Photo: Land Trust.

Caring for the Land During Muddy Trail Season

Mar 01, 2024 by Jana Hemphill
As Central Oregon's winter goes from cold and frozen to warm and sunny, muddy trail conditions begin to appear. For the protection of our beautiful lands, please remember: if you leave tracks, turn back.

Questions? Contact our team!

Do you have questions, kudos, or other feedback? Let us know:

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. Warm, sunny weather during this time of year beckons us outside to enjoy our region's 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 all work together to become better stewards of the land, let’s look at exactly what happens when we walk and bike on muddy trails:

Photo: Land Trust.
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 purposefully small trails into wide roads. This requires time and money to repair. The good news is trail widening can be avoided if everyone follows the saying, “If you leave tracks, turn back.”

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 cost money and time 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 area trails in excellent condition! The easiest way to do this is to check trail conditions beforehand. Be sure to only go when trail conditions are dry. You can also 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 time and resources! Let the Land Trust know which trails are muddy. We’ll post it on our website and social media channels to help others with their outdoor 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 likely to get worse, not better!

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

  • Camp Polk Meadow Preserve has a short gravel hiking loop that takes you past the historic Hindman Barn and near a cattail-surrounded pond. Perhaps you'll even see some waterfowl or a herd of deer!
  • 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, hike, or ride.
  • 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.
  • Pilot Butte State Park's road closes in the winter, so you can hike up the butte with no impacts to the trail or plants along the way.
  • The Road to Tumalo Falls closes 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.
  • Riley Ranch in Bend has gravel trail options for when their dirt trails in the canyon get muddy.
  • Sunriver has a great system of paved trails.
  • Check out Oregon's Scenic Bikeways for road biking options in the area. This includes routes from Sisters to Smith Rock, Crooked River Canyon, and Madras Mountain Views.
  • Snowshoe or cross country ski in the mountains!
  • Go for a climb at Smith Rock (be sure you're not using a muddy trail to access your climbing spot) or boulder indoors at The Circuit.
  • Enjoy a bike ride or a walk around your own neighborhood.


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


Other Winter Activities: