6,600 years ago hot molten lava spewed from the side of Lava Butte, damming the Deschutes River and creating Benham Lake. The lake would overflow at a low point on a saddle, this channel eventually formed Benham Falls. The Deschutes travels on North towards Bend down two more clusters of rapids (Dillon and Lava Island Falls).
This stretch of The Deschutes River is nearly impassable for all except Nathaniel Wyeth. Wyeth navigated a quarter-ton dugout canoe down the rapids in 1834. Originally from Massachusetts, Wyeth came to Oregon Country to make fast money on fish, fur, and trade with Native Peoples. Although he is known for exploring The Deschutes further North than any other white man at the time (pursuing workers who left his expedition) the area is named after James R. Benham.
In 1885 Benham tried to file a claim in the area of the falls but was denied. By 1898 Benham had (along with G.W. Swallow) founded The Deschutes Reclamation and Irrigation Company. The company encouraged settlers to purchase land under The Desert Land Act and then acquire rights to a canal by contributing equal work. The company was successful in irrigating The Deschutes for the first time.
In 1916 two logging companies opened up (Brooks- Scanlon and Shevlin-Hixon). Shevlin- Hixon operated on the West side of the river and in 1921 they built a bridge over to access more timber. The original bridge had rails for the train and was used as a connection to The Southern Pacific line in Chemult. In 1932 the bridge’s rails were removed and it remained open for vehicles until the bridge of the deck burned in a fire during the 1960’s. The Oregon National Guard rebuilt the bridge in 1982.
South of Benham Bridge are the remnants of a River to Rail Transload Facility built by Shevlin- Hixon. This is where logs that were timbered upstream and sent down the river were collected. The logs were then loaded on the the train and sent North to The Mill in Bend.
Benham Falls can be accessed from Highway 97 Via The Lava Lands Exit, from the parking lot it is .5 miles to The Falls. You can continue on down the path here all the way to Bend if you like (about 10 miles into town). Adjacent Slough Meadow, Dillon and Lava Island Falls can be accessed from Forest Road 41, mountain bike or hiking loop options are limitless here. From Sunriver take The Sun and Lava trail 2 miles to The Benham Falls parking lot.