Riley Ranch Nature Reserve

The boyfriendo surprised me with a New Year’s trip to one of my favorite cities–Bend, Oregon–for some snowshoeing. But there was no snow!

Image of a sign at the park, with a map of the trails.
I love a good sign with a map.

Luckily, we are used to pivoting. I told him if all we did was drink beer, I’d be happy, but he still picked a few places with trails near town to give me a bit of nature. I chose Riley Ranch Nature Reserve, as it had canyons, Deschutes-riverside trails, and Ponderosa Pines, but seemed pretty mild (this being our second full day in town, we’d already been hitting the Bend Ale Trail hard). This trail is only a few minutes outside of town, and while the Canyon Loop Trail might be limiting due to steepness, the rest of the trails are definitely appropriate for all ages and abilities. The trails weren’t paved, but were a very well-maintained compacted gravel that was close enough to being paved. What the trail is not appropriate for are dogs and bikes–there are no dogs or bikes allowed. This is a nature reserve, and we did see a buck within 120 seconds of entering. Please respect the rules to keep this land as intended.


Those wanting more miles can tack on a connector (looks like 1.8 miles, one way?) from the Canyon Loop trail to Tumalo State Park (or might be fun with a car at each lot), but we opted to just amble about. I had mapped a route on Gaia, as always, but it seemed pretty hard to get lost here, between the signage and the trail markers. From the parking lot, we kept right on the Juniper Loop trail, where we immediately saw a buck.  From there, we had a nice stretch on the Sage Flats trail before forking right on ‘Robin’s Run,’ the only steep, narrow part. We saw several trail runners, and I’m sure the flat loops are far more exciting than running around a track. At the fork, an upcoming couple let us know it was only icy if on one of the social trails to get closer to the water, so we proceeded downward towards the river.


I’ve said it before, I love the central/eastern Cascades when they get all ponderosa-y. The terracotta-and-sage greens, the red pumice-y earth, all of it! So once we were on the canyon floor, with the Deschutes roaring, I was giddy at the views. Admittedly, the houses dotting the hillside just across the way took some of the ‘nature’ out of it for me, but with views like this, who could complain?



The struggle of wanting to get the ring and the scenery in a shot.

While there was a nice bench here, I was suddenly hyper and raring to keep going, so we continued along the water. We saw the icy trails to the water the couple earlier had mentioned to us, and we imagined how crowded it must be on a hot summer day to cool off with a dip. The boyfriendo pointed out a nice, winding trek up to a lookout, so we climbed a bit for that. There was another bench up top, but again, the houses kind of hampered the view. I went up on a rock I saw instead, when the boyfriendo implored me to stop a second and just look at the view…in which case he got down on one knee and proposed! Finally! How perfect of a place to do it, on a hike I was already enjoying in one of my favorite places in the world (with delicious beer awaiting us for afterward at a dozen-plus spots). Best hike ever?!


We got back to the main Canyon Loop trail, which wound us past the remains of an old settlement. We started to notice more and more people coming down to the canyon, especially at Robin’s Run, where we happily yielded to a larger group to get a break. I kept looking down at my hand, wanting to shout from the rooftops (viewpoint-tops?), but we opted to just giddily finish the Sage Flats and Juniper Loops and get to the car. For how close to town it was, Riley Ranch Nature Reserve was great for stretching our legs, seeing some sights, and preparing for more brewery-hopping.

In summary:

Distance: The Bend Parks website says 2.8 miles of trails above and below the canyon, we measured 3.1 with doing Sage Flat, Canyon, and Juniper Loops, with outlook trails too.

Elevation: I clocked around 300 feet to get from the high point to the canyon floor.

Parking: None required.

Bathrooms: Pit toilets at the trailhead.

Best Beer Bet: Anywhere on the Bend Ale Trail (or a brewery in Bend not on the trail!) is a great option. We opted for Crux Fermentation Project, one we knew we liked from a previous visit.

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