Hike Metolius River


This easy walk along the Metolius River in Central Oregon features gushing springs, beautiful flowers and a fish hatchery

About the Hike: The Metolius, most magical of all Oregon rivers, emerges fully grown at 50,000 gallons a minute from the arid base of Black Butte. Sample the river's wizardry with this easy hike along a section of the oasis-like riverbank. The trail passes sudden springs, reveals colorful bird life and leads to a wonderfully visitable fish hatchery.

Difficulty: An easy, 5.4-mile trip with 100 feet of elevation gain.

Season: Open all year, except in winter storms.

Getting There: Start by driving Highway 20 west of Sisters 9 miles (or east of Santiam Pass 10 miles). Just west of Black Butte, near milepost 91, turn north at a sign for the Metolius River. Drive straight on paved Road 1419, ignoring a right-hand fork after 2.5 miles labeled "Campgrounds."

At a stop sign at the 4.8-mile mark, continue straight onto Road 1420. Keep going straight for another 3.3 miles. Then turn right at a sign for Canyon Creek Campground and drive 1 mile to the West Metolius Trailhead, beside the river at the far end of the campground (GPS location N44°30.054' W121°38.466').

Fees: None.

Hikers encounter these gushing springs early in the trek. Photo by William SullivanHiking Tips: Setting off from the West Metolius Trailhead, you'll follow the river downstream. Just 0.3 mile down the trail, spectacular springs enter the river from the far bank, gushing like a dozen opened fire hydrants. The river winds through a steep canyon here with old-growth ponderosa pine and lots of May-June wildflowers: purple larkspur, yellow monkeyflower, and red columbine. A mile beyond the huge springs some smaller springs seep across the trail, muddying unwary hikers' tennis shoes.

At the 2-mile point the river's whitewater splits around a series of long islands, bushy with monkeyflower, lupine, and false hellebore. Birds delight in these islands. Look for broods of goslings paddling about, bright yellow tanagers hopping in streamside shrubs, and the peculiar robin-sized water ouzels that whir along the river's surface, at times diving to "fly" underwater.

Wizard Falls state fish hatchery does not offer formal tours but staff members often are on hand to answer questions. Photo by William SullivanSoon the trail reaches the rustic buildings and countless open-air concrete ponds of the Wizard Falls state fish hatchery. Wizard Falls itself is a humble rapids over a ledge in the river. Though the hatchery has no formal tours, friendly staff members always seem to be on hand to answer questions and show, for example, the indoor tank of two-headed fish. Fish food can be purchased from dispensing machines for 25 cents.

Trails continue beyond the fish hatchery on both banks to the bridge at Lower Bridge Campground, making an additional 6.4-mile loop tempting. From the hatchery, continue 3.2 miles along the quiet west bank to Lower Bridge Campground, cross the river, and return on the east bank through two campgrounds.

History: The Metolius' name comes from the Warm Springs Indian Mpto-ly-as, "white fish." Although the light-fleshed salmon that prompted this name are gone, introduced kokanee salmon and abundant hatchery trout attract eagles, bears and flyfishermen.

Geology: The Metolius River once had its source high on the slopes of Mt. Washington, but massive lava flows buried that region and Black Butte erupted directly over the Metolius River's route. Now the river percolates underground through the lava and emerges from gigantic springs at the base of Black Butte.

By William Sullivan