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High Desert and Roaring Rapids
If you want to span the gamut of high desert to lush riparian region in one short hike, this is the trip for you! The trail sets off among sage and junipers, and sweeping views of scrub desert. You'll come quickly upon a junction with the Old Bridge Trail (a side-trip I wouldn't bother with, as it just detours about half a mile to dead end at the creek bank). Instead, head straight on the main trail, which remains arid and relatively flat until you reach Whychus Creek. You'll need to ford the creek, which was absolutely freezing, and came up almost to my knees. The stream is only about 15 feet across and covered with smooth river stones, so water shoes are nice but not necessary. Warming up in the sun on the grassy bank felt amazing, though -- it's worth the temporary numbness. (My hiking partner has assured me that I'm being a wimp here and the water wasn't that cold, for the record.)
Across the creek you'll find a flat meadow with some campsites and the spring itself. I've heard that campfires are taboo here, but people clearly build them, and I didn't see any posted signage that said not to have them. That being said, they've done a lot of work to restore the Whychus, a tributary of the Deschutes River. Human interference had driven the endemic steelhead and Chinook salmon from the region, but in the last 15 years restoration has revitalized the area and fish populations have begun to return. Signs everywhere advise hikers to tread lightly, stay on-trail, and clean up after dogs if you bring them.
After crossing the Whychus, the trail follows the water and narrows through dense reeds. Periodic spur trails lead over to the banks of the widening stream, where you can find secluded spots to perch and fish or just enjoy the scenery. The trail ends 1.6 miles past the crossing at the banks of the Deschutes, overhanging some pretty impressive rapids. People also camp here, secluded by the roar of the river and the canyon walls. The return trip is no less entertaining than the way in, as it affords a different vantage from which to view the dramatic landscape.
Check out the Official Route and Triplog.