Once again we found ourselves rearranging our scheduled hikes after we had to cancel a planned visit to Central Oregon. We needed to stay home and finish giving our cat Buddy medication after he had a tooth extraction. We settled on a pair of hikes along Highway 20 east of Sweet Home, OR beginning at Cascadia State Park.
Cascadia State Park is less than 15 miles from Sweet Home and offers one year round picnic area and a camground, group tent site, and a second picnic area open from May 1st – September 30th. It also offers some short hiking trails which is what prompted our visit. After turning into the park and crossing the South Santiam River we parked at the west picnic area. The first trail we set our sights on was the Soda Creek Falls Trail. This trail began from the road to the group camps and day use area just before it crossed Soda Creek.
The trail was a bit muddy in spots as it followed the creek up to the falls. The falls were set in a scenic canyon tumbling over and down basalt.
An easy path went down to the base of the falls and the low volume of water made it possible to walk right up to them.
We returned to where we had parked and walked across the entrance road to a sign for the Soda Springs Trail.
This trail led down to a footbridge over Soda Creek and then on to Soda Springs.
We followed the trail up from the spring site and then took a right hand path down some stairs to the South Santiam River.
We spent some time exploring on the exposed river rock where we spotted some aquatic bugs and small minnows.
After climbing back up from the river we continued through the east picnic area and walked along a service road which passed through a large meadow with a few flowers.
At the far end of the meadow we left the service road and passed through an off-leash area for pets where we found lots of tiger lilies.
From the off-leash area we picked up the River Trail which began at the group camp parking lot and led east along the South Santiam River. We took a couple of side trails, one to a meadow of plectritis and a second down to the river.
Although there were no signs posted the trail eventually left the State Park and passed onto private land at the start of a series of bends in the path. We turned around here and headed back to the west picnic area and our car.
From Cascadia State Park we drove another 7 miles east to a pullout across from Trout Creek Campground. A pair of trails began here, the short Walton Ranch Interpretive Trail and the more strenuous Trout Creek Trail.
We began with the Walton Ranch Trail which crossed Trout Creek and climbed a little over a quarter mile to a viewing platform. From Winter to early Spring an elk herd winters in the meadow across Highway 20 from the platform but being June the only things we spotted were flowers.
It was now time for the most difficult hike of our day. The Trout Creek Trail gains approximately 2400′ in 3.4 miles to the site of two former cabins near Rooster Rock in the Menagerie Wilderness. The wilderness contains several large rock pinnacles/formations which are volcanic in origin and popular with rock climbers.
To be honest this was a hike that had not been high on our list to do. Although it was included in all our guidebooks for the area none of them seemed to be all that enamored with this hike. It was described as being “short on highlights”, “a good conditioning hike”, and “the least interesting hike in the Old Cascades”. Having low expectations may have been a good thing in the end because we wound up enjoying the hike even though it did suffer from a lack of highlights, and it was quite a workout.
The trail climbed steadily the entire time. It was never overly steep but it was relentless and it never left the forest so there were no good views along the way. There were also no creeks or streams to cross along the route.
Best view of Rooster Rock from the Trout Creek Trail
There were a few flowers including lots of candy sticks along the way and some ripe red huckleberries too.
Rhododendron and huckleberries
There was effectively no view of Rooster Rock at Rooster Rock. A large boulder sat at its base and trees hid the rock.
We continued uphill from Rooster Rock forking right to the site of the former cabins that were used by the lookouts who staffed a lookout that had sat atop Rooster Rock once upon a time. The view from the former cabin site was better than we had expected. Rooster Rock was still out of view, but the view east extended up the South Santiam River canyon to the snowy peaks of North and Middle Sister.
Other familiar peaks included Cone Peak and Iron Mountain.
The rocks around the viewpoint were dotted with purple penstemon and yellow stonecrop.
From the cabin site a climbers trail continued deeper into the Menagerie Wilderness. The climbers trail would have eventually taken us to a forest service road on the north side of the wilderness and made it possible to visit Panorama Point, a viewpoint atop a large rock cliff. To get there the trail passes through a section of the wilderness that is closed annually from 1/15 – 7/31 to protect endangered species so we only went a little ways further into the wilderness in an attempt to find a better view of some of the other rock features. We turned around at some pink flagging that was in the area of the closure never having found a decent view. Panorama Point was visible for a moment through some trees as was another odd shaped pinnacle.
Heather did manage to find a spur trail that led to a view of Rooster Rock and to the west toward the Willamette Valley.
She also spotted the summit of South Sister barely rising above one of the foothills.
On our way back to the car we were on the lookout for a wilderness sign. As we visit the various wildernesses I try and get a picture of a wilderness sign for each one and I needed one for the Menagerie Wilderness. We had started looking on the way up but not until we were well into the wilderness so as we neared the edge of the area we began looking back at the trees as we passed. We never did see an official sign so I took a picture of the wilderness regulation sheet on the information board at the trailhead instead.
Someday we may have to try the Rooster Rock Trail (a shorter,steeper approach to Rooster Rock) in hopes that there is a fancier sign along that trail but until then we can at least mark off one more wilderness area we’ve visited. Happy Trails!