Taking Care of the Land During Muddy Trail Season

Mar 01, 2021
As Central Oregon's winter goes from cold and frozen to warm and rainy, muddy trail conditions begin to appear. For the protection of our beautiful lands, please remember: if you leave tracks, turn back. Here's why.

Whether you are a long-time resident, new to Central Oregon, or just visiting, mud is a part of winter and spring in the high desert. After a couple of days of rainy weather, a bluebird day easily entices us to go outside and enjoy our fantastic trails (and that high desert sunshine!). But did you know that hiking and biking on muddy trails can be destructive to the trail and surrounding land? As we try to become better stewards in our area, let’s take a look into exactly what happens when we walk and bike on muddy trails:

A wide muddy trail in Central Oregon. Photo: Land Trust.
A wide muddy trail in Central Oregon. Photo: Land Trust.
Going around muddy spots on the trail widens the trail and erodes the trail. Widening trails kills or harms fragile plants along the trail. It also turns lovely small trails into wide roads. This in turn requires time and money to repair. The good news is trail widening can be avoided if everyone follows the “If you leave tracks, turn back” adage.

Going through muddy spots on the trail seems like a better option, but better doesn’t mean good. Your footprint indents the soil, and many footprints create ruts and large depressions. These also require time and money to repair. If these ruts form on slopes, they become water channels, funneling rainwater and snowmelt down the center of trails (have you ever noticed this during a rainstorm?). This leads to trail erosion and requires more trail maintenance.

The good news is that you can help keep our trails in excellent condition! The easiest way to do this is to check trail conditions beforehand and only go when the trail conditions are dry. Instead of going to muddy spots, you can snowshoe or cross country ski in snowy areas, or walk and hike on paved or gravel trails.

If you do head out for a hike and find yourself encountering mud on the trail:

  • Please turn back. This helps keep trails happy, easy to hike in other seasons, and saves the Land Trust (and others) time and resources! Let the Land Trust know which trails are muddy and we’ll post it on our website to help others in their planning.
  • If you encounter a small patch of mud or snow: walk through it, not around it (the better, but not great, option).
  • If the mud continues beyond isolated patches: turn around and hike back to the trailhead. Trail conditions are probably going to become worse, not better!

Now what? You’ve turned back from a muddy trail, helping to protect our region's lands, but your hiking plans have changed. Now where do you go? Head for a place with paved or gravel trails, or trails that get more sun and face south. Other hiking ideas include:

  • Camp Polk Meadow Preserve has a short gravel loop that takes you past the historic Hindman Barn and near a cattail-surrounded pond. Perhaps you'll even see a flock of turkeys!
  • Pilot Butte State Park's road is closed in the winter, so you can hike up the butte with no impacts to the trail or plants along the way.
  • The Crooked River Wetlands Complex in Prineville has both a paved loop and a gravel loop. Bonus: there's great bird activity in the winter!
  • Head to the Willow Creek Trail System in Madras for close to seven miles of paved trail.
  • The Larkspur Trail, the paved section of the Deschutes River Trail near the Old Mill, and other paved trails in Bend are all great options. Check the Bend Parks & Rec trail locator for a full list of their paved trails.
  • Dry Canyon Trail in Redmond is an excellent paved trail for those who'd like a longer walk or hike.
  • The Road to Tumalo Falls is closed in the winter, so it’s a great option for hiking if there hasn’t been any recent snow (and it's a great option for snowshoeing when there is snow). Nearby, the Tumalo Falls trail can get mucky and isn’t recommended during mud season.
  • Shevlin Park in Bend has both paved and gravel trail options for when their dirt trails get muddy.
  • Sunriver has a great system of paved trails.
  • Snowshoe or cross country ski in the mountains!
  • Enjoy a bike ride or a walk through your own neighborhood.

Together, we can keep the trails of Central Oregon in great shape!


Other Winter Activities: