The Crooked River runs over 100 miles through Oregon’s central plateau before emptying into the Deschutes River. The Chimney Rock section, stretching 18 miles from Prineville south to the Bowman Dam, is some of the best the waterway has to offer.
It’s so picturesque and ecologically important that it was designated a National Wild and Scenic River area in 1988.
Here the river has carved its way through the Oregon high desert, forming a narrow canyon that bends with the river’s every curve. The high walls include interesting postpile rock patterns and large erosion formations like the namesake Chimney Rock.
There are nine BLM campgrounds in the canyon. All of the campsites are first come, first serve, and each costs $8 per night. All nine locations boast beautiful surroundings, and most of the individual campsites are riverfront real estate. Here you can lie in your tent and let the sound of the river stimulate the senses.
The primary attraction to the river is fishing. The area is close enough to Bend that many of the anglers are day trippers, which means good fishing doesn’t necessarily mean busy campgrounds.
Humans aren’t the only fishers in the neighborhood. I saw an Osprey swoop from a tree into the river and emerge with a foot-long fish in its talons. A lady staying in a camper nearby said she saw a family of otters playing in front of her campsite a few days before.
The lack of crowds can also be attributed to the fact that the road, the Crooked River Highway, doesn’t really go anywhere. There aren’t a whole lot of people just “passing through” like me.
The reason I was there was because I had spent the day rockhounding in the national forest and was on my way south to the Alvord Desert.
During my one-night stay in the canyon, I enjoyed a warm summer night accentuated by a crackling fire and star-filled sky. I was on my way the next morning on a high note after some riverside coffee and seeing the Osprey catch the fish.
The only thing keeping the Chimney Rock campgrounds from getting a perfect score is that the river isn’t ideal for swimming and it was rather buggy the night I stayed. Hardly a deal breaker however. Still highly recommended.
Here’s an information brochure PDF about the Crooked River’s Chimney Rock area.