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Central Oregon Hiking John Day Oregon

Canyon Mountain Trail – 07/22/2021

For our fourth day of vacation we had planned another of Sullivan’s featured hikes, this time the Canyon Mountain Trail in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. Sullivan suggests two possible turn around points, for a moderate 6.6 mile hike Dog Creek and a more difficult 11.8 mile hike Dean Creek. We had originally planned on the more difficult option but were having second thoughts after reading the Forest Service information for the the Canyon Mountain Trailhead which noted that the final couple of miles of road were not maintained by the Forest Service and they recommend 4×4 vehicles only during dry months of the year. Sullivan simply described the road as “very steep and bumpy at times!”. We had prepared ourselves to have to park at one of the many dirt (OHV) spurs before reaching the trailhead thus adding a few miles to our hike in which case Dog Creek might need to be our turnaround. The road was indeed steep and bumpy but our Rav4 managed to make it 2.2 miles to a saddle where the road worsened even further. We decided to park along a spur road at the saddle and walk the final 1/4 mile of road to the trailhead.
IMG_0825I had started up to the left at the saddle but it was steep with gullies and some debris so we carefully turned around and parked below.

IMG_0827Little Canyon Mountain from the saddle. A wildfire burned the area in 2015 and the trail up to Dog Creek.

IMG_0828The actual trailhead.

A short distance up the trail we entered the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness.
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The Canyon Mountain Trail doesn’t climb Canyon Mountain but rather traverses the hillsides below its namesake. There were however views of said mountain as we came around the first ridge end of the hike.
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This was the least hazy morning of our trip so far but we were heading toward the rising Sun so visibility still wasn’t all that great.
IMG_0840Little Pine Creek flowed down this valley below Canyon Mountain.

It looked like the wildflower display was probably pretty good earlier in the year but most of them were past now. We did see a fair number of late bloomers though.
IMG_0846Yarrow along the trail.

IMG_0848Fireweed

IMG_0853Paintbrush

Approximately 1.5 miles from the trailhead we arrived at Little Pine Creek at a switchback.
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A tenth of a mile beyond the switchback (and after switching back once more) we crossed Little Pine Creek but not before stopping to sample some raspberries.
IMG_0862Paintbrush and pearly everlasting

IMG_0864Raspberries

IMG_0868We don’t recall seeing a penstemon with leaves like this before.

IMG_0870Twinberry (we did NOT sample)

Sitka burnetSitka burnett (white)

IMG_0873Little Pine Creek at the crossing.

The trail then gradually climbed through the forest to a viewpoint at a ridge end in what was now a dry meadow dotted with sagebrush mariposa lilies.
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IMG_0877Prince’s pine

Mountain death camasMountain death camas

IMG_0886Fringed grass of parnassus

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IMG_0888John Day below.

IMG_0889Little Canyon Mountain behind the ridge we’d come around earlier.

IMG_0896The Aldrich Mountains to the west, our destination for the next day’s hike.

IMG_0897Canyon Mountain

20210722_072943One of the sagebrush mariposa lilies.

IMG_0899Dixie Butte and the Greenhorn Mountains to the NE

After wrapping around the ridge the trail reentered the forest once again and descend gradually to Dog Creek, 1.7 miles from the Little Pine Creek crossing. Berries were the highlight at Dog Creek with three different types of ripe blue/huckleberries to pick from.
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20210722_080022Columbine

20210722_080031Swamp onion

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IMG_0918Flowers at Dog Creek

IMG_0920Twinflower

Since we’d manage to drive almost to the trailhead we decide to continue on to Dean Creek which was another 2.2 miles away. The distance was mostly due to having to swing out and around the rocky ridge separating the two creek drainage’s.
IMG_0930There was a lot of elk sign along this section of the trail.

IMG_0931A lot of sign.

IMG_0937Looking back toward Canyon Mountain.

IMG_0939The trail crossed over the ridge in a saddle with quite a bit of mountain coyote mint.

IMG_0941Mountain coyote mint

IMG_0944Strawberry Mountain (post) from the saddle.

IMG_0948Heading toward Dean Creek now.

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IMG_0953Green Mountain on the left and Canyon Mountain on the right.

IMG_0955A smaller raptor, it wouldn’t look at us so I’m not sure what type it was.

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Butterflies on western snakerootButterflies on western snakeroot. Side note we didn’t see a single snake or lizard all week which was really surprising to us.

IMG_0975We did however see quite a few grouse.

IMG_0977The trail got a little brushy nearing Dean Creek.

20210722_092454_HDRThere wasn’t much water in Dean Creek but there was enough for a small cascade.

IMG_0993Wildflowers next to a small pool.

20210722_093953Dean Creek

IMG_1008Butterfly near the pool.

We sat in a nearby campsite to soak in the views as we took a short break.
IMG_0983Canyon Mountain

IMG_0984Dixie Butte with the Greenhorns on the left and the Elkhorns (post) on the right.

After our break we returned the way we’d come, watching as always for wildlife and any flowers we’d missed on our fist pass (also ripe berries).
IMG_1013Cones

IMG_1014Lousewort

IMG_1018Pearly everlasting, yellow flowers, and fireweed.

IMG_1020An eagle?

IMG_1032More cones

IMG_1036Dragon fly

IMG_1038A sulphur butterfly

IMG_1040California tortoiseshell

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IMG_1060Grouse

IMG_1063Maiden fly

IMG_1071Skipper

IMG_1082Woodpecker

IMG_1085Northern flicker

IMG_1095Mountain bluebird

We put the car in low and drove back down the steep road until we made it to pavement then returned to John Day for one final night. This was probably our favorite hike of the trip because it felt the most like being in the mountains even though we were at higher elevations on Spanish Peak, in the Monument Rock Wilderness and the next day in the Aldrich Mountains. With the little extra road walk we came in at 12.3 miles and about 1850′ of elevation gain. Happy Trails!

Our Canyon Mountain Track

Flickr: Canyon Mountain Trail

Categories
Coastal Range Hiking Oregon Throwback Thursday Trip report

Throwback Thursday – Elk & Kings Mountains

This week’s Throwback Thursday hike features one of the most challenging hikes in the Oregon Coast Range. On 8/16/2010 we headed to the Elk Creek Trailhead located just off Highway 6 twenty-four miles west of it’s junction with Highway 26 near Banks, OR.

This was one of our earliest hikes so we were still on a steep learning curve and in hindsight August probably wasn’t the best time of year for this particular hike but not knowing any better we arrived at the trailhead for an early morning start. After reading the information posted at the start of the trail we began wondering exactly what we were getting into.
Elk Mountain Trail information

Our plan was to do the nearly 11 mile loop which came with nearly 4000′ of elevation gain. We set off at a sign for the Wilson River Trail which crossed Elk Creek then split after .2 miles. The Wilson River Trail continued to the left and would be our return route. We veered right continuing onto the Elk Mountain Trail.
Trail sign at the Elk Mountain Trailhead

Elk Creek

Trail sign for the Elk Mountian Trail

We were, as usual, following William Sullivan’s guidebook in which he describes the the Elk Mountain Trail as having “all the subtlety of a bobsled run”. The nearly 1.5 mile climb was certainly deserving of that description and was unlike any trail we’d experienced to that point. In fact this hike was the impetus for looking into and eventually getting trekking poles as we were at times forced to use our hands to make it past sections of loose scree.
Elk Mountian Trail

Elk Mountian Trail

The trail did have some positive attributes including some views that were not for folks made nervous by heights.
View from the Elk Mountian Trail

Low clouds in the valley

Looking down from the Elk Mountian Trail

View from the Elk Mountian Trail

Only a few flowers remained along the trail which is one of the reasons that our timing wasn’t great, the other being the exposed sections of trail were really warm in the August sun.
Paintbrush

View from the Elk Mountian Trail

A nice sign and summit register greeted us at the summit letting us know that we’d made it.
Elk Mountain Summit

Elk Mountain summit

From the summit we were able to get a good look at the days second summit, Kings Mountain, to the west.
Kings Mountain from Elk Mountain

We continued on the loop which dropped steeply off the far side of Elk Mountain.
Elk Mountian Trail

For the next half mile the trail traversed a ridge that was rather narrow and rocky in spots.
Elk Mountian Trail

Elk Mountian Trail

We were relieved when we reached an old roadbed which we then followed for the next mile and a half. This section was much easier on the nerves (and knees). Berries and wildflowers lined the old roadbed.
Raspberries and salal

Foxglove

Fireweed

Gentian

At a pass two miles from the Elk Mountain summit we arrived at signed junction where we followed pointers for the Kings Mountain Trail.
Junction with the Kings Mountain Trail

The old roadbed soon gave way to another narrow rocky section of trail.
Kings Mountain Trail

Kings Mountain Trail

Soon the trail came to a series of pinnacles which forced the trail from the south side of the ridge to the north side. The vertical face of the pinnacles also forced the trail to drop in order to get far enough below them to traverse the hillside. If we thought the trail couldn’t get any more nerve wracking we were wrong. A small caution sign on a stump tipped us off that the next section was going to be a doozy.
Caution sign along the Kings Mountain Trail

A rope was in place here to assist with the descent.
Kings Mountain Trail - rope section

The traverse below the pinnacles was the by far the scariest section of trail we had been on and remained so until 2014 when the section of the Pacific Crest Trail known as The Knifes Edge took that title. There was a vertical rock wall along the trail and the drop on the other side of the trail seemed nearly as vertical. Thimbleberry bushes lined the trail on the down slope side making the trail feel even narrower than it was. No pictures were taken along this stretch as I was too busy using my hands to grab whatever I could along the rock wall.

Upon reaching the far end we briefly distracted ourselves with the view to the north which included a vary hazy Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.
View from the Kings Mountain Trail

Mt. Hood

Mt. Adams

After we recovered our wits we continued on the much less stressful section of the trail and shortly arrived at the Kings Mountain summit.
Kings Mountain summit register

We had only gone 1.3 miles from the junction at the pass but the traverse below the pinnacles had made it seem much longer. An interesting oddity near the summit was a picnic table placed by Troop 299 of the Eagle Scouts.
Picnic table along the Kings Mountain Trail

Picnic table along the Kings Mountain Trail

From the summit the Kings Mountain Trail simply headed straight down a steep ridge.
Kings Mountain Trail

We managed to slow our descent long enough to visit a signed viewpoint on the way down.
Viewpoint sign along the Kings Mountain Trail

Kings Mountain Trail viewpoint

Again trekking poles would have been wonderful on the 2.5 mile descent. As it was we did our best to stay upright as we bounced from tree to tree using them in an attempt to control our speed. As we neared the bottom the trail mercifully began to level out in the forest.
Kings Mountain Trail

We turned left onto the Wilson River Trail when we came to the junction near the Kings Mountain Trailhead.
Wilson River Trail sign

It was a fairly easy, but warm, 3.5 mile hike back to the Elk Creek Trailhead. The Wilson River was on the opposite side of Highway 6 but the trail passed through a nice meadow and crossed Dog Creek on a footbridge in the first mile and a half.
Meadow along the Wilson River Trail

Creek along the Wilson River Trail

The final two miles were more exposed allowing the mid-day sun to beat down us so we were glad when we finally made it back to Elk Creek. It had been a pretty amazing hike, definitely unlike anything we’d done up to that point and we are looking forward to going back in the not too distant future to see what it’s like now that we’ve been hiking for a much longer time. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elk and Kings Mountains