Benham Falls

Deschutes River / Bend / Sunriver, Oregon, USA

About Benham Falls


Hiking Distance: up to 1 mile round-trip
Suggested Time: up to 1 hour

Date first visited: 2021-06-27
Date last visited: 2021-06-27

Waterfall Latitude: 43.93851
Waterfall Longitude: -121.41253

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Benham Falls is perhaps the most notable of the turbulent class V rapids and cascades rushing on the Deschutes River towards the southwest of Bend.

They reside in an area where a large field of lava have solidifed and formed a narrow canyon through which the Deschutes River gets squeezed and puts on its powerful display.

Benham_Falls_066_06272021 - Benham Falls
Benham Falls

There were actually a couple of different ways to experience Benham Falls, and during my visit in late June 2021, I happened to do both, which I’ll get into.

According to my Gregory Plumb book, this waterfall was named after J.R. Benham who tried unsuccessfully to file a homesteading claim here in 1885.

Trail Description Benham Falls: West Trailhead

The easiest way to experience Benham Falls is from the West Trailhead (see directions below).

From here, there was a developed fence-lined walkway that zig-zagged a couple of times to an established overlook yielding a frontal view of the most vertical part of the rapids.

Benham_Falls_083_06272021 - The well-developed fence- or railing-lined path zig-zagging its way down to the sanctioned overlook for Benham Falls
The well-developed fence- or railing-lined path zig-zagging its way down to the sanctioned overlook for Benham Falls

I noticed there was a memorial of a 23-year-old who must have lost his life here, and I suspect that construction of the sanctioned overlook was largely to head off any temptation of scrambling for a better view.

That said, I had the option of hiking in the upstream or downstream direction from this overlook on the established trails (primarily along the Deschutes River Trail).

In the downstream direction, I went as far as where the trail descended to an extensive well-vegetated lava field, where the Deschutes River started to flatten out again.

In the upstream direction, the trail actually split into parallel paths where a less-developed “riverside” path provided teasing glimpses of the Benham Falls’ many cascades and rapids kind of blending in with each other.

Benham_Falls_090_06272021 - This is the view of Benham Falls from the sanctioned lookout that also had a memorial or plaque hinting at why the developed lookout was here in the first place
This is the view of Benham Falls from the sanctioned lookout that also had a memorial or plaque hinting at why the developed lookout was here in the first place

Along this path, the temptation is great to try to get butterflies-in-the-stomach top-down views of the waterfalls, and it’s here that you do so at your own risk as there’s no protective railing to keep you back.

The more developed inland path is a wide unpaved road that eventually led to the East Trailhead of Benham Falls.

It also seemed suitable for bicyclists as I’d seen numerous people doing just that.

Trail Description Benham Falls: East Trailhead

The East Trailhead access for Benham Falls starts at a rather calm put-in area for tubers and kayakers.

Benham_Falls_013_06272021 - Crossing the sturdy footbridge traversing the Deschutes River towards Benham Falls
Crossing the sturdy footbridge traversing the Deschutes River towards Benham Falls

The trail followed along the south banks of the Deschutes River before crossing a sturdy footbridge and then continuing along the river’s west bank.

Here, the river seemed considerably calmer so I witnessed people doing daredevil jumps off the bridge while others found a place to swim or at least wade towards the north side of the bridge.

Beyond the bridge, the partially-shaded trail (much needed given the unprecedented heat wave that the Pacific Northwest was getting during my late June 2021 visit) continued following alongside the relatively calm Deschutes River.

In this calm stretch, I noticed extensive lava fields attesting to the geologic legacy of the Lava Butte eruption about 7000 years ago.

Benham_Falls_028_06272021 - Looking across the calm parts of the Deschutes River towards extensive lava fields that were part of the Lava Butte eruption that took place 7000 years ago
Looking across the calm parts of the Deschutes River towards extensive lava fields that were part of the Lava Butte eruption that took place 7000 years ago

After about 0.9-mile from the trailhead, the trail started to split right where the Upper Deschutes River started to churn.

The wider trail on the left went straight to the West Trailhead parking lot while the narrower trail on the right followed along the rapids that I suspect started the Benham Falls system.

Overall, this mile-long trail (or 2 miles round-trip) took me a very leisurely 1-1.5 hours with numerous stops to take photos as well as some measured scrambling to improve what partial views of the falls I was able to get.

You may be wondering why bother with the East Trailhead when the West Trailhead made the hiking distance rather negligible.

Benham_Falls_003_06272021 - This boat or kayak entry or exit point at the Benham Falls East Trailhead shows that this side was really more about the recreational opportunities whereas the West Trailhead was all about viewing the Benham Falls itself
This boat or kayak entry or exit point at the Benham Falls East Trailhead shows that this side was really more about the recreational opportunities whereas the West Trailhead was all about viewing the Benham Falls itself

However, in doing the East Trailhead approach (which also encompasses the West Trailhead approach), I realized that the less-busier East Trailhead side provided recreational opportunities while the West Trailhead side was more look-but-don’t-touch.

By the way, if you do decide to try to improve the views by scrambling, realize that this is not sanctioned, and it carries a lot of risk, which the memorial at the official lookout for Benham Falls attests to.

Authorities

Benham Falls resides in the Deschutes National Forest near Bend in Deschutes County, Oregon. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website for the East Trailhead and West Trailhead.

Benham_Falls_002_iPhone_06272021 - Driving the road leading to the Benham Falls East Trailhead with the Cascades in the background
Benham_Falls_004_06272021 - Context of the Deschutes River Trail (of which the Benham Falls hike is a part of) and the Benham Falls East Day Use Trailhead parking lot
Benham_Falls_006_06272021 - While hiking from the Benham Falls East Trailhead, I noticed this cable that ran across the Deschutes River
Benham_Falls_018_06272021 - Looking upstream from the sturdy footbridge over the Deschutes River
Benham_Falls_020_06272021 - Beyond the sturdy footbridge over the Deschutes River, the trail then continued on a wide path
Benham_Falls_023_06272021 - Looking across the Deschutes River towards the lava fields that originated from the Lava Butte eruption that left a big impact on the geology of the general area around Bend
Benham_Falls_025_06272021 - Context of the Deschutes River Trail and the Deschutes River
Benham_Falls_035_06272021 - Trying to take advantage of the limited shade in the heat of the afternoon on a record-breaking heated day
Benham_Falls_037_06272021 - Another look back at the calm part of the Deschutes River along the Benham Falls Trail
Benham_Falls_041_06272021 - Looking across the start of where Deschutes River became turbulent
Benham_Falls_043_06272021 - Continuing along the Deschutes River Trail while benefitting from more shade
Benham_Falls_045_06272021 - This was where there was a split in the trail where the informal-looking path on the right actually followed along the Deschutes River by Benham Falls while the wider trail on the left was more bicycle-friendly
Benham_Falls_050_06272021 - Looking downstream towards the Benham Falls from a part of the parallel trail alongside the river
Benham_Falls_056_06272021 - Looking across more of the turbulence of Benham Falls from the smaller parallel side trail along the river
Benham_Falls_063_06272021 - Another entry point in the split part of the trail. Note the West Trailhead in the distance on the left, which gives you an idea of how close Benham Falls is to it
Benham_Falls_069_06272021 - Looking down from a precarious rock outcrop towards the majority of the run of Benham Falls
Benham_Falls_074_06272021 - This person settled for an obstructed view of Benham Falls from this spot due to the precarious nature of the scramble to get past the foliage amidst the dropoffs
Benham_Falls_077_06272021 - Broad view down at the Benham Falls from another spot of the rocky outcrop
Benham_Falls_078_06272021 - Checking out a rock pillar at the precarious outcrop overlooking Benham Falls
Benham_Falls_080_06272021 - Following the developed walk to the sanctioned lookout of Benham Falls
Benham_Falls_084_06272021 - Still following the short walk leading to the sanctioned overlook of Benham Falls
Benham_Falls_017_iPhone_06272021 - Looking towards the sanctioned lookout area for the Benham Falls
Benham_Falls_085_06272021 - This was the memorial plaque placed right at the sanctioned overlook of Benham Falls
Benham_Falls_087_06272021 - This is the view of Benham Falls from the sanctioned lookout
Benham_Falls_096_06272021 - Looking back towards the 'entrance' of the sanctioned lookout area for Benham Falls, where this father-daughter duo had their fill and left
Benham_Falls_098_06272021 - I went further downstream to see where Benham Falls ended, and I ended up at this vegetated lava field where the Deschutes River ran through them creating mini islands
Benham_Falls_101_06272021 - Looking across some minor drops of the Deschutes River continuing the rapids of Benham Falls
Benham_Falls_110_06272021 - Looking back at the Benham Falls West Trailhead, when I realized that I could have driven here via the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway instead of hiking here
Benham_Falls_115_06272021 - Another look at the context of the parallel trail and the main Benham Falls Trail as I started to head back to the East Trailhead
Benham_Falls_117_06272021 - More turbulence of Benham Falls as seen from the small parallel trail
Benham_Falls_127_06272021 - This was the calm access point for tubing, kayaking, or boating the Deschutes River at the East Trailhead of Benham Falls
Benham_Falls_129_06272021 - Finally making it back to the Benham Falls East Trailhead


I managed to visit Benham Falls as we used downtown Bend as the base, so I’ll just describe the driving directions to both trailheads from there.

Directions to the Benham Falls West Day Use Trailhead

So assuming we’re going south on the US97 towards downtown Bend, we’d take the exit 138 towards Downtown-Mt Bachelor, which would lead us to a traffic light with NW Colorado Ave.

Turning right onto Colorado Av would put us on the path to the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway.

Following the one-way NW Colorado Ave westwards, we’d drive for about 7 miles (following the signs for Cascade Lakes as Colorado Ave became Century Dr).

Benham_Falls_109_06272021 - The parking lot for Benham Falls West Day Use Trailhead
The parking lot for Benham Falls West Day Use Trailhead

Right before the entrance to the Cascade Lakes Welcome Center, we’d make a left turn onto USFS Rd41 (also called Dillon Falls Rd on GoogleEarth on Conklin Rd in my Garmin).

Then, we’d follow the Conklin Rd for about 3.8 miles before turning left onto the unpaved FS-400 Road.

After another 1.2 miles on the FS-400 Road, we’d make another left and drive the last mile on the Deschutes River Trail to the Benham Falls West Day Use Trailhead.

Overall, this drive would take around 30 minutes.

Directions to the Benham Falls East Day Use Trailhead

Benham_Falls_001_iPhone_06272021 - I definitely had to be wary of potholes on the road to the Benham Falls East Day Use Trailhead parking area
I definitely had to be wary of potholes on the road to the Benham Falls East Day Use Trailhead parking area

Going south on the US97 from downtown Bend for a little over 12 miles, I took the exit signposted for the Lava Lands Visitor Center-Benham Falls Trailhead on the right.

Then, I drove straight for about 4 miles along the somewhat potholed road (keeping straight at all the junctions and intersections).

The road eventually became unpaved after around 2.5 miles, but it didn’t seem to deter any low-clearance passenger cars en route.

If anything, the potholes on the paved part of this drive would probably do more damage than the ruts or potholes that I encountered on the unpaved part.

Benham_Falls_002_06272021 - The parking lot for Benham Falls East Day Use Trailhead
The parking lot for Benham Falls East Day Use Trailhead

Finally, the road ended at the Benham Falls East Day Use Trailhead.

This drive took me about around 45 minutes in total.

For geographical context, Bend was 143 miles (over 2.5 hours drive) south of Hood River, 128 miles (about 2.5 hours drive) east of Eugene, 173 miles (over 3 hours drive) northeast of Medford, 162 miles (over 3 hours drive) southeast of Portland, and 319 miles (over 5 hours drive) west of Boise, Idaho.

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Top down look at Benham Falls from a precarious rock outcrop


Back and forth sweep from the main lookout for Benham Falls

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Tagged with: sunriver, bend, deschutes, rapids, east trailhead, west trailhead, cascade lakes



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