Deschutes Falls Park

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OK, so we all know that summer is over. The 80+ degree days are gone, the days are more cloudy than sunny, and two-, three-, or four-day road trips are history.

By Bryan Hall

No, I’m not crying, I think it’s my allergies. Yeah, that’s it.

Anyway, the colder, wetter weather may signal the end of weekend road trips, but it doesn’t mean the end of riding. We have some hidden gems to discover, a ton of roads to explore and places to see that we can easily do in a day.

One of those treasures made for a great day ride a few weeks ago: Deschutes Falls County Park. The location of this beauty is remote: about 15 miles from downtown Yelm, at the end of Bald Hill Road.  The property, homesteaded in 1902, was originally established as a private park in the 1920s before being purchased by Thurston County on 1992. The county’s plans for development of the approximate 25-acre parcel kept getting put aside for years, and the park remained closed to the public until September 1st of this year, when the first upgrades were completed with a budget of about $150,000.

This is a day-use only park, and has parking and a portable restroom, but the real prize is the numerous trails and the Deschutes River itself, which features the 27-foot Deschutes Falls and the 400-foot gorge below. A series of smaller falls is also visible along the river bank. Wading pools of clear, cold water are all along the trails, and two viewpoints offer spectacular views of the falls.

The county has installed a caretaker’s “cabin” and, according to Parks manager Kerry Hibdon, has plans to repurpose the old settler’s cabin into an information/educational center with background about the area, as well as adding more picnic tables and shelters.

A few friends and I decided to check it out, and the day we rode out to the park was sunny but chilly as we headed out from Tacoma.  A stop at the Warthog BBQ in Parkland for breakfast (try the Brisket Hash!!), and we rolled out Pacific Avenue onto Highway 507 past the Roy Y. We made a left onto 8th Ave S and shot down the deserted two-lane road to Highway 702, jumped back onto Highway 507 across the Nisqually River, then made a left onto Vail Road. Another left turn at the four-way stop put us onto Bald Hill Road for the next 13 miles brought us to the entrance to the park.

After spending a couple of hours wandering through the grounds, we saddled up and hit some of the backroads around the area, getting magnificent views of Mt. Rainier and Lawrence Lake, then headed back toward civilization for the ride home.

All in all, it was a good day ride, about 95 miles total. Plus, it’s always fun to discover a new place to go. Pack a lunch, bring your hiking shoes, and check it out!

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