A popular spring/fall trail, Alder Springs in Sisters is a newer trail that was established after an undeveloped route became so beloved it needed to be improved to accommodate the new influx of hikers. It’s a 6-mile there-and-back trail located near Camp Sherman that features a desert oasis and views of the Central Cascades.
Kick off this hike at the Alder Springs Trailhead, which plunges straight into a juniper-rich grassland growing under strings of telephone lines. When you hit the Alder Springs-Old Bridge Trail Junction, head on up a set of rock steps to a stony stretch of land that levels out for a moment before dropping to grassy slopes. You’ll get hit by stunning views here, including the sweep of the Whychus Canyon. Look off on the horizon to see the figures of Three Sisters, Broken Top, Mt. Washington, and Black Butte.
Continue along the trail through rabbitbrush, flax, golden weed, and more juniper. You’ll see some shortish trees, as well as evidence of a fire that roared through the area in 2011. Once you round a rocky outcrop you’ll start to see more of the Whychus Canyon. Start a slow decent past the cliff of the Deschutes Formation and admire the amazing 30-foot columns of river rock over on the north side of the trail. You’ll keep on past a “dry” waterfall and loop around a series of columned palisades to end at a brush-filled gully.
Eventually you’ll come upon the vegetation-rich bottomland of Whychus Creek Crossing. Wade through the creek, and up on the opposite shore you’ll find the shade of white alder, western juniper, ponderosa pine, and willow trees. This is a great place to camp on the grassy flats, but you can keep on hiking past the last campsite and rise up with the trail about 50 feet above the canyon. You’ll see views of rocky outcroppings before walking into denser vegetation made from a mix of mock orange, willow, and ninebark.
The trail gets rocky and wavy here, signaling the close of the hike just ahead. But push on through patches of horsetail and wild rose to a grove of ponderosa pines and a rocky platform which overlooks the Whychus Creek-Deschutes River Confluence. There’s another campsite just downstream in scrub by the waters of Lake Billy Chinook, if that sounds like a good place to drop your backpack and pitch a tent.
Directions from Highway 97: :
Directions from Highway 20:
Note that there is gate on Forest Service Road 6360 which is locked from December through March to protect the winter range of wildlife, including deer. I’d recommend tackling this hike in the spring to avoid the full brunt of the summer heat in the canyonland.
Also note that owners of older trail maps will find Whychus Creek marked as Squaw Creek. The old name was swapped out for the new (which means "water crossing") in 2005 as a less offensive moniker.