Route: Deschutes River Railbed Trail (OR)

Submitted by Steven Wagoner on Mon, 05/25/2020 - 10:07pm
Oregon, US
23.1 mi
Vertical Gain
367 ft

The Deschutes River Railbed Trail is one of nine official Rails-to-Trails in Oregon, and follows the old Des Chutes Railroad line for 23.1 miles from Deschutes River State Park to Macks Canyon Campground.  The Deschutes is the sixth largest river in Oregon, and much of this section of the Lower Deschutes is designated a Wild & Scenic River, and a favorite with river rafters and kayakers.

The first 17 miles of the trail is used my horseback riders, hikers, and mountain bikers.  The next 6.1 miles are more rugged, and not maintained.  the trail crosses 6 canyons where the old railroad trestles have been removed, and requires a little scrambling to get across.  There are still old railroad ties along the route, and some sections are rocky and overgrown.

The Lower Deschutes is home to abundant wildlife such as mule deer, bighorn sheep, river otter, coyote, bald eagles, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey, song birds such as the meadowlark, and many others.  Some of the hazards include rattlesnakes, bull snakes, and ticks.

The river canyon is very exposed, and you should expect intense heat in the summer season.  There are very few water sources along the trail, and those may be unreliable during certain times of the year.  You should carry lots of water, a hat, and the 10 essentials.

Overall, it's a beautiful section of the river, and very runnable.  One of the drawbacks of running the entire length of the trail is the need to arrange a shuttle, or have someone drop you off, and pick you up at the other end. 

More information:


Leaving a note here that Tabatha and myself are headed out this morning to (hopefully) set a female time on the one way route! Weather is pretty perfect! Looking forward to a beautiful run! 

I’ll be attempting to lower the female time for the one way tomorrow morning. Hoping to go under 4 hours but we’ll see how it goes on the unmaintained section. Should be fun!

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Plan on hitting the trail over the next couple of days. Unsupported.  Dropped of at Mack's and picked up at the lower trail head. 

On Saturday, May 29, 2021, I took a shot at Willie McBride's unsupported RT FKT.  Came up short by 11 minutes, so I dubbed my attempt a #FailKT.  Because I came up short, I'll save everyone a long-winded recap here; for anyone who wants more information (and photos) about the conditions, you can find them at my Strava link:

If that goes down, or you can't access it, feel free to give me a shout.

In short, the weather was my nemesis.  Forecast high temps just kept creeping up during the week, and my guess is that it was mid-80s on the day of the run.  But there is *zero* shade for long stretches, and the sun gets intense.  I planned to, and did, carry 3.5L of liquid, with a refill at Macks Canyon, and it was still not enough, even after drinking a bunch at the turnaround (note: there is no water source, to my knowledge, at Macks, so I filtered at the boat launch).  I was right on pace for the first 18, but the unmaintained section was rougher than I imagined, and that was a mental downer.  I got my wits back, and was still feeling good on the return, but the wheels really fell off with about 10 to go; I simply couldn't keep even a modest jog without feeling really terrible.  Ran out of liquid with 6 to go.  So, given that there's no bail out option, and I was unsupported, I dialed it back to the best-maintainable pace, and waved a wistful goodbye to the FKT.  Thinking back, I'm not sure where I could find the 11 minutes I needed.  Even if I went faster in the unmaintained section, I might have crashed sooner with the heat and lack of liquids.  About the only thing I can think of at the moment is that I should have filtered more water at one of the small trickles across the trail (I think there was one around 8 miles to go?).  Maybe that would have done it.