We’ve unfortunately entered fire season which means we are keeping a close eye on current and new fires as well as any associated closures. At the time of writing the Cedar Creek Fire has closed the Waldo Lake Wilderness, part of the Three Sisters Wilderness as well as some of the surrounding forest and other fires have closed part of the Diamond Peak Wilderness. We had reservations at the Ideyld Lodge for August 6th and luckily our planned hikes for the weekend were not impacted by any of the current wildfires so we left Salem a little before 5am and headed south on I-5.
Like our earlier trips south this year we were continuing to work on checking off featured hikes from William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Southern Oregon & Northern California” guidebook (post). This time we planned on completing hike #3 – Little River Waterfalls (edition 4.2) as well as another waterfall from hike #2 – Fall Creek Falls. Due to those hikes combining for just 8 miles of hiking we had also planned to add Hemlock Lake (hike #103) onto Saturday’s outing. Sullivan’s Little River Waterfalls hike includes three stops to visit four waterfalls: Wolf Creek, Grotto, Yasko, and Hemlock Falls. The last two both starting from the Lake in the Woods Campground. The Hemlock Creek Trail also begins at this campground and climbs up to the Yellow Jacket Loop Trail which is the trail that Sullivan has you take for his Hemlock Lake hike. We planned on parking at the campground and taking all three of the trails and then time permitting stopping at Grotto Falls on our way to the lodge.
We arrived at the campground and couldn’t tell exactly where the day use area was (we missed the small sign) and wound up driving around the lake through the campground. Instead of trying to figure out where the day use area was (It was immediately to the right as you start counter-clockwise around the loop.) we exited the campground and turned right (east) on FR 27 for a tenth of a mile to FR 421 where we turned right for another tenth of a mile to a pull out where the Hemlock Creek Trail crossed the road.
Hemlock Creek Trail heading uphill toward Hemlock Lake.
Trail sign for the Hemlock Creek Trail heading down to Lake in the Woods from FR 421.
We opted to do the two short trails to the waterfalls first hoping for less crowds (spoiler alert we saw no one) and hiked a tenth of a mile down to the campground round where we turned right.
Hemlock Creek Trail at Lake in the Woods Campground.
Lake in the Woods (a 4 acre man made lake).
We exited the campground and crossed FR 27 to a hiker symbol marking the start of the Yasko Falls Trail.
The trail led gradually down hill for three quarters of a mile to Yasko Falls.
We had heard this particular waterfall was one that was best viewed when the water flow wasn’t too strong which is one reason that we’d chosen August for a waterfall trip. The other reason was mosquitos are reportedly bad here and fierce at Hemlock Lake earlier in the year, in particular July. The 50′ waterfall did not disappoint and we spent some time admiring the cascade before returning to the campground.
A rare photo of me for scale.
At the campground we turned right following the path we’d driven earlier and now spotting the day use sign.
We mistook this for another campsite having not noticed the small sign on the tree.
A tenth of a mile from the day use area we left the road and turned onto the Hemlock Falls Trail.
This half mile trail descended 300′ to Hemlock Falls.
We again returned to the campground and completed the loop around Lake in the Woods then took the Hemlock Creek Trail back up to FR 421 and continued on uphill.
We both noticed that the sign said Hemlock Lake was 4 miles away. Sullivan’s map showed that it was 3 miles from Lake in the Woods to the Yellow Jacket Loop which raised the question was the hike going to be 2 miles longer than we’d expected or did the 4 miles include some of the Yellow Jacket Loop? Based on the mileage in Sullivan’s book I had come up with 16.6 miles so an extra two miles would be pushing us close to 19 (we always find reasons to wander).
Same mileage on the sign on the other side of FR 421. The fact that Road 2759 showed 2 miles when Sullivan had 1.5 on his map was a pretty good indicator that we were in for more than 16.6 miles.
The Hemlock Creek Trail climbed at a reasonable grade through a nice forest and passed several waterfalls. While the falls were partly visible from the trail, use trails led steeply downhill to better views. Gluttons for punishment that we are we took advantage of these trails to visit the falls.
Tributary Falls (unofficial name) was just below a footbridge approximately a half mile from FR 421.
Middle Hemlock Falls was just two tenths of a mile further along.
Small cascade below Middle Hemlock Falls.
Another drop with no way to get a view of the fall from above.
Typical use trail.
A small slide that was fully visible from the trail.
Clover Falls was a quarter mile above Middle Hemlock Falls.
More leopard lilies
Moth hanging out around the falls.
Use trail to Clover Falls.
Heather coming up from the falls through a huckleberry bush that I may have been using for snacks.
All of these falls were before the trail reached Road 2759. Beyond Clover Falls the hillside steepened and the trail veered away from the creek as it climbed via a series of switchbacks to the road crossing.
Skunk cabbage leaves in a wet area.
Curious stellar’s jay.
The trail leveled out quite a bit on the other side of the road crossing Hemlock Creek a couple of times on footbridges.
Again with the 2 miles.
A much more reserved Hemlock Creek.
We started to encounter some open meadows as we neared the junction with the Yellow Jacket Loop Trail.
Coneflower and paintbrush
The wildflowers were already on the way out but on the positive side we didn’t have much trouble at all with mosquitos.
At the junction, which was only marked by a post we turned right.
Hemlock Lake was to the left but Sullivan’s hike description called for doing the loop counter-clockwise. He typically has a reason for the direction he suggests so we’ve learned to stick with his recommendations.
The trail passed through a couple of meadows where pollinators were busy visiting the remaining flowers.
A lone columbine
Mountain owl’s clover
Bee on rainiera
Butterfly on hyssop
Fleabane and paintbrush
Brief forested section.
Flat Rock beyond a meadow.
From the junction it was a mile to the Flat Rock Trail where a three quarter mile detour led up to a viewpoint atop Flat Rock. Heather had been feeling a little “off” since a little before reaching the Yellow Jacket Loop so as we were climbing up from the meadows she decided to skip the out-and-back and instead would continue on the loop and I could catch up to her after visiting the viewpoint. I went on ahead and turned right at the signed junction.
After dropping a bit to a saddle the Flat Rock Trail leveled off which meant that the 500 plus foot climb that was needed to reach the top was all going to be packed into the last quarter mile or so.
There was an opening at the saddle where Diamond Peak (post) was visible through a bit of haze.
The all too familiar Summer “smoke” filter on the mountains.
The trail was a bit overgrown in places.
Starting to climb.
The climb was indeed fairly steep and it was probably a good thing Heather decided to skip it, although that decision had other repercussions. While the view from Flat Rock was pretty nice it wasn’t as nice as the view above nearby Twin Lakes had been when we visited in June (post).
Heading out to the viewpoint.
Quartz Mountain in the foreground with Hillman Peak and The Watchman (Crater Lake Rim) in the distance.
Diamond Peak in the distance to the right and the smoke plume from the Cedar Creek Fire center-right.
Smoke from the Cedar Creek Fire 😦
I returned to the Yellow Jacket Loop Trail and turned right and started to play catch-up with Heather. Beyond the Flat Rock Trail the loop passed through more meadows and some forest that had been impacted by the 2021 Smith Fire.
Parnassian on hyssop
Swallowtail on hyssop.
Just over three quarters of a mile from the Flat Rock Trail I came to a sign for the Cavitt Mountain Tie Trail which didn’t show up on the GPS map or on Sullivan’s map.
Heather had placed an arrow using sticks to show that she had turned left here sticking to the Yellow Jacket Loop and I followed. A tenth of a mile later the trail came to a viewpoint at an old roadbed.
Mt. Bailey and Quartz Mountain.
If Sullivan’s map hadn’t indicated that the trail followed a roadbed for a short distance I might not have known that this had once been a road.
Union Peak. To the left is Highrock Mountain and to the right of Highrock Mountain are the Rabbit Ears (post), a rock outcrop sticking up over a ridge.
The end of the old road section.
The only blooming lupine I saw all day.
I still hadn’t caught up with Heather when I came to a lone post which caused me to stop and ponder our decision to split up. I had realized we’d made the mistake of not setting a meet point where she would stop and wait for me, or I her if I somehow wound up in front of her. At this unsigned post the trail appeared to go straight but the maps showed the trail veering to the left. I looked for an arrow or even footprints to indicate which way Heather had gone. She also carries a GPS and had Sullivan’s map and hike description so I thought there was a good chance she went the right way, but it was a confusing enough junction that going straight wasn’t out of the question.
The actual trail to the left was very overgrown here and hard to pick out at first glance.
The map showed FR 625 in the direction of the right hand fork and it also showed the trail nearly touching that road two time further along the ridge it was on so I decided that even if she had taken a wrong turn here she would hop back onto the trail at one of those other two points so I went left and kept my eyes out for her.
The first convergence with FR 625.
Signpost at the second meeting.
The further I went the more concerned I became because I knew she hadn’t been feeling great when we split up and I had been moving at a crisp pace and had expected to catch up to her by now. I talked myself into think she might have started feeling better and with the trail being more level and starting to go downhill she may have been moving faster than I’d expected and I wasn’t sure quite how long my detour up to Flat Rock had taken. I continued on passing a sign for the Snowbird Shelter Trail and coming to Dead Cow Lake where I optimistically thought she might be waiting.
There were a lot of different types of signs along the loop.
Dead Cow Lake turned out to be a bust, not only was Heather not there but the lake was more of a slime filled pool. At least from what could be seen from the trail, there wasn’t any visible way to the lake itself.
It was a little under a mile from Dead Cow Lake to the next trail junction where I thought I might find her. This end of the loop was steeper than the other which made doing the loop counter-clockwise the better option.
I was moving rather quickly now and not stopping for much but I did pause for these sugar sticks.
When I didn’t find Heather at the next junction another possible scenario popped into my head. The right fork led 0.8 mile to a picnic area near the Hemlock Lake boat ramp and I suddenly wondered if Heather thought I had planned to loop around Hemlock Lake that way.
That hadn’t been the plan but now I couldn’t remember if we had really discussed that part. The left fork led back to the Hemlock Creek Trail in 0.7 miles and had been my intended route. I decided to go that way hoping that Heather hadn’t gone to the picnic area and was waiting there for me (if only we had agreed on a meet point).
The trail never got very close to the lake.
I passed the day use parking area looking for any sign of Heather but didn’t see her and then didn’t find her at the junction with the Hemlock Creek Trail.
Signboard at the Hemlock Lake Day Use Area.
Loop complete, no Heather.
Again not having set a meeting spot meant that I didn’t know for sure if she was somehow still ahead of me or if she was at the picnic area or if I had somehow passed her without knowing it. I decided my only choice was to double time it down the Hemlock Creek Trail and if she wasn’t at the car I would leave a note and drive up to Hemlock Lake to search the picnic area and campground for her. I half jogged half double timed it down to FR 2759 and was pretty sure she wasn’t in front of me as I crossed that road. My suspicion was confirmed when I ran into a trail crew near Clover Falls and asked if they’d seen a woman go by. (These were the only other people I’d seen on trail all day.) That cinched it so I jogged the majority of the way down to the car. I wrote two notes letting her know that I was driving up to look for her and to stay there if she happened to come down behind me as I would come back if I didn’t find her at Hemlock Lake. I stuck the notes on a tree limb near the trail sign and under a rock in the fire pit near where we’d parked and drove up to the boat ramp. No one there had seen her so I drove through the campground to the day use parking area. As I stepped out of the car I spotted her coming up from the trailhead signboard where she had just left a note for me.
It turned out that she had indeed gone right at the unmarked post and gotten on FR 625. She realized her mistake pretty quickly and turned around but we’d timed it just right and I had passed her during that time. Fortunately she took several breaks thinking that there was a chance I might still be behind her so she was just getting ready to head down the Hemlock Creek Trail when I pulled up, prayers answered. The whole debacle was a good reminder of how important it is to make clear plans before splitting up.
Despite the anxious ending it had been a nice hike but it was too long, especially if you’re jogging a good portion of the final 3.5 miles. My hike wound up being 18.2 miles with over 3700′ of elevation gain. Heather’s was a bit shorter having skipped Flat Rock and the return trip on the Hemlock Creek Trail.
So how do you follow something like that up? With another hike of course. It was just after 4pm and since Grotto Falls was on the way and only about half a mile round trip we detoured to that trailhead. We were mostly motivated by the thought of not making the drive the next day so we could get home a little earlier.
There were two other cars at this trailhead and we set off behind a family with a couple of youngsters.
The trailhead is right after crossing Emile Creek.
The setting for Grotto Falls was impressive. There wasn’t a lot of water flowing in the creek this time of year but there was enough and we were treated to a pair of small rainbows which added to the beauty.
The trail lead behind the falls giving us a chance to cool off in the water.
Cave behind the falls.
This was a perfect short hike to end the day on allowing us to relax a bit. We returned to the car and drove to the Idleyld Lodge and checked in. Then Heather ran across the street Idleyld Trading Post where she picked up some tasty post hike burritos. The historic lodge narrowly escaped the 2020 Archie Creek Fire and recently changed owners. It was obvious that the new owners had been putting a lot of work into the lodge and the room was quite comfy. What wasn’t were all the blisters on my feet, apparently jogging downhill at the end of an 18 mile hike isn’t something that they appreciated. In any event the day had ended on a high note. Happy Trails!