Hiking with Your Dog in Central Oregon

Central Oregon abounds with dog-friendly trails. If you’re bringing your pooch to stay in Sunriver, you’ll have no shortage of places to walk, run, and play. (For the official Forest Service scoop on leash requirements, see this page.) There are a couple of good walks (or jogs) right in town that welcome your four-footed pals. Local leash laws are quite permissive here, stipulating that "[d]ogs shall not be permitted to run loose or unattended. Dogs shall be on a leash, confined to their owner's property, or under effective voice control. Persons walking dogs shall have a leash in their possession at all times."

On a scale from one (golf-cart highway) to 11 (backcountry bushwhack), the Deschutes River Trail’s Meadows Loop section would be about 1.2. Mostly paved, it’s a gentle 4.7 miles, much of it following the river before veering off to skirt the Sunriver Airport. You and your leashed pup will likely be sharing the trail with joggers and bikes, and the big metal ones won’t be the only birds you see. Songbirds thrive in the riparian and meadow habitats, and friendly humans have put up quite a few houses for them. A lazy pooch can tag along in a rented bike trailer from Sunriver Village Bike & Ski. That might be a good option if you want to bike and Fido isn’t so well-behaved off-leash.

At the other end of town, Benham Falls offers a nice out-and-back at 6.4 miles with a pretty chill 190 feet of elevation gain. This one, too, is paved most of the way, though it turns to still-bikeable dirt before the eponymous Falls. Dogs should be leashed. You’ll only be on the river for a few legs, but the scenery is scenic throughout. You might even catch a look at the blasted lava lands across the river toward the end. It’s a shady stretch for the pups and grizzled veterans, human or canine, who might not want to do six miles in the blazing sun. It’s less heavily trafficked than the Meadows usually, so younger kids on bikes can weave a bit (although it narrows at points, so it’s not for the training-wheeled).

Just a bit further afield, the base area near Lava Lands Visitors’ Center has a nice little loop that goes from the parking lot about 120 feet up the base of the famous cinder cone. This one has no shade or running water to moderate the sun — and in fact, all the surrounding expanses of lava rock tend to amplify it — so bring a high SPF if you plan to be out there a while. This particular loop is only a mile, but there’s much more to explore in the immediate vicinity. This is also an interpretive trail and visitors give the rangers good reviews. Check a schedule to see when you can link up with a tour.

North of Sunriver on the way to Bend, “Catch and Release” and associated trails let mountain bikers and leashed dogs careen through the Deschutes National Forest. Catch and Release itself is about 9 miles, with around 500 feet of elevation change. Some areas, like the Lower Storm King / COD Loop, are known for their wildflowers, so those who want to stop and smell them can spend a less careening afternoon here.

If you want a more guided approach to nature, the High Desert Museum, a short drive from Sunriver, has both an interpretive trail and an outdoor area where you can safely leave your dog with shade, water, and playmates while you check out the exhibits.

Finally, if you’re looking for Fourth of July activities that get your skittish dog away from the fireworks, Sunriver is apparently very quiet for the holiday. Fido can spend a relaxing evening at a dog-friendly home like Cascara Vacation Rentals and wake up ready for the next day’s outdoor adventure instead of spending a sleepless night cowering under the bed.