Dry River Canyon
Prineville District | OR
Season Dates: 9/1 - 1/31
An ancient river cut the canyon in which now "flows" the Dry River. Once draining ancient Lake Millican, the Dry River's course can now be traced through the Oregon Badlands Wilderness north to the Crooked River. The drainage area of Dry River extends eastward to Hampton Butte and southward to the east flank of Newberry Volcano and all of Pine Mountain. During ice ages, Newberry Volcano hosted large glaciers. Runoff from these glaciers contributed to the flow of Dry River. Dry River Canyon, up to 300 feet deep, exposes layers of lava and cinders from ancient volcanoes of nearby Horse Ridge and Bear Creek Buttes.
A hike up the Dry River Canyon trail reveals hints of the energetic river which once flowed here. Rounded boulders, or grounded holes in bedrock caused by churning rock and water, and gravel at the bottom of the canyon show evidence of its watery past. Today, these tinajas hold water long after a rainfall and provide water for wildlife. Geological evidence is not the only clue to the canyon's past environment: several large Ponderosa pine trees linger on the canyon bottom, relics of a past ecosystem which prevailed during cooler times.
Starting at an dispersed campsite at the canyon's mouth, the primitive and un-maintained Dry River Canyon trail follows the canyon bottom. At approximately 2.3 miles, the trail disappears into a large rockfall. For most people, this is a good turn-around point. Only experienced hikers who are comfortable rock-hopping should continue beyond this point. The trail resumes after about 50 yards and continues for another 0.75 miles to the head of the canyon where it emerges at State highway 20 opposite Evans Well Road. Please respect adjacent private property by staying on the trail. The total length of the trail is 3.2 miles.
Annual Seasonal Closure
Each year, Dry River Canyon is closed in its entirety to all uses from February 1 until August 31 to protect sensitive wildlife while they breed. Most years, however, the canyon re-opens much earlier, depending on when the young wildlife are ready to fend for themselves. Don't enter the canyon during the closure period violations of this closure are subject to heavy fines and/or imprisonment.
From Bend, drive 17 miles east along State Highway 20. Turn left a few hundred yards east of Milepost 17, crossing a cattle guard. Immediately bear right into the ODOT gravel storage area. Low clearance vehicles are advised to park here at the information kiosk. From the kiosk, walk or drive 0.9 miles southeast to the end of the rough road. If you drove, park at the trailhead kiosk.