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The 66 Trail System and Crooked River Trail offer endless winter hiking possibilities

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Duane GarnerWhat great winter weather we have been having! There have been plenty of nice days to get outside and enjoy the Central Oregon landscape.

Kudos to Lon Austin and his recommendation to go hike the Dry River Canyon Trail out in the Badlands. My family took his advice last week, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

There are literally hundreds of great places to get out and explore around here, and just because it's winter, it doesn't mean it won't be fun. Due to COVID restrictions, most indoor activities are still shut down, so I would encourage you to put on your hiking boots, grab your coat, and go for a walk. Here are a couple of my favorite places that are right in your backyard.

The 66 Trail System

Central Oregon Trail Alliance has built a network of trails right here in Prineville. They are designed to be mountain bike trails, but they are fun to walk too! Many of them have been around for a little while now, but new ones are popping up here and there.

Did you know that they extend clear up on top of the rimrock on both sides of Highway 126? There are a few ways to get to them but not all of them are easy to find. I'll start with the closest and easiest one.

Head out 126 like you are on your way to Redmond. Just after you go over the Crooked River bridge, turn left on Rimrock Road. This is the road that borders Meadow Lake Golf Course. You will want to take the first right, which is Park Drive. Go to the very end of the road and that is the trailhead to the Lower 66 section.

This is a great way to get in a quick walk or ride. If you want to start at the top of the rimrock (with access to these same trails plus a couple of new ones), you need to head out 126 toward Redmond and go to the roundabout. Take the Southwest Pillar Road exit toward the industrial park. Turn left on High Desert Drive and follow it all the way to the entry of the Apple Data Center. This part feels weird, but you have to pull into the entry of Apple like you are going to go through the security gate and then immediately make a U turn like you are going to head back out. You can then turn right onto the gravel road that borders Apple's property. This is a county road, so no worries. Follow this road down the fence line and it will curve to the right. At the end of the road, you will find yourself at the Upper 66 trailhead.

It has a nice big sign and there is plenty of parking. There are several options for trails that go back down the hill, or you can walk or ride the nicely built trail that follows the top rim. This is an excellent area to get some scenic pictures of Prineville.

There are also more trails being built on the Facebook side of the rimrock, but they are much harder to get to. If you are really adventurous, you can either start at the State Park viewpoint and follow makeshift trails from there along a dirt road and eventually back over the rim. Or, you can turn on Tom McCall Road toward the landfill, go just past the Facebook Data Centers and turn right on the gravel road (with no name) that borders Facebook and the landfill. Wind your way toward the edge of the rimrock, and you will find a new trail with some cool wooden mountain bike features.

Be aware that there is some private property back there, so take a map or GPS so you know where you are. There is no signage yet, and I don't recommend going up there unless you are up for a serious adventure.

Crooked River Trail

The Crooked River Trail is a work in progress, but it just got a major extension! This trail is now just over ½ mile long and connects Rimrock Park and Crooked River Park. You can park in the parking lot at Rimrock Park and walk down the path towards the historic bridge. Cut across the lawn (we still need to build this short section of trail) and hit the trail along the Crooked River.

You can follow the trail down to the Juniper Canyon flood canal where there is another bridge that connects you to Crooked River Park. Just recently, the city has put in a bunch of wells along the river, and they built a nice gravel path that runs the full length of the park! Eventually this will be a paved, lighted bike path but for now, it makes a nice flat surface to walk or ride. You can also park at Crooked River Park at the south end and walk back towards Rimrock Park. If you start at one end and go the full length and back, you have walked about 1.2 miles!

I hope this gives you a couple of new ideas to try out this winter. Go get some fresh air!

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