Written by | Derek Carlson

Your Guide to Visiting Steelhead Falls

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If you’re looking for a quick day hike close to Bend with a beautiful payoff that can even include swimming or cliff jumping then Steelhead Falls should definitely be on your list!

This 2-mile hike takes you down into the beautiful Deschutes River Canyon which is home to world-class fishing, one of Bend’s best swimming holes, and a beautiful spot to get away from the crowds on most days other than summer weekends.

Steelhead Falls in Summer near Bend, Oregon

We recently had a Wednesday morning to kill and headed out to Steelhead Falls for a quick hike to a new (to us) spot. Despite it being a mild mid-July morning, there were only a handful of cars in the parking lot and we had some time alone at the falls.

A few people filtered through as we were hanging out around the falls but all in all, it made for a very quiet morning hike.

About the Steelhead Falls Trail

  • Length: 2 Miles Roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 225 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate – the grade down into the canyon can be steep at times on loose sand over the trail. During the summer the canyon can get intensely hot as well.
  • Approach: The drive is primarily on paved roads with only the last 1/10th mile being gravel that is easily passable by any passenger vehicle.
  • Parking Pass/Permit: None
Information sign for the trail to Steelhead Falls

How to Get to the Steelhead Falls Trailhead

Steelhead Falls is located at the end of a 1-mile trail located approximately 32 miles NW of Bend. The drive is an easy one along 97 followed by surface roads through the Crooked River Ranch neighborhoods.

The final approach to the parking lot is on a gravel road but it is well-maintained and should be no problem for any vehicle.

Parking at the trailhead is plentiful and even on days when the lot looks busy you probably won’t see many people on the trails as this is a very popular area for fly fishing so many folks will be dispersed along the river.

When to Visit Steelhead Falls

Steelhead Falls is typically busiest during the summer as this is a popular spot for swimming and cliff jumping.

While we decided to stay dry on our recent trip down to the falls we did see a few people enjoying a dip in the river.

Unfortunately, we were there too early in the day to watch the more daring folks jump off the rocks into the river below.

This area is accessible year-round and would make for a very peaceful hike in the spring and fall months.

Note that if you visit in the winter, these canyon trails can hold ice for a long time and there are some exposed areas where slipping would be extremely dangerous.

Trail leading down to the Deschutes River and Steelhead Falls

What to Expect Along the Trail and at the Falls

The trail down to the falls is straightforward as you’ll be hiking straight down into the canyon. Once you arrive near the bottom of the canyon you’ll notice a few use trails branching off along the river. These are primarily used by flyfishers to access different parts of the river.

The trails closely follow the canyon walls so keep your eyes up as you walk to check out the nests that birds have built into holes in the cliffs above.

At times the trail can get fairly steep with loose sand covering the hard packed trail surface so we recommend wearing shoes with a good tread. Our littlest one slipped a few times on the way down as, even with hiking shoes, she just doesn’t weigh enough to get a good grip on this type of surface.

Tip: As of Summer 2023, there is a section of trail near the falls that was partially washed out. This shouldn’t create any difficulties for most hikers but use caution through this section.

Once you arrive at the falls there are numerous areas to hang out both above and below the falls.

The most popular area for cliff jumping is on the small outcropping directly downstream from the falls. If you choose to jump make sure you scout the landing first as there are areas when it goes from deep to shallow very quickly.

There are a few areas a couple hundred yards downstream from the falls that offer easier access to the water and are perfect for swimming if you’re looking to cool off on a hot day!

Things to Know About Steelhead Falls Trail and the Falls

Looking downstream from Steelhead Falls in the Deschutes River Canyon

Stay on the Trail

The trail down into the canyon is steep and the loose sand off trail makes it dangerous to venture off trail. There are plenty of spots along the official trail to stop and look out over the canyon and Deschutes River below.

This area is also home to rattlesnakes so its best to have a good view of where you’ll be stepping!

Look Before You Leap

If you’re vising Steelhead Falls with the goal of doing some cliff jumping then I’d recommend either visiting with someone who has gone before, watching to see where other folks are jumping, or spending some time in the river to scout the landings.

You’ll also want to stay away from the base of the falls themselves as the undertow from the falls can pull you under.

People have died in this area in the past so its not something you want to take lightly!

Bring Plenty of Water

Hiking into the canyons in Central Oregon, especially during the summer, can be shocking to folks who aren’t prepared for the huge temperature differences that can occur between the top and bottom of these areas.

While the hike down and back up isn’t all that far, you’ll still want to come prepared with plenty of water, especially on warm days.

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