After a night in John Day we headed south for a day hike on the Malheur River Trail. The trail starts at Malheur Ford Trailhead where Forest Road 1651 actually does ford the river.
The Malheur, a designated Wild and Scenic River, is fed from the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness (post). The trail is 7.6 miles long running from the ford to another trailhead at Hog Flat. For our hike we planned on hiking around 6.5 miles of the trail at which point the trail would be starting the steep climb away from the river to Hog Flat. It was a pleasantly cool morning as we set off on the trail. Despite the Forest Service indicating that the trail had not been maintained it was in good shape with just a couple of trees to step over/around.
Bench near the trailhead.
Lupine along the trail.
There was plenty of river access along the way.
Paintbrush and lupine along the trail.
Mile markers were present (at least to mile 6) although we missed 3 & 5 on the way out. We managed to spot them on the way back though. There did seem to be a bit of a discrepancy regarding the first mile as there were two trees sporting “1”s.
A little past the mile 1 markers the trail descended to Miller Creek where just a little water was present but it was enough to host a number of flowers.
Balsamroot, columbine, geraniums and paintbrush.
The trail did several more ups and downs sometimes rising above the river and other times dropping down to flats along it. A rocky viewpoint just before the 2 mile mark was fairly impressive.
Photo from the afternoon on the way back.
Photo from the afternoon on the way back.
Tree marking mile 2.
Typical “obstacles” that were present along the trail.
Balsamroot or mule’s ears?
Right around mile five (which we missed the marker for) was a riverside meadow of wildflowers.
Salsify and geraniums
Swallowtail on scarlet gilia
Some sort of copper butterfly
Balsamroot (or mule’s ears)
A different type of fleabane.
After hanging out in the meadow watching the butterflies for awhile we continued on.
Hog Flat is up on top of the hillside.
Mile 6 markers.
Cracked egg in the trail.
We passed this cairn around the 6.5 mile mark.
We turned around here shortly after passing the cairn. It appeared the trail was beginning it’s climb and we took the cairn and downed tree as signs that it was time to turn around. We did just that and headed back keeping our eyes open for the mile 3 and 5 markers.
A fritillary butterfly on an iris.
This was a particularly tricky little muddy spot to stay dry crossing.
And there’s “3”.
Immature bald eagle. We saw it on the way out in the same area but couldn’t get a photo. This time it flew right by me, and I think it was giving me the stink eye.
Back at the trailhead.
This was a 13.5 mile out and back with a few hundred feet of elevation gain spread over the various ups and downs along the way. There were plenty of views of the river and a nice variety of wildflowers and wildlife making this a nice river hike. Happy Trails!
After three days of hiking in the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness we headed south from Pendleton planning on spending the next two nights in John Day. While I was planning this vacation I began looking for possible hikes between the two towns. Sullivan had a pair of hikes in the back of his Eastern Oregon guidebook starting from the Winom Creek Campground including a hike to Tower Mountain, the highest point in Umatilla County. A 92′-tall Aermotor steel lookout tower stands atop the mountain and is still in operation during the fire season. Sullivan’s description used the Upper Winom Creek and Cable Creek Trails to reach the summit road for a 16.4 mile out and back or a 16 mile loop by descending the Tower Mountain Trail to Big Creek Meadows and following a tie trail from there to the Winom Creek Campground. Nearly all of the area was impacted by the 2019 Tower Complex Fire. There wasn’t a lot of information online regarding the trails here which pass through the North Fork John Day Wilderness but from what I could find online it appeared that our best bet was to simply start at Big Creek Meadows Campground and do an out and back hike using the Tower Mountain Trail.
We parked at the trailhead for the Tower Loop Trail at Big Creek Meadows Campground.
Instead of heading off on the Tower Loop Trail though we backtracked along the road to Big Creek and turned left following it to NF-52 (Blue Mountain Scenic Byway).
Tall mountain bluebells
Sign for the Tower Mountain Trail across NF-52.
The tread for the Tower Mountain Trail was faint to say the least as it started in meadows along Big Creek.
The trail passed through a stand of young lodgepole pine where it was easier to see but there wasn’t much room to maneuver. Our theory on why the Forest Service hadn’t widened this was to deter OHV riders from using the trail as there is a large network of OHV approved roads/trails in the area.
Back to the faint tread.
Elk had chewed up this section of trail.
The hare wasn’t too concerned about us and even stopped to munch on some grass just a few feet away from us as we passed.
The only sign/marker for the trail through the meadows.
On the map the trail appeared to cross a branch of Big Creek which it did.
We were surprised to find a second crossing (of the same creek) just a few moments later.
The trail became clearer as we continued on. It followed Big Creek for a little over 3.25 miles, sometimes climbing above the meadows along forested hillsides and other times passing through wet meadows with wildflowers. Some of other sections had avoided at least the worst of the 1996 fire.
Fleabane along the trail.
When the trail turned away from Big Creek it began to climb through an open lodgepole pine forest with some western larch mixed in.
Soon the lodgepole forest gave way to other conifers.
We began to have views of the Elkhorns (post) to the east.
Either a cinquefoil or an aven.
The trail grew a bit faint as we passed through an open meadow with a variety of wildflowers.
There was also a nice view south of the Greenhorn Mountains including Ben Harrison and Vinegar Hill (post)
Vinegar Hill is in the center with Ben Harrison to the right of the green tree in the foreground.
The trail began to climb more gradually and actually dropped a bit to a saddle below Tower Mountain before again climbing steadily to an old roadbed at the wilderness boundary.
Back in forest burned in 1996.
Dropping to the saddle with Tower Mountain in the distance.
The lookout tower on Tower Mountain.
Arriving at the wilderness boundary.
Looking back into the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
A short distance later the trail ended at Forest Road 5226.
The Elkhorns from NF-5226.
The road loops around the summit of the mountain so either left or right would have led us to the lookout tower. We decided to go clockwise and headed left up the road.
We arrived at the summit after a 0.4 mile climb.
We sat at on a bench facing the Elkhorns to rest and have a snack.
After the break we walked over to the tower to check it out. It wasn’t clear if it was okay to climb the stairs, there was no signage either way. We decided to admire it from the ground though.
After admiring the tower we continued on the road loop. When we came to a fork in the road we detoured left to a ridge end meadow with a view that included the Wallowa Mountains (post).
Wallowas on the left and the Elkhorns on the right.
Wallowa Mountains including Eagle Cap
Balloon pod milk vetch
A patch of snow clinging to Tower Mountain.
Old man’s whiskers
We completed the road loop and then headed back down the Tower Mountain Trail. We retraced our steps looking for flowers and wildlife along the way.
Ball head waterleaf
Violets and ?
Tortoiseshell on a cone.
Fish in Big Creek.
I believe this is a columbian ground squirrel.
California tortoiseshell butterflies
Red tailed hawk
Our hike came in at 12.7 miles with a little under 2000′ of elevation gain. The climb never felt very steep and the scenery along the trail was great.
We were both very impressed with this hike and it wound up being our favorite of the whole trip. Having a map for the lower faint portion of trail was necessary but the trail itself was in really good shape. We then drove to John Day and after checking into our motel had a wonderful dinner at 1188 Brewing. Happy Trails!
For our third and final hike in the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness we had originally planned on a 13.9 mile loop using the Buck Creek, Lake Creek, and Buck Mountain Trails. That plan had been scrapped due to the damage caused by the February 2020 flooding in the area which left the roads and trails damaged. We parked as we had the two previous days at a gate along Bingham Springs Road (NF-32). Unlike the previous two days though it had rained overnight and the clouds were still breaking up as we set off on the 1.4 mile road walk to the Buck Creek Trailhead
There were no masses of swallowtails along the road this morning (post) but we did see a merganser across the Umatilla where some of the butterflies had been.
While the first two hikes in this wilderness had been featured hikes in Sullivan’s guidebook the Buck Creek/Buck Mountain Trails were back of the book entries. The Forest Service again had listed them both as open but the latest update (late May 2021) indicated that only the first 2 miles of the Buck Creek Trail had been cleared since the flooding and just the first 1/2 mile of the Buck Mountain Trail had received any maintenance. We were prepared to turn around when the maintenance petered out on both of these trails and we decided to start with the Buck Mountain Trail since it was said to be steep. We figured climbing first thing in the morning was better than later in the day.
Buck Creek Trailhead
Buck Creek Trail straight ahead with the Buck Mountain Trail to the right. Notice that the Buck Mountain Trail didn’t receive a nice new sign. (Not pictured is the Ninemile Ridge Trail to the left.)
Just a few hundred feet down the Buck Mountain Trail we arrived at Buck Creek where there was no bridge nor any way to cross dry footed.
It would have been an easy enough ford but starting the morning of with soaked feet didn’t sound appealing to either of us, especially to simply climb for 1/2 a mile and turn around assuming no further maintenance had been done on the trail. Since we weren’t willing to get wet we decided to return to the trail junction and head up the Buck Creek Trail.
It didn’t take long to realize that fording the creek or not we were not going to have dry feet today. The Buck Creek Trail had been maintained but not brushed out. The overnight rain transferred easily from the vegetation to our clothing and soon not only were our feet wet but so were our pants and at least the lower half of our shirts.
Nice new wilderness sign along the trail.
Signs of the flooding.
Washed out section of trail.
Recent trail repair here.
Slugs didn’t mind the damp conditions.
We made it a little over 1.75 miles before stopping at a deep washout.
There was no visible tread entering or leaving this deep ditch and we had spent the previous tenth of a mile or so pushing our way through the wet vegetation so we assumed the maintenance hadn’t gotten any further. We turned back and did our best to pick up any water that we’d missed on the first pass.
Honeysuckle was everywhere in this wilderness, on all three hikes.
We took a short detour when we reached NF-32 to check out some damage to the bridge over the South Fork Umatilla River.
There were no swallowtails today, and the merganser was no longer where we’d seen it but now there was a spotted sandpiper on the rocks where the swallowtails and merganser had been.
Apparently that is a popular spot for wildlife. We returned to car and drove back to Pendleton for the last time on this trip. For dinner we walked from the Rugged Country Lodge to Hal’s Hamburgers, in business since 1952. It was a nice ending to our stay in Pendleton. A brief but wet 6.5 mile hike with only a couple of hundred feet of elevation gain and a good old fashioned hamburger. Happy Trails!
For the second hike in the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness we chose the North Fork Umatilla River Trail (Hike #40 in Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Eastern Oregon” 3rd edition). We began our hike as we had the prior days for Ninemile Ridge (post) by hiking up the closed portion of Bingham Springs Road but this time after 0.3 miles we noticed a sign post for what apparently is the Lick Creek Trail which connects to the North Fork Umatilla Trail in 0.6 miles near the North Fork Umatilla Trailhead located at the Umatilla Forks Day-Use Area.
Closed portion of Bingham Springs Road (NF 32).
We had completely missed this trail along NF-32 the day before having been distracted by the large number of butterflies in the area.
Slugs were everywhere on this trail and became a theme for the day.
The trail climbed up from the road and traversed the hillside above the Umatilla River before dropping down to the North Fork Umatilla Trail.
We stayed right at this junction to head down to the North Fork Umatilla Trail.
Evidence of the February 2020 flooding covering the North Fork Umatilla Trail, also there is a squirrel on the base of the tree at center.
There was a warning on the trail sign regarding the flood damage. The Forest Service website had been updated in late May to say that the trail had been maintained as far as Coyote Creek (approx 2.7 miles from the trailhead) though so we figured that we would be able to get at least that far. The Ninemile Ridge Trail had received more maintenance than the Forest Service page had said so we thought there might be a chance that more of this trail had been cleared since the last update too.
Some signs of recent maintenance.
North Fork Umatilla River
We were excited to see that there was an actual wilderness sign on this trail. We hadn’t seen one along the Ninemile Ridge Trail, just a small metal sign plate.
It was evident that a lot of work had been put into restoring the trail given the number of slides we crossed and cut trees we encountered.
Debris from the flood in what appeared to be a new route for the river.
This big slide was across the river.
Some of the trail side was also lost.
A section of trail that survived intact.
Looking down another small slide.
More maintenance along another washout.
A number of slugs on the trail, Heather counted at least two dozen in just a few feet.
Stonecrop along an exposed section.
Ragged robin in the exposed area.
At one point this guy was hitching a ride on my pant leg.
View from the trail.
This section was a little overgrown.
I believe this is Sabin’s lupine.
Spur trail to a large campsite near Coyote Creek and the North Fork Umatilla River.
The footbridge at Coyote Creek was washed out in the flood and now lay broken on the far side of the creek. I crossed over on some nearby downed trees to scout out the trail ahead. Sullivan had shown a rough 0.9 mile scramble route leading up to the left on the far side of the creek while the North Fork Umatilla Trail continued 1.6 miles up river to more campsites before turning away and begin a climb up Coyote Ridge. In 1.2 miles the trail met the scramble route at a viewpoint then climbs another 1.6 miles to a fork at the tip of Coyote Ridge. Originally our plan had been to hike to that fork for an 11 mile out and back (from the Umatilla Forks Day-Use Area). Having to park at the gate would have made it closer to a 13 mile hike but after crossing the creek it was apparent that the Forest Service website was still up to date and the trail had only been cleared to Coyote Creek. Pink flagging marked both the scramble route and official trail but it appeared that was as far as anyone had gotten.
Missing a footbridge.
I crossed on that log.
Found the footbridge.
Flagging for the scramble route.
Flagging for the North Fork Umatilla Trail
We took a short break at Coyote Creek then explored the nearby campsites before heading back.
Butterfly on a cinquefoil?
Confluence of Coyote Creek and the North Fork Umatilla River.
Deep hole below the campsites along the North Fork Umatilla
Campsite near Coyote Creek.
Heading back on the trail.
Checkerspot on honeysuckle
As we neared the junction with the tie trail to the Lick Creek Trail we met a three person trail crew heading for Coyote Creek. They were going to be working on the trail beyond and added that a larger crew was coming in to camp at Coyote Creek and continue restoring the trail. We thanked them for their efforts and briefly discussed the Ninemile Ridge Trail which they were happy to hear was passable to the cairn at the high point. Instead of taking the tie trail back we hiked out via the day-use area and followed NF-32 back to the car.
Signboard at the trailhead.
Sign for the Blues Crew at the trailhead. These volunteer organizations are so vital to keeping the trails open.
We were delayed twice along the way by swarms of swallowtail butterflies.
Not swallowtails but these lorquin’s admirals sure liked this scat.
The first mass of swallowtails was on the far side of the river along this stretch.
The second and larger group was at this wet spot along the road.
In addition to all of them on the ground dozens more were swirling around our heads. It was one of those moments on the trail (even if it was a road) that we wont forget.
Our hike came in at a reasonable 8.5 miles round trip with a little under 500′ of elevation gain. A much more manageable day than the one before. While it was a bit disappointing not to reach Coyote Ridge it was probably for the best for our bodies in the long run. It helped that we had gotten plenty of views of the area on Ninemile Ridge too so we didn’t feel like we missed out much there.
We drove back to Pendleton and after cleaning up had dinner at Moe Pho before turning in for the night. Happy Trails!
As we continue to explore the trails in the Pacific Northwest we are working on completing a number of “goals”, one of which is having hiked in each of Oregon’s 36 counties. We began the year missing just two, Gilliam and Umatilla. We checked Gilliam off our list over Memorial Day weekend with a hike at Cottonwood Canyon State Park (post) leaving just Umatilla County. One of our other goals is to hike in the 46 Oregon wilderness areas open to visitors (post). (Oregon Islands and Three Arch Rocks off the Oregon Coast are off limits.) We began the year with just four wilderness areas left to visit; Black Canyon, Devil’s Staircase, Monument Rock, and North Fork Umatilla. We used a week of vacation to finish the county hikes, visit the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness, and check off three more featured hikes in one of William L. Sullivan’s guidebooks, this time his “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Eastern Oregon” (3rd edition). Our long term goal is to complete the 100 featured hikes from at least one edition of each of Sullivan’s five guidebooks; Oregon Coast, NW Oregon & SW Washington, Southern Oregon & Northern California, Central Oregon Cascades, and Eastern Oregon (post).
We started our week off by driving to Pendleton stopping along the way at the Cold Springs Wildlife Refuge near Hermiston, OR. This stop came about while I was looking for hikes in areas around Oregon where we hadn’t hiked yet. At four hours from Salem the short Memorial Marsh Trail system looked like a good leg stretcher on our way to Pendleton and it would be our first hike in Umatilla County. We parked at the trailhead for the Memorial Marsh Unit at the east end of an access road.
The brochure, which is available online and at the trailhead, is dated 2014. We didn’t realize that when we grabbed one to use as our map. What we should have done is paid more attention to the laminated map posted on the trailhead signboard.
The brochure map shows a total of three loops (see above). There is a triangular loop from the parking area, and two loops around marshes. The laminated map however only shows the triangular loop. While the brochure indicates that there are loops around both the Lower Pond and the Upper Pond the other map did not. Having missed that detail we set off with a plan of staying left at junctions to complete the non-existent loops. The trail led us through a sagebrush landscape similar to what we had seen at the nearby Umatilla Wildlife Refuge (not in Umatilla County) in 2019 (post).
After .3 miles the dirt trail met a gravel roadbed at the Lower Pond.
Looking right down the roadbed which would lead back to the parking area.
We weren’t off to a great start as we were already confused at the roadbed. We weren’t sure exactly where we were on the brochure map and spent some time debating on which direction we should go. Before we figured that out though Heather realized that we’d left her GPS unit sitting on top of the car so she headed back to retrieve that and I wandered to the right up the road a ways where it became clear that it was going to lead back to the trailhead which let me know that it was part of the triangular loop.
Ducks in the Lower Pond
A lone phlox blossom
Having retrieved the Garmin and figured out where we were we headed left from the dirt trail along the gravel road which curved around the Lower Pond.
Female red-winged blackbirds
Blue-winged teal and a black-necked stilt.
When we came to a “Y” junction in the road we went left.
This road led between the hidden Cold Springs Reservoir on the left and the Middle Pond on the right. We spooked a couple of deer along this stretch but they both vanished in the sagebrush before I had time to retrieve the camera.
We ignored a side road on the left for hunting blind 5 and then again forked left when the road split at the Upper Pond.
Spur road to hunting blind 5. The blinds were well signed but not marked on the brochure map. The laminated map at the trailhead though did show the blinds which would have also been very helpful.
Yellow headed blackbirds
We wrapped around the pond to the edge of the refuge where we were carefully watched by a herd of cows on the other side of a barbed wire fence. The gravel road eventually gave way to a cut grassy track near blind 1b and then vanished altogether.
Not going to be making a loop around the Upper Pond.
A little confused we turned around and passed the equally confused looking cows. We backtracked to the fork between the Middle and Upper Ponds and went left thinking that maybe we had misread the map and this was the loop.
This roadbed began to loop around the Upper Pond before petering out near blind 8 (again all of this would have been clear had we used the laminated map). The saving grace here was we got to see an owl fly out of the trees along the pond (no time for a photo though) and we saw another deer which I did manage to get a picture of.
Once again we found ourselves back tracking. Having not yet learned our lesson when we made it back to the split between the Middle and Lower Ponds we once again attempted a loop and headed between them.
Great blue heron
The road had turned into a grassy track before ending in some sagebrush where a faint trail? could be seen.
We did pass at least one sign facing the other direction which indicated that at least at one time this had been a loop but it was now very overgrown.
We passed blinds 7 and 7b which were also quite overgrown and in the process I manged to pick up at least a half dozen unwelcome guests in the form of ticks.
When we finally made it back to the gravel road we stopped for a tick check to try and make sure there were no stowaways left and then followed the roadbed .3 miles back to the trailhead. I wound up doing 4.4 miles here (Heather wound up with ) which was quite a bit more than we had planned due to the backtracking for the GPS unit and the non-existent loop around the Upper Pond.
Before we started our drive to Pendleton we did attempted another full tick check. Despite stripping and attempting to look under any flap on our clothing we somehow missed two of the little blood suckers. One we spotted crawling up my pant leg before we started driving which we quickly dispatched of but the second appeared on my knee while we were on Interstate 84. Heather attempted to get it into a container since there was nowhere for me to pull over at that moment but instead of going into the container it wound up on the floor and vanished (at least for the time being). For the rest of the drive we were on high alert watching for it to reappear.
We still had a second hike to do so after filling our gas tank (and searching in vain for the missing tick) we drove past Pendleton to a temporary trailhead along Bingham Springs Road (National Forest Road 32).
Severe flooding in February of 2020 washed out roads and trails in the area and work is still being done to repair the damage. We had actually planned on doing this trip in 2020 before the flooding (and COVID) and at that time were planning on camping at the Umatilla Forks Campground since our next three hikes all began within a half mile of the campground. Since that option was off the table staying in Pendleton (just 31 miles from the temporary trailhead) made the most sense.
After searching again for our missing tick we set off on the closed road which we followed for 1.2 miles to a fork at the far end of the campground where we turned up FR 045 for another 0.2 miles to a trailhead sign.
The road walk wasn’t all that bad as it followed the Umatilla River the whole way.
This was a popular spot with the butterflies, particularly swallowtails.
Dragon fly watching the butterflies
Approximately 3/4 of a mile from the gate we passed a sign for the North Fork Umatilla Trail which was our destination for the next day.
Just beyond the sign we crossed the North Fork Umatilla River.
FR 045 on the left.
Another gathering of butterflies
Three trails start at this trailhead, the Ninemile Ridge, Buck Creek, and Buck Mountain Trails.
Today’s plan was the Ninemile Ridge Trail. In the original plan this was the shortest of the three hikes with Sullivan listing it as a 7.2 mile out and back. Adding the road walk was going to add close to 3 miles round trip but the road walk was necessary for the other two hikes as well. We weren’t sure though how much of the trail we were going to be able to hike. While the Umatilla Forest Service listed all the trails in the area as open the most recent updates from late May 2021 indicated that only parts of the trails had been maintained since the flood damage. In the case of the Ninemile Ridge Trail the webpage stated that as of 5/20/21 the trail had not been logged out.
We headed uphill from the signboard a tenth of a mile to a 4-way junction.
Here the Ninemile Ridge Trail headed uphill to the left while the Buck Creek Trail was straight ahead and the Buck Mountain Trail was to the right. We turned uphill onto the Ninemile Ridge Trail and soon entered the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness for the first time.
It was evident fairly early on that some maintenance had been done since the last update on the webpage.
The trail climbed steeply through the forest at first but soon the trees gave way to open hillsides.
Ragged robin (Clarkia pulchella)
Lingering snow in the distance.
While manny of the flowers were well past there were quite a few ragged robins blooming and few other flowers at the lower elevations.
Bettles and a crab spider on rose
As the trail traversed up the hillside it passed through some forested gullies where some maintenance had been done to remove the worst obstacles while those that were more easily navigable were left for later.
As we climbed the views kept getting better.
You might be able to make out the trail continuing up the far hillside.
Now on the far hillside heading for that small tree on the ridge end.
Looking back along the trail and at Ninemile Ridge.
Near the 2.25 mile mark from the trailhead signboard (3.6 from the temporary trailhead) we reached the ridge end and turned up Ninemile Ridge.
South Fork Umatilla River from near the ridge end.
Heading up to the ridge top.
Gaining the ridge and a view ahead of what’s to come.
From the turn at the ridge end it was another 1.8 miles to a cairn at the high point of Ninemile Ridge. The trail gained over 950′ in this stretch, often times in very steep sections. The steepness combined with the heat (it was a warm day) made for a challenging climb.
Paintbrush and prairie smoke
Turkey vulture checking to see if we were dead yet.
Ravens also interested in our carcasses.
There was a 20% chance of showers according to NOAA so these clouds forming weren’t a surprise.
A flat stretch along the ridge before another steep climb.
Buckwheat and Large-flower triteleia
The trail was actually down to the left but the ridge seemed like it would take less climbing.
Ball head sandwort?
Paintbrush along the final climb.
A parsley and naked broomrape
The trail became suddenly overgrown near the high point and I left the trail and headed uphill cross-country to a cairn near the top.
Cairn on the right.
Heather had stopped a couple of climbs back under a tree unsure if she was going to attempt reaching the top or not. I wasn’t alone at the cairn though as I made friends with a local lizard.
Clouds starting to pass over.
High Ridge Lookout to the left
High Ridge Lookout
Looking back down Ninemile Ridge
I spotted Heather making her way up the trail again so I waited at the cairn for a while.
Heather making her way up.
I had just started down thinking that she may have balked at the final steep climb when I met her just below the start of the off trail climb to the cairn so back up we went. I was looking for more flowers to document.
Blue-eyed Mary and elegant mariposa lily
Hoary balsamroot (most of it was way past)
After a nice rest at the cairn we headed down under increasingly cloudy skies.
A welcome. albeit brief, shower passed overhead as we were in one of the small forested sections of the trail.
Arnica and small flower miterwort
We were nearly out of water by the time we reached the road walk and wound up getting more from the Umatilla River before continuing on to our car. We had originally planned on a 9 to 10 mile day which we then had bumped up to 11 to 12 due to the road walk but the hike at Ninemile Ridge came in at 10.9 miles for me (I added a 1/4 mile coming down from the cairn to find Heather and go back up).
Add the 4.4 miles from the Cold Springs Wildlife Refuge and it came to a 15.3 mile day with 2200′ of elevation gain. It was also a lot later than we’d expected. We didn’t get back to the car until after 6:30pm (having left Salem at 5:00am) and it was close to 7:30pm when we finally checked into the Rugged Country Lodge in Pendleton. We did however finally find that missing tick. At some point, despite all our searching, it managed to get onto Heather’s back. I used our tick key to remove it and we kept it in a plastic container just in case but it couldn’t have been on there too long given the number of times we checked for it.
Despite that and a couple of other misadventures it was a good but tiring start to six straight days of hiking. Happy Trails!
After a week of 90 degree temperatures much needed rain arrived just in time for the weekend. Most of the west is in the midst of a drought so the the rain is welcome but it meant looking for a plan B for our hike. We decided to stick relatively close to home and revisit Mary’s Peak (previous post), this time via the North Ridge Trail. In addition to only being about an hour away the forecast for the area was better than any of the other alternatives that I had looked at with NOAA calling for a 30% chance of showers and partly sunny skies over the Woods Creek Trailhead. We figured that gave us the best chance for a dry hike (lol) and if the weather wasn’t great at least we had been there before when it was better.
While we were encouraged by a good sized patch of blue sky between Monmouth and Philomath the trailhead was under the cover of low clouds.
A couple of trails led into the trees from the parking area on Woods Creek Road. The trails led to what was the Old Peak Trail which was abandoned for a time but appeared to be in good shape now. The Siuslaw National Forest page for the trailhead indicates that this is now part of the North Ridge Trail extending downhill (northeast) 2.2 miles to Peak Road although they do not show said trail on their map.
We took this trail from the parking area to the North Ridge Trail where we turned right at a signboard.
We followed the trail for approximately 100 yards before popping out onto Woods Creek Road just uphill of the gate near the parking area (on our return we simply followed the road down to the car).
The North Ridge Trail continued on the other side of the road and began a 3.5 mile climb to a junction with a tie trail connecting the North and East Ridge Trails. On our last visit in 2014 we had come down the North Ridge Trail to the junction and taken the tie trail to get back to the East Ridge Trail and our car at Conner’s Camp. The North Ridge Trail gained 1400′ over the 3.5 miles using a number of switchbacks to keep the grade from ever being very steep. The green forest was filled with fog which was depositing moisture on the trees that was then falling to the forest floor so even though it wasn’t “raining” it may as well have been.
Signboard along the North Ridge Trail at Woods Creek Road.
Near the half mile mark we ignored this pointer to the left. Looking at the map there are roads looping back to Woods Creek Road and also to Conner’s Camp but what their conditions are we don’t know.
Vanilla leaf along the trail.
Lots of vanilla leaf.
The higher we went the foggier it got.
Bench at the junction with the tie trail.
We stayed right at the junction continuing uphill on the North Ridge Trail for another 0.7 miles to the Mary’s Peak Overlook parking area. We were starting to get pretty wet, and so was the trail, by this point.
Some of the trillium still had petals.
Signboard for the overlook on the hillside to the right.
When we exited the trees below the overlook we were able to confirm that it wasn’t raining despite all the water falling from the trees. It was however windy and that wind combined with damp skin/clothes and upper 40 degree temperatures made it cold at the overlook.
We quickly dropped downhill on the East Ridge Trail, which also ended at the overlook and were going to then head uphill on Summit Trail but we forgot what that junction looked like and when we came to a set of old steps after just 500′ we got confused. The steps led uphill into a jumble of downed trees. This was apparently an older route and the actual Summit Trail junction was just another 100 feet or so away.
The junction from later in the morning with the Summit Trail heading uphill to the right and the East Ridge Trail down to the left.
Since we were unsure we headed back to the overlook and took the gated road uphill.
Going to be a beargrass year.
Larkspur in the wet grass.
After 0.3 miles on the road we came to the Summit Trail/Summit Loop Trail junction. We stuck to the road opting to do the loop clockwise.
The road cut between the junction and the summit host a nice display of flowers including large patches of paintbrush, larkspur, phlox, and penstemon. Lupine, parsley, field chickweed, blue eyed mary, buttercups and ragwort were also present.
Ragwort in front of lupine that had yet to bloom.
Buttercups and larkspur
The wind was once again an issue at the summit (the highest peak in the Oregon Coast Range at 4097′).
Heather hiding behind the summit signboard to try and keep out of the wind.
Needless to say there was no break taken at the picnic table here and instead we headed downhill on the Summit Loop Trail.
Lots of lupine yet to bloom.
At an unsigned fork we went left descending further through the meadows then reentering the forest before coming to a junction with the Meadows Edge Trail after 0.2 miles.
We turned left here to take the Meadows Edge Trail which we had not been on before. The 1.6 mile trail makes a loop around a grove of old growth noble fir losing and regaining 450′ in elevation along the way.
As the name implies the Meadows Edge Trail occasionally entered the meadows before returning to the forest.
For a brief moment a bit of sunlight hit the forest and we thought maybe the sky would clear up.
Salmonberry bushes near Parker Creek.
Spur trail to the Mary’s Peak Campground.
Fairybells and star flower solomonseal
The sky was in fact not clearing up.
Bleeding heart and sourgrass.
Fawn lilies in the meadow.
When we had finished this lovely loop we returned to the Summit Trail and followed it for 100 yards to the 4-way junction on the gated road.
Signs at the road junction.
We could have crossed the road and followed the Summit Trail down to the East Ridge Trail but we still were under the mistaken impression that the trail might be impassable so we returned to the Overlook via the road and picked up the East Ridge Trail there. Shortly after having turned onto that trail we passed the actual Summit Trail junction and realized that we could have indeed taken it from the road. We followed the East Ridge Trail beyond the Summit Trail junction for 1.2 miles where signs and a bench marked the junction with the tie trail.
The wet conditions were starting to really hinder picture taking at this point.
We turned left onto the tie trail and followed it another 1.2 miles to the North Ridge Trail junction.
North Ridge Trail junction
It was 3.5 miles back downhill to the car and the gentle grade made for a pleasant return trip. The clouds also began to finally lift and we finally did see some patches of blue sky.
Heather descending in the fog.
Is that some blue sky out there?
Not much but it is blue.
Our hike came in at 13.1 miles with around 2500′ of elevation gain. We could have shaved a tenth of a mile or two off by taking the Summit Trail down to the East Ridge Trail and skipping the Meadows Edge Loop would have saved another 1.6 (but that was a really nice loop).
Despite the wet conditions and lack of “partly sunny skies” it was a nice hike and the conditions kept the popular trails from being too busy, although we did see a couple dozen other users. Hopefully we won’t have to do too much more shuffling of our planned hikes but if we do I always have a few options standing by. Happy Trails!
After back to back 14 mile days we had something more reasonable planned for our drive home on Memorial Day. We had started the weekend with two hikes along Whychus Creek east of Sisters (post). On Monday we stopped at the Whychus Creek Trailhead 4.2 miles west on Elm Street (Forest Road 16) of Highway 20 in Sisters. The trailhead doesn’t seem to be listed on the Deschutes National Forest webpage (They do show the Whychus Creek Overlook Trailhead which is an alternate starting point.)
We actually wound up having to park at a temporary trailhead 1000′ past the official trailhead which was closed for construction (not sure what was being constructed).
The Whychus Creek Trail followed Whychus Creek through a mixed forest with juniper and sagebrush from the high desert, ponderosa pine, and mixed conifers from the Cascades.
We really noticed how much more water there was in the creek here, before reaching the diversion ditches closer to Sisters.
Less than a half mile into the hike we passed a series of rock ledges where native tribes appear to have once camped.
The trail reached the bank of Whychus Creek at the overhang then climbed back above the creek gaining a view of the top of the North Sister. A few wildflowers added color to the landscape and birds added their song to the sound of the creek.
North Sister in the distance.
Just over a mile and a half from the trailhead the Whychus Creek Trail descended back down to the creek passing under some cliffs.
The penstemon really liked the cliff area.
Looking up stream we could see the logjam waterfall which is the goal of Sullivan’s described hike in his 5th edition Central Oregon Cascades guidebook (hike #31).
Near the two mile mark we arrived at a series of viewpoints of the falls atop rocks.
There was a second smaller cascade a little further upstream.
Sullivan suggests turning back here but just over a half mile away was the Whychus Creek Overlook. A 0.9 mile barrier free loop visits the overlook from the Whychus Creek Overlook Trailhead (see link above). We continued past the falls for approximately 0.2 miles to a signed trail junction.
We turned left onto the Whychus Draw Trail which led briefly up a draw before turning more steeply uphill traversing an open hillside to the overlook.
Mt. Hood sighting.
Mt. Jefferson and Black Butte
White breasted nuthatch
Golden mantled ground squirrel
The Whychus Draw Trail connected to the south side of the Whychus Overlook Trail about a hundred feet from the actual overlook.
Broken Top and the Three Sisters (bonus points for spotting the golden mantled ground squirrel)
Lewis flax at the overlook.
Buckwheat and penstemon
Whychus Creek below with the Three Sisters on the horizon.
After admiring the view from the overlook we hiked the loop. One side (north) is one-way traffic coming from the trailhead to the overlook so we followed the south half of the loop 0.4 to the trailhead then followed the north side 0.5 miles back to the overlook. Two benches along the north side offered additional views to the NNW.
Interpretive sign along the trail.
Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, and Black Butte
From the overlook we returned to the car the way we’d come. It was a pleasant 5.9 mile hike with some great views and scenery, a perfect way to end the holiday weekend. Happy Trails!
This was our second visit to the park having previously hiked the Hard Stone and Pinnacles Trails in 2017. The John Day River acts as the boundary between Sherman and Gilliam Counties and those trails are located on the north (Sherman Co.) side of the river. The J.S. Burris State Wayside is on the south side of the river which puts it in Gilliam County. This makes it one of the only hikes that I could find in Gilliam County and Gilliam County was one of the two remaining counties in Oregon in which we had yet to hike. (The other is Umatilla which has plenty of trails, we just haven’t gotten around to them yet.)
The main attraction at the wayside is the boat ramp but it also serves as the trailhead for the Lost Corral Trail.
Afternoon photo of the start of the trail.
It was already 68 degrees, according to the car anyway, when we arrived shortly before 7:30am which meant it was going to be a hot hike. We had planned for high temperatures and were each carrying extra water. The Lost Corral Trail follows an old roadbed for 4.3 miles to the start of the 0.9 mile Esau Loop Trail. There is also an option to tack on a 4.3 mile off trail loop that would take us up into the hills above the river. It was an ambitious plan given the expected temperatures but we set off determined to give it a go. Shortly after setting out, and stopping to watch a couple of rabbits, I asked Heather if she remembered if I locked the car. She didn’t and neither did I so I double timed it a quarter mile back to the trailhead to make sure it was locked then rejoined Heather up the trail.
This section was so nice I did it twice.
We both felt the Lost Corral Trail had better views of the John Day than the other trails had offered.
Cottonwood Canyon State Park main area across the river.
There were less wildflowers despite being the same time of year but that was likely due to the drought conditions that are plaguing the West this year.
One of the exceptions was mock orange which was blooming profusely along the trail.
Dalmation toadflax and yarrow.
Beetle on what might be hairy golden aster
This would be a day of missed opportunities where the wildlife was concerned and it started about a mile into the hike when a pheasant waited until we had unknowingly passed him before he flew off never to be seen again. Later as we approached the second bench along the trail (near the 3 mile mark) I spotted the brown back side and tail, of what I believe was an otter, dive into the water and disappear. On our way back a family of Chukars startled us and scattered before I could turn on the camera and finally a snake (not a rattler, possibly a yellow bellied racer) slithered through the vegetation not quite allowing for a clear picture, but I digress.
Back to the hike, just after the pheasant encounter, the trail crossed a wide sandy flat where tracks revealed the presence of a number of critters.
More mock orange along the trail.
Close up of the mock orange.
Butterfly on western clematis
This red winged blackbird cooperated for a photo op.
There had been a large number of cliff swallow nests along the Pinnacles Trail but we only saw a few on this side of the river.
There might not have been a lot of swallows but there were plenty of butterflies.
We saw this viceroy on the way back to the car.
There were also a large number of birds but most could only be heard and not seen as they stuck to the thick vegetation along the river.
Magpie dive bombing a hawk.
Coming up on the second bench.
The otter or whatever it was was right in this area.
We sat at the bench and rested hoping to get another glimpse of the animal but it never rematerialized. We did however spot some big fish in the water below.
After resigning ourselves to the fact that the otter was not going to make another appearance we continued on.
We turned left when we reached a sign for the Esau Loop Trail.
Esau Loop Trail sign.
Looking back at The Pinnacles from the Esau Loop Trail.
This was a much rougher trail that passed through the sagebrush along the river before looping back over a low rise.
Sagebrush mariposa lilies
Before completing the this loop we came to a signboard at a roadbed.
Our planned off trail loop began here. The roadbed that the Lost Corral Trail followed turned up Esau Canyon after passing a rocky ridge end. The Oregon Hikers Field Guide entry described “rounding the corner of the low cliff” then scrambling up to the ridge top to a fence line and following that up the ridge crest. Having turned left on the Esau Loop Trail we were approaching from the opposite direction but it gave us a clear view of the cliffs that we needed to get around in order to scramble up the ridge.
The more open looking hillside to the right of the cliffs was deceptively steep so we followed the road to the left until the the terrain appeared more hospitable.
We set off from the roadbed here.
The hillside was steep so there was a lot of switch backing and pausing along the way.
Have these gone to seed or blossoms?
Possibly a hawksbeard
Sagebrush mariposa lily
Found the fence line.
Cattle trails followed the fence line uphill which gave us something to follow although they tended to just go straight uphill.
I took this photo at 10:35, it looks like I’m close to the top.
This one was taken ten minutes later.
Twenty more minutes later and the high point was in sight.
These two lizards beat us to the top.
The climb gained approximately 900′ in a little over 3/4 of a mile. From the high point we could see the top of Mt. Adams beyond the John Day River Canyon.
The very top of Mt. Rainier was also visible (barely)
We followed the ridge south picking up a faint jeep track and gaining better views of Mt. Adams.
The jeep track dropped to the left of the crest and after a little over a half mile it turned sharply downhill into Esau Canyon.
Descending into Esau Canyon on the jeep track.
Lower on the hillside the track began to switchback passing through a fence(we had to crawl under) before arriving at a creek bed with a little running water.
After using the steps to get over the fence we followed the road back down Esau Canyon to the Lost Corral Trail.
Second climb over the fence.
Beetles on thistle.
Yarrow and lupine
The Lost Corral Trail where it passes the cliff at the ridge end.
From there we followed the Lost Corral Trail through the Lost Corral (which we had missed earlier due to turning onto the Esau Loop Trail) and returned to the trailhead.
Cottonwood Canyon State Park in the afternoon.
My GPS read 14.3 miles but factoring my trip back to lock our car it was probably closer to 13.8 miles. On a cooler day that wouldn’t be so bad, even with the steep scramble up the ridge, but it was over 90 degrees by the time our hike was over and the heat had made it a tough hike. Carrying the extra water had been a good call as we were down to our hydro flasks by the end. Despite the challenge of the heat it had been an enjoyable hike with a good amount of wildlife sightings and no ticks or rattlesnakes were seen. Happy Trails!
For Memorial Day weekend this year we headed to Bend to visit Heather’s family and of course do some hiking. Having finally reached our goal of completing all 100 featured hikes in William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Central Oregon Cascades” 4th edition last year (post) we kicked off this trip with a stop at a the Whychus Canyon Preserve, which was a new featured hike in his 5th edition.
The 930 acre preserve is owned and managed by the Deschutes Land Trust who have established over 7 miles of hiker only (dogs on leash) trails open to the public. The focus here is conservation so respecting the rules and Leaving No Trace is imperative (as it always should be) in order to keep the access open. We arrived at the trailhead a little after 7am on Saturday morning to find the parking area empty.
Kiosk and bench at the trailhead.
A map at the kiosk shows that there are a number of loops possible here and we decided to deviate slightly from the route described by Sullivan.
From the kiosk we followed a pointer for the Rim & Creek Trails onto a dirt path.
The trail led slightly downhill, through a red gate and after just 0.2 miles arrived a “T” shaped junction with the Rim Trail where Sullivan has you turn right. We opted for a slightly longer loop and turned left instead.
Tent caterpillars (and the red gate)
As we followed the Rim Trail west along the canyon we began to get some good mountain views.
Mt. Washington and Black Butte (post)
Broken Top, The Three Sisters, Black Crater (post), Little Belknap & Belknap Crater (post), and Mt. Washington.
After 0.4 miles the trail made a 180 degree turn dropping further into the canyon.
Whychus Creek was hidden by trees for the most part.
While there weren’t a lot of wildflowers a number of different types were present.
Sedum leibergii -Leiberg’s Stonecrop
In addition to the various flowers we spotted some varied wildlife as well.
Magpie playing hard to get.
Pair of bucks in Whychus Creek
This is a good time to mention how much I appreciate the zoom on my Canon XS740HS. While I often look at other peoples photos and wish mine were as crisp/clear the compact size and low price (compared to even low end DSLR cameras) of the little point and shoot has worked well enough. Those two bucks are a good example as we spotted them from here.
Approximately 0.6 miles from the big turn we arrived at a signed junction. Uphill led back to the trailhead (where we would have come down following Sullivan’s directions) while the Creek Trail headed downhill to the left.
We turned downhill and switchbacked downhill for 0.2 miles to Whychus Creek.
We followed along the creek on this trail for 1.5 miles, ignoring a steep trail to the right at the 0.8 mile mark. The sounds of the creek combined with the songs of birds made for a relaxing stroll through the canyon.
Star-flower false solomonseal
Trail junction at the 0.8 mile mark.
Spider on a wallflower.
Heuchera cylindrica -roundleaf allumroot
At the 1.5 mile mark the trail turned uphill away from the creek and made a turn back toward the trailhead.
The trail climbed for 0.4 miles before leveling out near a rock outcrop where a side trail to the right led to a viewpoint.
Buckwheat and penstemon
Sign post for the viewpoint.
Heading for the rock outcrop/viewpoint.
Middle and North Sister with Whychus Creek below.
Two tenths of a mile beyond the viewpoint we passed the upper end of the cutoff trail coming up from the Creek Trail.
We were now on the Meadow Trail which we followed for 1.5 miles (ignoring a signed trail to the left at the 0.5 mile mark). We were still spotting different flowers and wildlife on this stretch.
Trail sign in the distance for spur trail to the Santiam Wagon Road.
Sagebrush false dandelions
Mountain bluebird pair
unidentified little songbird.
Second type of lizard
Just before reaching the trailhead the trail joined the Santiam Wagon Road at an interpretive sign.
This wasn’t the first time we’d been on this historic 400 mile route between the Willamette Valley and Eastern Oregon (House Rock, Iron Mountain, Fish Lake, Sand Mountain , ) but it did mark the eastern most portion we’d been on.
We turned right on the Wagon Road for a few steps and were back at the trailhead where there was now a second car. We were surprised there weren’t more considering how nice a hike it had been. We logged just a little over 5 miles on our GPS and were now ready to head to our second stop of the day at the Alder Springs Trailhead.
This was another chance to visit Whychus Creek but unlike Whychus Canyon we had done the hike at Alder Springs before (post). That hike had been almost 10 years prior having taken place on 8/3/2011. Two things stand out about that first visit. Most notably we only did the Alder Springs hike because our Plan A, Benson Lake/Scott Mountain Loop, was still under too much snow (also the mosquitos were horrendous). It has been quite some time since there has been that much snow that late in the year, yes climate change is real. Secondly it was a really nice hike but August probably wasn’t the best month for it. It’s been on my list of hikes to revisit at a different (better) time of the year. The road to the trailhead is seasonally closed (typically 12/1-3/31) so April or May seemed the best time to catch wildflowers and cooler temperatures.
Another difference between Whychus Canyon and Alder Springs is the access road. While the former is almost entirely paved with a short stretch of good gravel the latter is not far removed from a 4×4 jeep track. Rocks, washouts, and dried mud holes await for most of the final 4.7 miles to the rather larger parking area which we were surprised to find nearly full at 10:15am. At first we couldn’t figure out why there were so many cars SUVs and trucks here while it was just us and one other car at the preserve then it hit us, you can camp here. That realization came from overhearing a large group saying something about having to make two trips down and “the beer”.
Looking back up the dirt access road to the North Sister, Mt. Washington and Black Butte
The trailhead signboard.
This time we didn’t take the side trip down the 0.4 mile Old Bridge Trail but otherwise it was the same route as we had taken nearly 10 years before. The big difference was the number of wildflowers in bloom and the number of people we encountered, mostly on the way back to the car. The scenery was stunning and the ford at the 1.5 mile mark refreshing.
Purple cushion fleabane
Blue mountain prairie clover
Haven’t id this one yet.
The Three Sisters, Belknap Crater and Mt. Washington with some dancing clouds.
Whychus Creek Canyon
Love the different rock formations in the canyon.
Pretty sure this side creek was dry on our previous visit.
Whychus Creek at the ford.
We’ll get into a little more of the history of Whychus Creek when we cover our Memorial Day hike but we noted that the water level seemed about the same as it had on our previous crossing and that the water was surprisingly warm given the source of the creek is the glaciers and snowfields of Broken Top and the Three Sisters. After a bit of thinking it dawned on us that higher up near Sisters water is diverted to irrigation ditches and other uses.
A clarkia, possibly Lassen
Creek dogwood and a beetle covered in pollen
Rose with crab spider
We took a break at the end of the trail along the Deschutes River before hiking back just as we had done on the previous visit.
Confluence of the Deschutes (left) and Whychus Creek (right).
Butterflies and birds were out in force on the hike back.
The hike here came in at 6.4 miles and 650′ of elevation gain giving us a little over 11.5 miles and 1120′ of climbing so far on the day.
We had one more quick stop planned for the day. Our first hike had been on Deschutes Land Trust land and the second in the Crooked River National Grassland managed by the Ochoco National Forest and our final stop at the Huntington Wagon Road was on BLM land. The hike here was of particular interest to me as the trailhead is only 2 miles from where I lived from 2nd grade until leaving home for college and yet I had no idea it was there. The BLM has created a 1.2 mile long interpretive trail along a section of a route that was built to haul supplies from The Dalles to build Fort Klamath.
Trailhead on McGrath Road.
There is a lot to see along the trail as far as scenery goes. It’s mostly sagebrush and juniper with some lava formations mixed in. The history is what makes this hike interesting, and the dozens of lizards scurrying about.
A 300+ year old juniper named an Oregon Heritage Tree
Sagebrush, juniper and lava – my childhood 🙂
Ruts along the wagon road.
Skipper on Showy townsendia.
Post marking the relic fence line and turnaround point.
An old fence post and barbed wire.
Junipers are some interesting trees, they come in all shapes and sizes.
In total we hiked 14 miles with 1150′ of elevation gain. We got to see two sections of Whychus Creek and Canyon as well as parts of two historic Wagon Roads. We ended the day by enjoying some homemade lasagna at Heather’s parents place. Not a bad way to start a holiday weekend. Happy Trails!
For the first time in 2021 we were forced to change plans having to delay our hike at the Ridgefiled Wildlife Refuge until the Kiwa trail reopens. (Nesting sandhill cranes have temporarily closed access as of this writing.) Since Ridgefield was out we looked at our schedule late May 2022 and decided to move up a hike on the Surveryor’s Ridge Trail. We had previously hiked portions of the 16.4 mile long trail as part of our Bald Butte (post) and Dog River Trail (post) hikes. For this visit we planned on hiking the center section of trail to visit Shellrock Mountain and Yellowjacket Point.
There are several possible trailheads for the Surveyor’s Ridge Trail and the Oregon Hikers Field Guide suggests starting at the Shellrock Mountain Trailhead for a 7.9 mile hike. We decided to be a bit different though and chose to park further south along the Forest Road 17 in a large gravel pullout at a spur road on the left. (Coming from FR 44/Dufur Road it is 1.4 miles after turning off of Brooks Meadow Road.)
Mt. Hood partly obscured by clouds from the parking area.
There were three reasons we chose this starting point. First it meant 2.5 miles less driving on gravel roads. Second if you’re visiting both Shellrock Mountain and Yellowjacket Point from the Shellrock Mountain Trailhead you wind up going to one then back past the trailhead to the other because the trailhead is in between the two. The final reason was this way we would get to experience more of the trail (although the tradeoff is an extra 5 miles of hiking round trip).
We followed the spur road downhill just over a hundred yards to the Surveyor’s Ridge Trail crossing. The signpost is laying on the ground.
We weren’t really sure what to expect out of the trail. It is popular with mountain bikers (we saw maybe a dozen or so on the day) so it is well maintained but we weren’t sure what kind of views it might offer except for at Shellrock Mountain and Yellowjacket Point.
We were pleasantly surprised when just a third of a mile in we came to an opening with a view of Mt. Hood to the west.
The forecast for the day was mostly sunny skies in the morning with a 20% chance of showers developing after Noon. Our drive to the trailhead had been through low clouds/fog with no view of Mt. Hood to speak of so even seeing this much of the mountain was exciting plus a nice lenticular cloud was developing up top.
Over the next two and a quarter miles the trail passed through alternating forest types and several more views of Mt. Hood (and one of Mt. St. Helens). While no snow remained, much of the vegetation was in its early stages although a variety wildflowers were blooming.
Mt. Hood again.
Trillium (can you spot the crab spider?)
Western larch tree and red-flowering currant on the left.
Larks spur and blue-eyed Mary
Columbine well before blooming.
Vanilla leaf getting ready to bloom.
False solomons seal starting to bloom.
Star-flower false solomons seal prior to blooming.
Just to the south of Shellrock Mountain there is a signed spur to the left for “Shellrock Mountain” which does not go to Shellrock Mountain but rather ends after few hundred feet in a small meadow below the mountain. Despite knowing this we ventured out to the meadow just to check it out.
First paintbrush of the day spotted in the little meadow.
The route to the 4449’summit lays .2 miles further north at the crest of the trail where a rough unsigned user trail veers uphill.
User trail to the left.
The faint trail was fairly well flagged and easy enough to follow through the vegetation to the open rocky slope of Shellrock Mountain.
Once we were out in the open we simply headed uphill to the summit where a lookout once sat. The three-hundred and sixty degree view includes Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier in addition to Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens.
Shellrock Badlands Basin, an eroded volcanic formation.
View east into Central Oregon.
Mill Creek Buttes with Lookout Mountain and Gunsight Butte (post) behind to the right.
Bird below Shellrock Mountain.
We took a nice long break at the summit before descending back to the Surveyor’s Ridge Trail where we continued north.
A whole lot of trillium.
Approximately .4 miles from the user trail we arrived at the Shellrock Mountain Trailhead.
Sign at the trailhead.
Continuing beyond the trailhead the Surveyor’s Ridge Trail passed above the Shellrock Badlands Basin with views back to Shellrock Mountain and eventually Mt. Hood again.
parsley and popcorn flower.
Over the course of the morning the cloud situation improved substantially, enough that when we arrived at a viewpoint 3/4 of a mile from the Shellrock Mountain Trailhead most of the sky around Mt. Hood was blue.
While Mt. Hood wore a lenticular cloud for a hat, my hat wore an inch worm.
I frequently have insects hitching rides, so often that we joke about me being an Uber for bugs.
Beyond this latest viewpoint the trail began a gradual climb to the former site of the Rim Rock Fire Lookout (approx 1.75 miles from the Shellrock Mountain Trailhead).
Rock out cropping in the Rim Rock section of trail.
Western tanager female
Western tanager male
View from a rocky viewpoint just before crossing from the east side of the ridge back to the top.
When the trail regained the ridge crest we took a user trail to a viewpoint where Mt. Hood once again dominated the view.
Hood River Valley
Interestingly the improved visibility of Mt. Hood had been countered by a loss of visibility of the Washington Cascades.
Clouds encroaching on Mt. Adams.
Mt. St. Helens
Another unmarked side trail led to the former lookout site.
The other viewpoint had a better view.
Three tenths of a mile from the lookout site we crossed an old roadbed then crossed a second in another .3 miles.
The first roadbed crossing.
There was a profusion of Red-flowering currant in between the road crossings.
Trail signs at the second road crossing.
Four tenths of a mile beyond the second road crossing we thought we had reached Yellowjacket Point when we arrived at an open hillside where we followed a faint path out to some rocks.
Balsamroot and paintbrush
Wildflowers on the hillside.
After another long break (and removing two ticks from my pant legs) we started to head back. Something just didn’t seem right though so we checked our location on the GPS and discovered that we hadn’t quite gotten to Yellowjacket Point yet. We turned around and hiked an additional 0.1 miles to a junction where we turned left.
Sign at the junction.
Spur trail to Yellowjacket Point.
We arrived at Yellowjacket Point a tenth of a mile later.
No yellowjackets, just a robin.
Having finally reached Yellowjacket point we could head back. As usual we kept our eyes open for anything we missed on our first pass.
Things like this gooseberry shrub.
The biggest story on our hike back was the deterioration of the view of Mt. Hood. NOAA had not been wrong about the chance of showers in the afternoon and we watched as the clouds moved in. By the time we had arrived back at the car it had indeed started to sprinkle ever so lightly.
Returning to the parking area at 2:11pm
The 12.9 mile hike came with approximately 1800′ of elevation gain. We were really impressed with the variety of scenery and the views on this hike. Despite being a multi-use trail we didn’t see that many other users; a few trail runners, a couple of hikers, and a dozen or so mountain bikers. All in all a great day in the forest. Happy Trails!