healthy sizes in the Pacific Northwest - are among the most coveted species for anglers here. Just make sure you have a valid Oregon State fishing license before you make your first cast.
Even if you’re not fishing, there’s plenty to do on the water around the recreation area. High temperatures during mid and late summer routinely reach the 90s and beyond, but heading out onto either of the cold-water rivers is a great way to beat the heat. A boat launch is located on the shore of the Deschutes, opposite the campground, and provides a convenient starting point for those wanting to float, fish or water-ski on the Columbia. Farther up-river on the Deschutes, thrilling rapids provide opportunities for rafting and kayaking.
The Columbia River Gorge is one of the most waterfall-dense places on earth. Within an hour’s drive of the state park are enough falls to justify a several-day long tour, with options ranging from the easily accessible and the very popular to the quieter and harder to reach. The stunning, 600-foot Multnomah falls is renowned for not only its sheer size but for its wonderland setting; conifers and thick beds of mosses and ferns line the margins of the cascade, and a picturesque bridge spans a high gap in front of the falls.
If you’re traveling with horses, and if you’re just coming through for a day-trip, take advantage of the equestrian trail. Take in gorgeous, Wild West scenery as you follow the 11-mile Old Railbed Trail as it winds along the edge of the Deschutes River Canyon. No horse camping is available at the recreation area, but there are spots for horse trailer parking during the day. The trail is open to riders from March 1 – June 30. Reservations must be made at least a day in advance, and there are a maximum of ten horses allowed on the trail per day. Spring, with its milder weather and ample opportunities for viewing plants and wildlife, is the best time to go.
The Deschutes River Trail gives hikers a chance to head up river and explore the grassy banks of the winding Deschutes. The trail offers views of rapids, riverine cliffs and some other fantastic geologic formations. Riparian wildlife includes steelhead salmon, otters, herons and hooded mergansers. While the trail is open year round, local hikers try to avoid traversing the trail during the summer months, when the heat can be oppressive; hit the trail in spring or fall for a more pleasant weather experience. And keep an eye out for both rattlesnakes and ticks, especially when traipsing in or near tall grass.
Though the vegetated banks and walls of the river and canyon tend to go brown by mid-summer, the park and its surroundings are verdant for a few months in early spring. Gold stars, Barrett’s penstemon, Columbia pink desert parsley are just a few of the colorful species that thrive in the area. The first intrepid blooms can be seen as early as late-February. Bring a guidebook and take a stroll along the river’s bank, or just enjoy the vibrant view from your campsite.