Photo: Land Trust.

Sneaking in an Evening Hike at Whychus Canyon Preserve

May 26, 2023 by Sarah Mowry
I have to admit, I have wildflower FOMO. Tis the season for stunning pictures everywhere of fields and fields of wildflowers. What's a busy person to do? Eek out an evening hike at a local favorite, Whychus Canyon Preserve.

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I have to admit, I have wildflower FOMO. Tis the season for stunning pictures all over the internet of fields and fields of wildflowers, and it makes me ready to chuck my calendar out the window and hop in the car and go. Alas, real life intercedes and work and shepherding the kids to and fro must take precedent. So how to handle the wildflower FOMO? Eek out an evening hike at a local favorite, Whychus Canyon Preserve.

Whychus Canyon Preserve is located northeast of Sisters, but is easily accessible from Bend, Redmond and beyond. The Preserve is owned and managed by the local land conservation nonprofit Deschutes Land Trust, and is a protected preserve for native plants and animals with more than seven miles of trails for exploration. May is prime time at the Preserve, when wildflowers take center stage and brighten up the desert landscape. My favorite time to visit is early evening to take advantage of those longer spring days and the softer light of sunset.

From the Whychus Canyon Preserve trailhead, I like to hike the canyon loop in the following direction. Start by taking the Rim Trail straight toward the edge of the canyon carved by Whychus Creek. After 0.2 miles, you’ll reach a gate and a junction, turn left and follow the Rim Trail towards an open overlook with a bench and views of the mountains and creek. This first warmup section of the trail offers a multitude of flowers depending on season. At the time of writing, early season flowers like brilliant white sand lilies and delicate pinkish-white prairie stars were abundant. As the season progresses bright purple phacelia, yellow-sunflowery balsamroots, and fiery red paintbrush take over. In all, nearly 100 species of flowering shrubs and wildflowers have been documented at Whychus Canyon Preserve!

Paintbrush blooms at Whychus Canyon Preserve. Photo: Land Trust.
Paintbrush blooms at Whychus Canyon Preserve. Photo: Land Trust.
At the overlook, the trail makes a zag (or a zig!) and begins to head down into the canyon. The trail cuts through a rugged band of rimrock that offers shady nooks for other wildflowers like alumroot to grow and exposed rockfaces where brilliantly colored lichen sprawls. Canyon wrens can often be heard (listen for their descending series of notes) as you hike down into the canyon. The trail meanders its way back northward, midway along the canyon slope until you reach a junction, 0.8 miles after the overlook.

Turn left and follow the steep trail down to the canyon floor. Here you walk along the banks of Whychus Creek, a rushing waterway supercharged by melting mountain snow each spring. The creek is a special place, a ribbon of life in our high desert, providing pathways, shelter, and food for wildlife including cougar, deer, songbirds, bats, and salmon. The creek also gives life to different kinds of wildflowers that enjoy their wetter surroundings. Look for blooming shrubs like pink spirea and white mock orange or tiny false Solomon’s seal. As you follow the Creek Trail, evening light brightens the canyon walls spotlighting blooming balsamroots and Oregon grape, or the bright orangey brown trunks of ponderosa pines.

After another 0.8 miles you come to another junction. Head straight along the valley floor for a longer loop hike, or take the right fork to head up and out of the canyon via another steep section that winds through a break in the rimrock. At your next junction, turn right and head up to a rocky overlook perfect for taking in the views of the canyon and meadows of Whychus Creek and/or some water and snacks. From here you can follow the trail 1.3 miles back to the trailhead. This section of Rim Trail is one of my best at the Preserve! Stunning views of the Three Sisters pop through old growth juniper heavy with bright green lichen. Wildflowers dot the grassland—bright yellow buckwheat, blue flax, and purple threadleaf daisy. This last burst of flowers gets you back to the trailhead satiated that you didn’t miss out on all of spring’s glories! Find trail maps, directions,  and more information about Whychus Canyon Preserve.

This story first appeared in the The Bulletin.


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