About Benham Falls
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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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