Hiking Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

The Three Pyramids and Parrish, Riggs & Daly Lakes – 07/18/2020

When we scheduled our vacation weeks back, in January, we had no idea the issues that Covid-19 would create. We’ve been doing our best to socially distance and wear masks when that isn’t possible, but was going on a trip different? Fortunately for us we’ve stayed healthy and our plans for this vacation had been a trip to the Lakeview, OR area where the number of Covid-19 cases has been low and the likelihood of encountering many (if any) other hikers was low. Before heading to Lakeview we planned on stopping to visit Heather’s parents in Bend. On our way to Bend we stopped for three short hikes.

Our first stop was at the Pyramids Trailhead to check off one more featured hike from William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Central Oregon Cascades”.

We had been to this trailhead once before but that was for a backpacking trip to the Middle Santiam Wilderness (post) when we took the South Pyramid Creek Trail. This time after we crossed Park Creek we turned right on the Pyramids Trail.


The trail climbed along Park Creek passing a series of small falls before crossing the creek.




The trail then passed a meadow filled cirque.

The trail climbed from the cirque via a series of switchbacks to a ridge where the trail turned left heading for the Middle Pyramid. There were several nice wildflower displays along the climb.


IMG_9413Death camas





20200718_091211Larkspur and penstemon



The trail followed the ridge to the cliffs of the Middle Pyramid and wrapped around its north side to a junction 2 miles from the trailhead. Several mountains could be seen from this stretch of trail.
IMG_9465Middle Pyramid from the ridge.

IMG_9477Mt. Washington and the Three Sisters



IMG_9501Mt. Jefferson

IMG_9506Valerian and columbine

IMG_9507Mountain bluebells

The junction was with the Old Cascade Crest Trail coming up from the North Pyramid Trailhead three and a half miles away.

We turned left continuing toward the Middle Pyramid climbing to a saddle just below it’s summit which was to the right.

IMG_9529Looking up toward the summit from the saddle.

We clambered up a rocky path to the former lookout site atop the peak where a 360 degree view awaited.
IMG_9535Mt. Washington and the Three Sisters

IMG_9538South Pyramid with snowy Diamond Peak to the left in the distance.

IMG_9568Cone Peak and Iron Mountain (post)

IMG_9545Mt. Hood framed between Coffin Mountain and Bachelor Mountain (post) and Mt. Jefferson.

IMG_9562A faint Mt. Adams to the left of Mt. Hood

IMG_9555Meadow from the summit.

We returned the way we’d come and headed for our second stop of the day which was originally going to be the Riggs Lake Trailhead. We had planned on making three more including Riggs Lake (Parrish and Daly Lakes being the other 2) but FR 2266 had a number trees over it beyond the Parrish Lake Trailhead so we decided to park there and walk the 1.2 miles up FR 2266 to the Riggs Lake Trailhead.

Since we were already at the Parrish Lake Trailhead we started by hiking down the Parrish Lake Trail .6 miles to the lake.

IMG_9604North Pyramid


IMG_9608Rough skinned newts

After visiting Parrish Lake we headed down FR 2266 to the Riggs Lake Trailhead. It wasn’t too bad as far as road walks go. It appeared that someone had attempted to do some road maintenance at some point.


The trailhead was well signed including what appeared to be a fairly new trail sign.

The condition of the trail left much to be desired. It was only a half mile to the lake, and after having walked the 1.2 miles on FR 2266 we weren’t about to let some blowdown stop us (it almost did though).




We managed to make it to Riggs Lake which was actually pretty nice.

IMG_9655Crab spider on prince’s pine

Once upon a time the trail continued uphill to Don Lake but has been abandoned for some time. Given the condition of the trail up to Riggs Lake we had no thoughts of trying to continue on.
IMG_9663The trail used to continue on the other side of the inlet creek.

We picked our way back through the blowdown and along FR 2266 to the Parrish Lake Trailhead then drove to the nearby Daly Lake Trailhead.

We had seen three mountain bikers on the Pyramids Trail and four hikers on the Parrish Lake Trail and no one along the Riggs Lake Trail, but there were plenty of people at Daly Lake. We readied our masks as we set off on the short loop around the lake.

There were a number of tents set up and quite a few people floating on the lake but we didn’t encounter anyone along the loop except for at the end when the trail passed through the campsites.

IMG_9685Washington lilies

The trail was in need of some maintenance but nowhere near as bad as the Riggs Lake Trail had been.

IMG_9690Crossing on the outlet creek.

IMG_9691Marsh at the outlet creek.

IMG_9693Bog orchid

Most of the trail lacked views and with the best being closest to the campsites.

IMG_0019The North Pyramid from Daly Lake

After completing the loop we drove on to Bend and had a nice visit with Heather’s parents before getting up early the next morning to continue our trip. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Three Pyramids and Parrish, Riggs & Daly Lakes

Hiking Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon

Crabtree Lake – 9/07/2019

A less than ideal forecast had us looking for a hike that wasn’t view dependent and wouldn’t be too negatively impacted by rain. Crabtree Lake in Crabtree Valley seemed to fit the criteria and it was a featured hike in Sullivan’s 4th edition of his “100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades” guidebook.

It was a cloudy, drizzly, morning as we headed for the trailhead NE of Sweet Home, OR. Although we knew there was a nice view of Mt. Jefferson from the trail that wasn’t the main goal of the hike so missing out on it wouldn’t be too disappointing. As we climbed along the BLM road to the trailhead we emerged from one set of clouds to find that we were in between cloud layers and so were the mountains. We parked at the junction of BLM road 11-3E-35.3(aka S. Fork Packers road) and the final .9 mile gravel road to the actual trailhead.
IMG_8503The gravel road from the junction.

The gravel road was in pretty good shape, but we had opted to walk it primarily due to the fact that from the trailhead the hike would be under 5 miles (excluding any exploration). The extra 1.8 miles would give us enough more time hiking that we wouldn’t break our hike to drive timie ratio rule. As we walked up the road we got a nice view of Three Fingered Jack in a beautiful sunrise.


A bit later Mt. Jefferson became visible.


The actual trail begins at a berm where the road has been closed.

It then follows the road bed around a ridge end in .3 miles where the viewpoint of the mountains is.

IMG_8524Coming up on the viewpoint.

Instead of not having a view we were treated to a beautiful scene.

IMG_8529Mt. Jefferson

IMG_8532Three Fingered Jack

After oohing and awwing over the view we rounded the ridge end and began a 1.1 mile descent to a junction. There were a few left over flowers and dozens of rough skinned newts. We had to really watch were we stepped due to their presence on the trail.

IMG_8547Maybe a ragwort?


IMG_8553St. John’s wort

IMG_8554Daisy and pearly everlasting



IMG_8560Not a flower but colorful maple leaves.

IMG_8569A common sight on the trail.

IMG_8567Rough skinned newt

Although there were no mountain views on this side of the ridge there were a couple of openings to the west across Crabtree Valley.




At a barricade we turned left and dropped down to another roadbed.

We turned left and started a gradual climb along this road. It wasn’t clear what the status of this road is, at times it looked like there were some tire marks but we didn’t run into any vehicles along the .4 mile stretch to some concrete barricades.


The roadbed became more of a trail beyond the barricade continuing uphill another .3 miles to Crabtree Lake.


We found a few tents set up along the shore (there were 2 cars at the trailhead and one where we had parked along the lower road). We checked out the lake near the outlet where we found yet more rough skinned newts in the water.


We followed a trail around the lake to the left and headed down to the lake shore for another view.


We would later find out from some of the campers that there was an otter swimming in the lake while we were taking these pictures that we hadn’t seen. (I couldn’t find it in the photos either 😦

Now that we had seen the lake it was time to do a little big tree hunting. Crabtree Valley’s cliffs have protected the trees here allowing for some of Oregon’s oldest surviving trees. We followed the trail around the lake until it petered out near some empty campsites.
IMG_8591Old growth cedar



The basin here is home to a 270′ Douglas fir that has been dubbed “Nefertiti”. We had the GPS coordinates for the tree and decided this would be a good time to practice using our Garmins. We plugged in the coordinates and immediately ran into an issue, our devices didn’t agree even though they are the same make and model. We decided to try the location showing on my device first and made our way cross country to those coordinates. While there were many large old growth trees we weren’t convinced that any were the 8′ diameter tree we were looking for.





We turned to Heather’s location next which resulted in our best guess as to the identity of the tree.


Whether on not we actually found Nefertiti we saw a lot of massive old growth, some of which may be close to 1000 years old. We headed back and almost went out to a viewpoint that overlooks Waterdog Meadow (a small lake and meadow that Crabtree Creek passes through after leaving Crabtree Lake) but a combination of fog and campers being set up near the viewpoint kept us from checking it out.
IMG_8615A less impressive viewpoint near the creek but the fog below made passing through the camps to reach the viewpoint pointless.

After hearing about the otter we left the lake and headed back. Before returning to the trailhead though there was another tree in the valley we were hoping to visit. King Tut, a 9′ diameter Douglas fir, is located off trail. Sullivan described the route as rugged and not recommended so we were prepared to turn back at any point. We again used GPS coordinates, which again disagreed, to find the tree. There was at times a rough trail to follow but any sign of it ended before reaching the tree.


We remained undeterred and picked our way through and around thorny berry bushes and devil’s club to the location showing on my GPS. There was a very large cedar in the area, but no King Tut.

IMG_8631The cedar trunk through some branches.

We turned to Heather’s device and made our way to that location where we found what we believe to be the estimated 800 year old behemoth.


Having found this tree at the location shown by Heather’s GPS we were more confident that the tree we identified as Nefertiti using her device was probably correct as well.

Even though we were able to locate (we think) the tree, like Sullivan we wouldn’t recommend this excursion, especially without map and navigational skills.

We then headed back and climbed out of the valley along the road where the newts had been mostly replaced by other critters and the view of Mt. Jefferson was just a memory.
IMG_8655Fritillary butterfly

IMG_8657Dark eyed junco

IMG_8661Bumble bee

IMG_8647Back at the viewpoint.

It had been a great hike and despite having missed seeing our first otter we had seen a lot more than we were expecting. Between parking where we did and visiting the trees we turned the 4.6 mile hike into an 8.7 mile adventure. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Crabtree Lake

Hiking Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Browder Ridge Trail to Heart Lake

It has become a tradition to spend the first half of our 4th of July hiking. This year we revisited the rocky viewpoint on Browder Ridge which we had previously hiked to via the Gate Creek Trail on 9/18/2012 (post). This time around we decided to start at the Browder Ridge Trailhead based on Matt Reeder’s hike description in his 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region guidebook.

The Browder Ridge Trail set off from paved Forest Road 15 near a small parking area.

The trail climbed gently through a forest for the first half mile before steepening as it entered a series of large meadows.



These lower meadows were filled with ferns and a smattering of wildflowers.

IMG_7759Cone flower and columbine

IMG_7761Tiger lily



After two sets of switchbacks the trail began to traverse SE along the hillside below the ridge top. The wildflower display really picked up along this traverse. Purple larkspur, red paintbrush, blue gilia, and white cat’s ear lilies joined several varieties of yellow wildflowers to paint the hillside with color.










The Three Sisters could be seen at times as the trail alternated between forest and meadows.



The flower combinations always seemed to be a little different in each of the meadows. At the 3 mile mark the trail entered a short stretch of burned forest along the ridge top.

Just beyond the four mile mark there was a short side trail to a rocky viewpoint.


Beyond the viewpoint the trail climbed gradually for three tenths of a mile to its end at an unsigned junction with the Gate Creek and Heart Lake Trails.

Here we turned left regaining the ridge crest in the forest where we encountered the first downed trees of the hike and a huge cascade toad.


The Heart Lake Trail then dropped over the ridge to the NE passing beneath some basalt cliffs through another wildflower meadow.



The trail climbed through the meadow to a forested saddle a mile from the trail junction.

The saddle is the official end of the Heart Lake Trail. Here we faced a choice, we could turn left on the unofficial continuation of the Heart Lake Trail and climb up the rocky ridge crest to a summit viewpoint or we could attempt to visit Heart Lake. Heart Lake was a little under three quarter miles to the north and 750′ below the saddle. In the guidebook Reeder used the terms “not for the faint of heart” and “hell on the knees” to describe the trip down to the lake on the abandoned portion of trail. Heather had been dealing with a calf strain and it had been acting up on the hike so she decided against the side trip but I was feeling adventurous. She would head up to the summit and wait for me there so we set a time that she should expect me to meet up with her. I gave myself an hour and a half figuring that we typically hike at a 2 – 2.5 mile per hour pace and the round trip to Heart Lake should have only been about 1.5 miles.

I set off downhill from the saddle on a well defined trail.

In the first quarter of a mile the trail dropped into a basin losing 150′ at a not too steep grade. Being on the north facing side of the ridge at an elevation of 5400′ meant that there was still a decent amount of snow in this area though.

I quickly lost the tread so I turned to the Forest Service Map loaded on the GPS unit in an attempt to re-find the trail. Unfortunately this was one of those instances where the location of the trail on the map is inaccurate. Reeder had included a GPS track on the topographic map in the guidebook but I’d left that with Heather so I didn’t immediately realize that the Forest Service map was wrong. The Forest Service map showed the trail passing through a meadow (where I found some marsh marigolds and shooting stars).



At the far end of the meadow I spotted a couple of old fire rings amid the trees which made me think that maybe I was on the right track but less than 20 yards from the meadow I came to a line of impassable cliffs. Using the GPS I wandered to the right then back to the left several times looking for where the trail might possibly be. According to the GPS I had crossed and recrossed the trail multiple times but there was no way anyone was getting down that cliff. I was just about to give up when I suddenly remembered to use my brain. I thought I remembered that the track in the guidebook spent most of the time to the left of a creek and when I zoomed out a bit on the GPS I could see a creek to my left. I decided to bushwack over toward the head of the creek to see if I might be able to find something there. I could also see that the trail on the Forest Service map crossed the creek further downstream so if nothing else I might be able to follow the creek down to that point. As I neared the creek the forest opened up and I was able to spot what appeared to be a blaze on a tree on the opposite side.

I crossed the creek on a log and sidehilled my way down past the blaze where I once again spotted trail.

Once I had re-found the trail it was easy enough to follow. The tread was faint but visible with little blowdown and there were some remains of pink flagging to assist me.

I disturbed a family of grouse as I descended.

It was quite a descent too! This was one steep trail which mostly just headed straight down a ridge-line for about a quarter mile before beginning to level out as it neared a large meadow to the south of Heart Lake.

Elephant head flowers bloomed in the marshy meadow along with some other wildflowers.



The area was damp but I was able to find enough dry spots to make my way down to Heart Lake.



The old trail shown on the map had passed around the lake on its west side to a campsite on the northern end. I found a brushy path that I was able to follow through more marshy meadows and a tangle of trees to that campsite.



Due to all the wandering around I had done in the basin looking for the trail it had taken me nearly 40 minutes to reach the campsite which was 1.2 miles from the saddle. I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take me to climb back up so I didn’t stay at the campsite long before heading back. The climb back up was brutal but it only took me a half an our to reach the saddle but I still had a .3 mile climb up the ridge before I reached Heather.

I managed to make it with a little under 15 minutes to spare. The meadow at the summit didn’t have quite the impressive flower display as the lower meadows had had but the view was nice even though it was a bit hazy.
IMG_8033Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack

IMG_8070Mt. Jefferson

IMG_8030Mt. Washington, the Three Sisters, and Mt. Bachelor

IMG_8040Diamond Peak to the south

IMG_8041Diamond Peak

IMG_8044Owls clover


IMG_8047Orange agoseris


After catching my breath we headed back returning the way we’d come. On the way back several flowers were now open making the view a little different.
IMG_8098Lewis flax

IMG_8096Jacob’s ladder


The pollinators were also now busy doing their things.




We only encountered 8 other people, all on our way back to the car, which was surprising to us given how great the wildflowers were. We both preferred this approach to the shorter Gate Creek Trail, but to be fair it was a different time of year. Either way the views at the top are great and for those wanting some extra adventure there’s the option to visit Heart Lake. All in all another great hike in the Pacific Northwest. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Browder Ridge Trail and Heart Lake

Hiking McKenzie River Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon Throwback Thursday Trip report

Throwback Thursday – Browder Ridge and Sahalie & Koosah Falls

This week we are revisiting a pair of hikes we took on 9/8/12. A pair of Heather’s running buddies were going to be running the McKenzie River 50k that day and we wanted to be a the finish line to greet them so we found a hike in the area that we thought would make that possible. The 8.5 mile up Browder Ridge seemed to be a perfect fit.

We started at the Gate Creek Trailhead just 4.5 miles off of Highway 20 via Hackleman Creek Road and Road 1598.
Gate Creek Trail sign at the trailhead

The trail never really got close to Gate Creek as it climbed through forest and fern filled meadows.
Gate Creek Trail

Meadow along the Gate Creek Trail

Just over a mile and a half from the trailhead we arrived at a viewpoint which provided views of the Cascade Mountains from Mt. Jefferson south to the Three Sisters. It was an unfortunately hazy view due to the sun still rising in the east and the presence of smoke from the Pole Creek Fire.
Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered JackMt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack

Mt. Washington, Black Crater, Belknap Crater and the Three SistersMt. Washington and the Three Sisters

We continued on climbing gradually for another 1.5 miles to a junction. White pearly everlasting and pink fireweed could be seen along the trail. More hazy mountain views greeted us along the way with Diamond Peak joining the line of Cascade peaks.
Pearly everlasting

Gate Creek Trail

View from the Gate Creek Trail

We also had a nice view of our ultimate goal – Browder Ridge.
Browder Ridge

At the junction we turned right onto the Heart Lake Trail.
Sign for the Heart Lake Trail

This trail passed below the rocky cliffs of Browder Ridge passing through the remains of an early summer wildflower meadow before reentering the forest.
Rock outcrop on Browder Ridge



Heart Lake Trail

As the trail reentered the trees we left the Heart Lake Trail turning uphill along the rocky ridge.
Browder Ridge

A .2 mile scramble along the ridge brought us to the 5760′ summit of Browder Ridge.
Black Butte, Mt. Washington, Black Crater, and Belknap Crater from Browder Ridge

Despite the haze from the Pole Creek Fire the views were pretty good.
View from Browder Ridge

View from Browder Ridge

Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack

Mt. Jefferson

Black Crater, Belknap Crater, the Three Sisters, Mt. Bachelor and The Husband

View from Browder Ridge

After enjoying the view we headed back down to the trailhead. Butterflies had begun to come out as we made our way back.
Some sort of Skipper butterfly

Pine white butterfly on pearly everlasting

Orange sulpher butterfly on Pearly Everlasting

We got back to the car with time to spare before the end of the race so we made a second stop on the way to the finish line. We drove east on Highway 20 to its junction with Highway 126 where we turned right for 5.2 miles to the Sahalie Falls Trailhead.

A half mile segment of the Waterfalls Loop Trail runs between Sahalie and Koosah Falls along the McKenzie River here. It’s possible to complete a 2.6 mile loop incorporating the McKenzie River Trail, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the end of the race so we did an out and back past Sahalie Falls to Koosah Falls.

Sahalie Falls was not far at all from the parking area.
Sahalie Falls

Sahalie Falls

We headed downstream following the beautifully blue McKenzie River to Koosah Falls.
McKenzie River

McKenzie River

Koosah Falls

Koosah Falls

We returned the way we’d come but instead of returning to the car we had just enough time to visit the top of Sahalie Falls.
Sahalie Falls

These are two really nice and easily accessed waterfalls. We returned to Koosah Falls in 2013 along the McKenzie River Trail but have yet to be back to Sahalie Falls.

We made it to the finish line of the race in plenty of time to see Heather’s friends finish their 50k making it a successful day.

We are planning on heading back to Browder Ridge this year to see what the meadows look like earlier in the Summer. If all goes well we will be coming from the other end of the Browder Ridge Trail and may even make an attempt to reach Heart Lake along an unmaintained portion of the Heart Lake Trail. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Browder Ridge and Sahalie & Koosah Falls

Hiking Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Scar Mountain

We’ve developed a tradition of using the day off of work provided by the 4th of July holiday to take a hike. One of our go to areas in the first part of July is the Old (Western) Cascades. The Old Cascades are older than the volcanic peaks of the High Cascades and rise only half as high meaning they melt out much sooner than their younger companions. These highly eroded volcanoes are home to old growth forests and top notch wildflower meadows.

This year we decided to visit the Scar Mountain Trail. The hike is listed in our usual guidebook, William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades” as hike #111. Due to it not being a featured hike the description in that book is brief so we turned to another excellent resource, “101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region” by Matt Reeder.

We followed his directions to the North Pyramid Trailhead where we parked then crossed Forest Road 2266 to the signed Scar Mountain Trail.

North Pyramid Trailhead

Scar Mountain Trail

The Scar Mountain Trail is part of the approximately 30 mile long Old Cascades Loop. We had done another section of this loop in 2014 when we started at the Pyramids Trailhead and hiked to Donaca Lake for an overnight stay.

The trail climbed through a nice forest,gradually at first then more steeply as it switchbacked up toward a ridge top.

Scar Mountain Trail

The switchbacks ended after just over a mile and the trail began to traverse along the hillside below the ridge. There were occasional glimpses of the Three Pyramids to the south and Daly Lake in the valley below.

Daly Lake below the Three Pyramids

Daly Lake

For the next mile and a half the trail continued to gain elevation via a series of ups and downs as it gained the ridge top and alternated between its west and east sides providing views of several of the High Cascades to the SE, Mt. Jefferson to the NE, and Coffin & Bachelor Mountains to the north.

Mt. Washington, The Three Sisters, and the Husband Mt. Washington, the Three Sisters and the Husband

Mt. JeffersonMt. Jefferson

Coffin and Bachelor MountainsCoffin and Bachelor Mountains

A few small patches of snow lingered on and along the trail.

Snow on the Scar Mountain Trail

The trial began to climb steeply again at the 2.5 mile mark as it headed up Trappers Butte. The forested summit offered some similar views to what we had seen on the way up but one big difference was the presence of some non-white wildflowers near the top.



The trail then descended roughly 400′ in .8 miles to a saddle where it crossed an old roadbed in a clearing with blooming beargrass and rhododendron and view of the Three Pyramids.

The Three Pyramids

Another one and three quarter miles of ups and downs had us nearing our goal, a dramatic rock pinnacle on Scar Mountain. The trail had been in reasonably good shape with some minor blowdown and a few brushy spots which became a bit more frequent as we climbed Scar Mountain.

Scar Mountain Trail

Rock pinnacle on Scar Mountain

The flowers on and around the pinnacle might not have been as impressive as the meadows on some of the other nearby peaks but there were still some nice displays.

Valerian along the Scar Mountain Trail

Wildflower on Scar Mountain

Yellowleaf iris

Paintbrush along the Scar Mountain Trail


Wildflowers along the Scar Mountain Trail

Stonecrop and penstemon

The real reward for this hike were the views from Scar Mountains cliffs.

Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood

Mt. Adams peaking over a ridge and Mt. Hood

Mt. Jefferson from Scar MountainMt. Jefferson

Three Fingered JackThree Fingered Jack

Mt. Washington

Mt. Washington

The Three Sisters and the HusbandThe Three Sisters and the Husband

The Husband and the Three PyramidsThe Husband behind the Three Pyramids

Crescent Mountain, North Peak, Echo Mountian and South PeakCrescent Mountain, North Peak, Echo Mountain, and South Peak

North Peak, Echo Mountain, South Peak, Cone Peak, and Iron MountainNorth Peak, Echo Mountain, South Peak, Cone Peak, and Iron Mountain.

We took a nice break near the pinnacle where there seemed to be less mosquitoes. They hadn’t been too noticeable but with the snow still melting there were more around than we realized given the number of bites we discovered later.

Rock pinnacle along the Scar Mountain Trail

Looking down from cliffs along the Scar Mountain Trail

We returned the way we’d come passing the time on the ups and downs by admiring the many different flowers in the forest including large numbers of coralroots.

Caterpillar on coralroot





Round trip was just under 12 miles with a good amount of elevation gain overall but broken up enough to never feel too daunting. Like many of the trails in the Old Cascades the Scar Mountain Trail offered a good dose of solitude. We neither spotted nor heard another person during the hike. Instead we listened for the calls of sooty grouse, the singing of birds, and “meeps” of hidden pikas. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Scar Mountain

Hiking Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Independence Rock

After spending Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend in Bend we were hoping to get home fairly early on Monday. We wanted to beat the holiday traffic and needed to run a couple of errands but we also wanted to sneak a quick hike in. The 2.3 mile Independence Rock loop was a perfect fit. The trail starts on Marion Creek Road just a hundred yards after turning off of Highway 22 across from the restaurant at Marion Forks. We parked on the shoulder of the road across from the trail sign for the Independence Rock Trail.

The trail started off in a green forest filled with yellow Oregon grape and various white woodland flowers.



2017-05-29 06.16.00

2017-05-29 06.16.27


2017-05-29 06.19.00

2017-05-29 06.19.17

2017-05-29 06.19.58

2017-05-29 06.22.37

The trail then passed through an area that had been previously logged.
2017-05-29 06.23.05

The trail then headed uphill via a series of switchbacks and worked its way around to the backside of the hill.

Near the 1 mile mark Independence Rock, a basalt outcrop, came into view up to our right.

The trail arrived at the base of the rock on the far end where a unmarked trail to the right led up to the top of the rock.


The view from the top wasn’t anything spectacular but we could see the tip of Three Fingered Jack rising above a snowy ridge in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.


It was only 6:45am but we weren’t the first ones up on the rock.


After descending from the rock we continued on the loop briefly following a ridge which had also been logged before descending back into thicker forest.


The trail ended at Marion Creek Road .4 miles from the where we had started. We simply followed the road back to our car and were back on our way before 7:30.

We did indeed beat most of the traffic and we also arrived back in Salem before the stores we needed to go to opened so we did a little impromptu shopping until their doors opened at 10. It may not have had the most breathtaking views but it made for the prefect quick leg stretcher if you find yourself driving between Salem and Central Oregon. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Independence Rock

Hiking Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Coffin Mountain, Bachelor Mountain, and Bugaboo Ridge

For the 4th of July we spent our day off revisiting Coffin and Bachelor Mountains and discovering the Bugaboo Ridge Trail. Our previous hike up Coffin and Bachelor Mountains was on a cloudy day in early August, 2013. We hadn’t experienced any mountain views that day and it was past peak for the wildflowers so we had added it to the list of hikes to redo. In addition to revisiting the two mountains we also planned on checking out the Bugaboo Ridge Trail which intersects the Bachelor Mountain Trail.

A recent presentation by Matt Reeder at Salem Summit Company had prompted us to pick up a copy of his book “101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region” which provided some additional details on the Bugaboo Ridge Trail. After reading his description it seemed well worth the additional mileage to check it out.

We parked at the Coffin Mountain Trailhead which is accessed via Straight Creek Road found 2.9 miles south of Marion Forks.

On our previous visit we had parked here and started by walking 1.2 miles further along forest roads to the Bachelor Mountain Trailhead and hiking to that summit before returning and heading up Coffin Mountain. To change things up this time we headed up Coffin Mountain first. Most of the Coffin Mountain Trail passes through open wildflower meadows.

Our timing was much closer to peak for the wildflowers and there was a wide variety in various stages of bloom.
Chaparral false bindweed
chaparral false bindweed




Cat’s ear lily

Yellow leaf iris

False sunflower and blue gilia

Scarlet gilia and paintbrush

Tall bluebell

False sunflower


Mountain owl’s clover

As the trail climbs views of the Cascades get increasingly better.
Mt. Jefferson

Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Washington, Broken Top, The Three Sisters, The Husband and Diamond Peak

Diamond Peak

Mt. Washington, Broken Top, The Three Sisters and The Husband

Three Fingered Jack

The number of flowers increased the higher we got in the meadows.


Red, White, and blue for the 4th


The trail enters a short section with trees where the Coffin Mountain Lookout is visible on the cliffs above.

A final push uphill leads to the staffed lookout tower and helipad.

It was a little different view than we’d had in 2013.
Coffin Mountain lookout


We returned to the trailhead then set off on the road toward the Bachelor Mountain Trailhead. Although it’s possible to drive the 1.2miles we’d rather enjoy the scenery along the way.




Coffin Mountain Lookout from the road to the Bachelor Mountain TH.

The unsigned trail begins at the end of Road 430.

The trail climbs fairly steeply through a forest in two long switchbacks before losing the trees and gaining views as it rounds a ridge end.

The wildflowers on Bachelor Mountain rivaled those on Coffin although Bachelor Mountain is drier and rockier.

Washington lily



After the initial climb the trail leveled out along a plateau with views.


The trail then reentered the forest shortly before arriving at a junction with the Bugaboo Ridge Trail.


We kept to the Bachelor Mountain Trail and headed uphill toward the summit. This section of trail passed though a forest of small tightly packed trees, many of which were bent by the weight of winter snows.

Once we were above the trees the wildflowers and views returned.




Another lookout used to sit atop Bachelor Mountain but it was burnt by the Forest Service years ago just leaving the views. To the north Mt. Adams was visible over Mt. Hoods shoulder.

Mt. Jefferson loomed to the east.

A little further south was Three Fingered Jack and the scars of the B & B Fire.

Then came a clump of Cascade Mountains, Washington, Broken Top and the Three Sisters.

Because Bachelor Mountain is taller than its neighbor there was also a nice view of Coffin Mountain.

We headed back down the Bugaboo Ridge Trail junction and unlike our last visit this time we turned onto that trail and headed east through the forest.

The Bugaboo Ridge Trail is a longer approach to Bachelor Mountain and it was evident that it sees much lighter usage based on the narrower tread and encroaching vegetation in places. We found it to be a great trail though. The trail left the trees and entered a series of rock gardens and meadows filled with wildflowers.






The views were pretty darn good too.



Heather spotted an interestingly colored larkspur along the trail, it was the only one we could find.

The meadows and gardens began to give way to forest as the trail descended to the Bruno Meadows Trail junction.


The Bruno Meadows Trail is yet another option to reach Bachelor Mountain, but we ignored that trail and continued to descend on the Bugaboo Ridge Trail. The descent was gentle except for a short section above the Bruno Meadows junction although there was a fair amount of blowdown to navigate. We decided to turn around at a logging road that the trail crossed in an old clear cut.

The detour along the Bugaboo Ridge Trail to the road was just under 2.5 miles adding nearly 5 miles to the days hike but it had been worth the extra effort. This visit had been a vastly different experience from our visit in 2013. It was fun to be able to see what we had not been able to on that first trip, and it was a great way to spend the 4th. Happy Trails!


Hiking Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Cascadia State Park and Rooster Rock

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.
Soda Creek Falls Trailhead

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.
Soda Creek Falls

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.
Soda Creek Falls

Soda Creek Falls

We returned to where we had parked and walked across the entrance road to a sign for the Soda Springs Trail.
Soda Springs Trail - Cascadia State Park

This trail led down to a footbridge over Soda Creek and then on to Soda Springs.
Trail down to Soda Springs

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.
Stairs in Cascadia State Park down to the South Santiam River

South Santiam River

We spent some time exploring on the exposed river rock where we spotted some aquatic bugs and small minnows.
South Santiam River

Bug in the South Santiam River

Minnows in the South Santiam River

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.
Daisies in Cascadia State Park

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.
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.
Plectritis along the South Santiam River

South Santiam 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.
Walton Ranch Interpretive Trail Trailhead

Trout Creek Trail Trailhead

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.
Trout Creek

Interpretive sign along the Walton Ranch Interpretive Trail

Walton Ranch meadow

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.
Trout Creek Trail

Trout Creek Trail - Menagerie Wilderness

Best view of Rooster Rock from the Trout Creek Trail
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
Rhododendron and red huckleberries

Candy sticks
Candy sticks

Candy sticks

Candy sticks

There was effectively no view of Rooster Rock at Rooster Rock. A large boulder sat at its base and trees hid the rock.
Boulder near Rooster Rock

Rooster Rock from below

Rooster Rock behind a tree

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.
North and Middle Sister from the former lookout site near Rooster Rock

North and Middle Sister from the former lookout site near Rooster Rock

Other familiar peaks included Cone Peak and Iron Mountain.
Cone Peak and Iron Mountain from the former lookout site near Rooster Rock

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.
Panorama Point

Panorama Point

Rock pinnacle in the Menagerie Wilderness

Rock pinnacle in the Menagerie Wilderness

Heather did manage to find a spur trail that led to a view of Rooster Rock and to the west toward the Willamette Valley.
Rooster Rock from a viewpoint in the Menagerie Wilderness

Rooster Rock from a viewpoint in the Menagerie Wilderness

Looking west from a viewpoint in the Menagerie Wilderness

She also spotted the summit of South Sister barely rising above one of the foothills.
The snowy summit of the South Sister

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.
Menagerie Wilderness sign

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!


Hiking Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Gordon Lakes Trail

We continued our recent trend of choosing our hikes based on the weather forecast and wound up picking the Gordon Lakes Trail for our most recent hike. We chose this trail because it stayed mostly in the forest with very limited view opportunities that wouldn’t be spoiled by the rainy forecast. The Gordon Lakes Trail covers a little over 7 miles between eastern and western trailheads. We began our hike at the west trailhead located on Forest Service Road 325 outside of Sweet Home. There was some disagreement on how to reach road 325 between our field guide, the Forest Service, and Google Maps. They all agreed that from Sweet Home we needed to drive Highway 20 east 19 miles to milepost 46 and turn right on a forest service road for approximately 5 miles. Our field guide gave this road the number 2031 while the Forest Service numbered it 2044. Google Maps showed 2032 as the number which was the number we found on the stake as we turned onto this road. We managed to follow this winding road fairly easily to a hiker symbol on the right across from road 325. The signless parking area was 100 yards uphill to the left on road 325.
Gordon Lakes Trailhead//

Our next bit of confusion came as we got ready to set off. There were no signs indicating the location of the trail. Two old roads led off from the parking area in the same general direction, one downhill and the other uphill and the hiker sign was back downhill across road 2032. The road leading uphill looked like it was a trail, but the map I had looked at for the trail appeared to show a trail switchbacking downhill from the trailhead which I later realized was my misreading the topographic map. After several minutes of exploring the uphill road and consulting the GPS we decided that it was in fact the trail and began climbing.

The trail left the road behind and began switchbacking uphill through a previously logged area where we could see a little of the valley below.


Thimbleberry leaves lined the path with color.

After the switchbacks the trail entered older forest and crossed a pair of roads where there were still no signs indicating where or what the trail was.


The first feature we were looking for was Falls Creek which the trail would parallel much of the way. There wasn’t much water in the creek but it was still pleasant and the fall colors and various mushrooms and fungi along the trail made it feel very much like Autumn.









Yellow mushrooms//



Chocolate and vanilla mushroom//


We finally saw our first trail signs right around the 3.5 mile mark at a junciton.


Shortly after the first junction we came to a second junction at the edge of Gordon Meadows.

Described as “marshy” in our field guide the meadows were much larger than we had expected. Being late in such a dry year the meadows seemed rather dry as we passed by on the trail.


The trail had been climbing very gradually since leaving the switchbacks behind near the beginning of the hike but we began encountering some steeper climbs beyond the meadows. The trail climbed up and over a series of ridge ends as we headed for Gordon Lakes. Just over 3 miles from Gordon Meadows we arrived at a fork in the trail near the lakes.

The signs pointed us toward the right hand fork while the GPS unit showed the left hand fork as the official trail. We went right following the signs to the northern Gordon Lake.

The rain that had been in the forecast had not materialized and we were enjoying some sun breaks in the clouds as the trail crossed the small outlet creek that flowed down into the lower southern lake.
Cloud in the creeklet between the Gordon Lakes//


We spent a little time on a log at the edge of the lake watching dragonflies zoom about.

Northern Gordon Lake//


After having a snack we left the northern lake and passing over the ridge between the two lakes and heading down toward the southern lake.


Southern Gordon Lake//

We crossed the creek between the lakes and picked up the trail shown on our Garmin on the opposite side.

We followed the path uphill where we discovered that there were a few downed trees across the trail which may have been why the signs had pointed to the other fork of the trail, but we made our way past the blowdown and climbed back up to the fork. We headed back making our way over the ridge ends, past Gordon Meadows, and started back down the switchbacks. We still hadn’t experienced any rain but the clouds in the valley were on the move.


It finally started to rain when we were back on the old roadbed heading down to the parking area less than 5 minutes away. Our total mileage clocked in at 15.4 miles, but Gordon Lakes can be reached from the eastern end of the trail in less than half a mile by starting at the trailhead on Forest Service Road 230. Happy Trails!


Hiking Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

House Rock

We never know what kind of weather to expect in November when we are penciling out our hiking schedule so we typically play it fairly safe by picking a hike on the coast or along a lower elevation river or creek.   This year we selected House Rock along the Old Santiam Wagon Road which was established in 1865 as a main route from the Willamette Valley to Central and Eastern Oregon for many years.  As it turned out the weather was not a concern and it was a beautiful day for a hike.

The wagon road originally extended from Lebanon, OR all the way to Ontario, OR on the Oregon – Idaho border.  For our hike we started at a trailhead just east of the former Mountain House Restaurant (a long time rest stop along the route) on Highway 20 between milepost 52 & 53.  From the small parking area a footbridge led across the South Santiam River to former road.


After crossing the river we turned left onto the wide path covered in a carpet of leaves and made our way through the mossy woods toward House Rock.
Old Santiam Wagon Road

Recent rains had left the creeks and runoff streams flowing nicely which added to the scenic beauty.


At the two-mile mark we arrived at the start of the House Rock loop.

We turned toward the river where another footbridge joined from the House Rock Campground.

After checking out the bridge we made our way to House Rock.  There really wasn’t a good way to get a picture that adequately showed the size of House Rock and the opening beneath it.  A small stream flowed through the wide cavern where there was enough room for several people.


From beneath House Rock

House Rock

We left House Rock and continued on the loop heading toward House Rock Falls.  A tree had recently fallen creating a bit of an obstacle but we were able to make our way over it.


I emailed the Sweet Home Ranger District when we were home just in case they weren’t already aware of it.

A sign pointed the way to the falls along a .2 mile side trail.


House Rock Falls was just as difficult to get a good picture of.  Boulders and logs partly obscured the view from the trail and the wet rocks made scrambling down to the base an adventure.  Even then the curve of the river combined with the rocks made it impossible to get a clear view without wading out into the river.  It was just cold enough that I didn’t feel like trying that so I settled for the obstructed view and called it good.
House Rock Falls

We headed back to the loop and then continued up to the wagon road where we turned left once again.  Our goal was a viewpoint near the 5 mile marker. After another 1.1 miles we met FS Rd 2044 where we followed signs to the continuation of the wagon road.  In the next couple of miles the trail briefly left the old road and passed through an ever-changing forest where there was a seemingly endless variety of mushrooms on display.







Mushrooms along the Old Santiam Wagon Road





We arrived at the 5 mile marker and took a short trail on the right to  the viewpoint.


It was a nice place to take a short break and have a snack.  The view wasn’t anything spectacular but Jump Off Joe Mountain was across the a valley while Iron Mountain, which we had hiked on July 4th, rose up in the distance.

Jump Off Joe Mountain

Iron Mountain
Iron Mountain from the 5 mile viewpoint along the Old Santiam Wagon Road


We returned the way we had come following the wagon road back past the House Rock loop and ultimately to our waiting vehicle. It had been a wonderful November day for a hike.  Happy Trails!