Alder Springs

Bitterroot Flower

  • Moderate
  • 3.6 miles round trip
  • 1600 feet elevation gain
  • Open April through November

Striped cliffs tower above Alder Springs, an oasis deep in a creek’s desert canyon. On a rock overhang nearby, red stick-figure petroglyphs remain from the ancients who lived here millennia ago. The canyon is so quiet it’s hard to believe you’re just a few miles from the Central Oregon boomtown of Sisters. Another surprise is that the easy path to Alder Springs continues to a bouldery rapids of the Deschutes River where boaters never pass.

The creek here was known as Squaw Creek until 2005. After local tribes objected that the word “squaw” has pejorative connotations, the name was changed to Whychus, the Sahaptin word for “a place to cross the water.” As recently as the 1980s, adventurers could reach Alder Springs only by crossing a tumbleweed-strewn ranch on an ancient county right-of-way. In the early 1990s a hermit bought the ranch and began putting up signs threatening people to keep their distance. Apparently he even chased some hikers away with a rifle. But the route through the ranch really was a public right-of-way. Finally a hiker discovered the real reason the hermit was so touchy. It turns out he had turned the old ranch house into a meth lab. After a police raid, authorities confiscated the property and turned it over to the Crooked River National Grassland. That agency demolished the house, tore out the barbed wire fences, and built a hiking trail. The area is now closed from December 1 to March 31 each year to protect wildlife and soil. Dog owners are asked to bring a plastic bag to carry out dog waste.

To find the trailhead from downtown …

Deschutes River at trail's end

Alder Springs

This chapter is an excerpt from 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Central Oregon Cascades.