Cliff jumping in Central Oregon at Steelhead Falls

Take a plunge into the deep river swimming hole at Steelhead Falls; photo by Kade Krichko
Take a plunge into the deep river swimming hole at Steelhead Falls. Photo by Kade Krichko

Central Oregon has an endless array of outdoor bounty, but it’s not always easy to find. For example, Smith Rock State Park is a world-class climbing and hiking zone, yet many people don’t realize that just across the highway is the perfect cool-down spot after that hard day of rope-scaling. Steelhead Falls is a secluded area along the snow-fed Deschutes River perfect for swimming and cliff jumping with amazing views of the river valley. Pretty much reserved for a local crowd, the falls are just 30 minutes from the outdoor-activity hub of Bend. If you like to mix in a little adrenaline with your swimming and don’t mind some cold water, Steelhead is a sweet spot that deserves a detour.

Beginning of half-mile trail that leads to Steelhead Falls; photo by Kade Krichko
Beginning of half-mile trail that leads to Steelhead Falls; photo by Kade Krichko

What: Adjacent to the renowned Crooked River Ranch, Steelhead Falls is part of the Deschutes River managed by the Prineville Bureau of Land Management. The spot features a powerful 15-foot waterfall and is surrounded by 25- to 30-foot cliffs ideal for jumping. Farther downstream is an area for wading and swimming. A half-mile trail leads directly from the parking area to the waterfall.

Where: About nine miles from Terrebone and US-97, and roughly 30 miles from Bend—the nearest big town.

The author sending good vibes before sending Steelhead Falls; photo by Kip Krichko
The author sending good vibes before sending Steelhead Falls; photo by Kip Krichko

How to get there: From Bend, take US-97 North to the town of Terrebone. From there, take a left on Lower Bridge Way, right on 43rd, left on Chinook, left on Badger, right on Quail, and a left on River. River Street will turn to gravel and lead you to a parking area. The area is nine miles from the highway. Follow the designated path to the waterfall.

When to go: The Deschutes River is snowmelt, so it is extremely cold until about mid-June. The best times to jump are from July until late August, when temperatures are hot and the water is refreshing instead of freezing.

What to bring: In addition to a swimsuit and towel, think about packing a lunch and proper shoes. The rocks above the swimming hole are an awesome spot to have lunch, and, for those comfortable enough, swimming your lunch over to the other side of the river is a great alternative. Don’t wear flip-flops or go barefoot, as the trail down can be rough. Running shoes are probably your best option, and you can even jump in the water with them if you want a little extra padding.

Do: Observe before you jump. There are plenty of safe places to jump at Steelhead Falls, but cliff jumping has its risks. Watch others go before you pick your route and then follow. Landing on rocks has a funny way of ruining your day.

Don’t: Bring your valuables. Leave the iPhone in the car and don’t bring your DSLR. If you have to take a picture take something light and easy to hide. Theft isn’t rampant at Steelhead, but when you’re 30 feet down and treading water, it’s pretty easy for someone to snag your stuff and make a clean getaway. Food for thought.

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