THIS TWENTY-NINE-MILE-LONG RIVER apparently has a target on its back. Cascade lava flows have tried to squelch it no fewer than six times in the past five million or so years, including one particularly nasty attempt by Black Butte about a million years ago, when the volcano belched its fiery contents smack-dab into the riverbed. But the little river that could has always found a new path. Today, the Metolius wells up from beneath the bristled cone of Black Butte—at eighty feet wide, a river born almost whole—then races northward at nearly nine-hundred-thousand gallons a minute toward Lake Billy Chinook, where it makes a final wide turn into the Deschutes River. Despite its geological mystique, the Metolius is no mystery to fishermen, who flock to its banks in the summer to cast for brown trout and redband rainbows. Fittingly, given the river’s own hard-won survival, every inch of this serpentine stream is reserved for catch-and-release fishing.
FISH Historically, sockeye salmon have had a large run on the Metolius, but today, trout are king: brown, rainbow, redband, even the endangered bull trout all call the river home. When it comes to landing them, though, you’re more or less on your own. Because of a treaty with the Warm Springs Tribe—which owns the west bank of the lower river—the Forest Service has prohibited commercial guided fishing excursions on the Metolius. So stop into the Camp Sherman Store (campshermanstore.com), a full-service fly shop (see “Base Camp”), to find out what flies the fish have been taking.
HIKE While a handful of paddlers brave the Metolius’s cold, clear waters (the river flows at 48 degrees year-round), the paths surrounding the river are more popular, and they’re known as a haven from summertime heat. Old-growth ponderosa pines provide cooling shade on the six-mile West Metolius River Trail (www.fs.fed.us), which flits between forests and meadows. Bring a stash of quarters for your respite at the Wizard Falls Hatchery, about halfway up the trail, where you can buy fish food from the vending machines and play Santa to our finned friends in the open-air pools. For a tougher trek, take on the Metolius’s would-be murderer, Black Butte. It’s a quad-busting two-mile climb to the top of the 6,434-foot-high volcano, but the views of Mount Jefferson and the gnarled spire of Three Fingered Jack are to die for.