High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Trip report

Bingham Ridge (Mt. Jefferson Wilderness) – 8/24/2019

After a week back at work it was time to hit the trails again. We once again turned to Matt Reeder’s “101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region” for inspiration choosing the Bingham Ridge Trail as our destination.

The Bingham Ridge Trailhead is located 5 miles up Forest Road 2253 aka Minto Road. That road is just 17 miles east of Detroit, OR and was in great shape except for some water damage in the first quarter of a mile. Beyond that short stretch it was a good gravel road all the way to the parking area just before the road was gated.

The trail began opposite the little parking area where we had parked along side two other vehicles.


The trail climbed through a green forest along the dry bed of Willis Creek before briefly passing through the edge of a clear-cut.


IMG_7381Huckleberry bushes and beargrass in the clear-cut.

20190824_065018Sleeping bees on some thistle.

The trail soon reentered the trees and then passed into the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.


IMG_7395The bees on the thistle may have been asleep but a western toad was out and about.

After entering the wilderness the trail continued to climb very gradually as it passed through alternating sections of green trees and forest scarred by the 2006 Puzzle Creek Fire.

IMG_7400Mt. Jefferson through the burned trees.

IMG_7402Back in the green.

IMG_7404Three Fingered Jack through the burned trees.


IMG_7409Pearly everlasting


The longest stretch through burned forest occurred as the trail passed to the right of a rocky rise along the ridge.
IMG_7412Three Fingered Jack


IMG_7417The rock covered rise.

IMG_7418South Cinder Peak (post) to the left and Three Fingered Jack to the right.

IMG_7422Still passing the rocks.

We heard a couple of “meeps” from pikas in the rocks but we only managed to spot a golden-mantled ground squirrel.

As the trail passed around the rocky rise we reentered green forest and quickly came to the end of the Bingham Ridge Trail at a junction with the Lake of the Woods Trail 3.7 miles from the trailhead.


The Lake of the Woods Trail runs north-south between the Pamelia Limited Entry Area and Marion Lake (post). We turned left (north) onto this trail which promptly crossed over the ridge at a low saddle and began to traverse a forested hillside.
IMG_7429The low saddle.



The trail wound around the basin arriving at a ridge end viewpoint where we had hoped to get a view of Mt. Jefferson but soon realized that we hadn’t come far enough around yet and we were looking west not north.
IMG_7432Coffin and Bachelor Mountains (post).

We continued along the hillside finally coming far enough around to get a look at Mt. Jefferson.

Just a little further along we arrived at Reeder’s turn around point for the 8.8 mile hike described in his book. A cinder viewpoint of Mt. Jefferson across the Bingham Basin.


There was a strange group of clouds hanging out on the top of the mountain. We could see them moving in what appeared to be a SE direction but despite seeing the movement it never really appeared that they were going anywhere.

As we stood at this rocky viewpoint we could hear more pikas and then Heather spotted one sitting on top of some rocks, maybe enjoying the same view we were.

Even though Reeder calls this viewpoint “the most logical stopping point for dayhikers” he does provide information for those wishing to continue. Since logic sometimes goes out the window with regards to hiking we continued on. The trail dropped just a bit to a fairly level bench where it passed through a couple of meadows before arriving at an unnamed lake with a view of Mt. Jefferson on the left.

IMG_7461Spirea with a beetle.

IMG_7464Unnamed lake with Mt. Jefferson (and those pesky clouds).

IMG_7469From the opposite side of the lake.

A half mile later (or just under 2 miles from the Bingham Ridge Trail junction) we arrived a Papoose Lake.


The mountain was mostly hidden by trees from this lake but there were several frogs to watch and a short scramble up a rockpile on the east side of the lake did provide another look at Mt. Jefferson.



It was actually a really impressive amount of boulders here and although we didn’t spot any, we could hear a number of resident pikas.
IMG_7483Looking south over the rock field.

Turning back here would have put the hike in the 11.5 mile range, but we had our sights set on a further goal – the Pacific Crest Trail. Beyond Papoose Lake the Lake of the Woods Trail passed several seasonal ponds which were now meadows where we had to watch out for tiny frogs.

IMG_7496One of the frogs.


IMG_7663Frog in the trail.


Just under three quarters of a mile from Papoose Lake (6.3ish from the trailhead) we arrived at the northern end of the Lake of the Woods Trail where it met the Hunts Creek Trail (post).

A left on this trail would lead us into the Pamelia Limited Entry Area for which we did not have a permit, but to the right the trail remained out of the limited area as it headed to the Pacific Crest Trail.

In his book Reeder describes this section of trail as “spectacular” which is what prompted us to abandon logic in the first place. We turned right and continued the theme of gradual climbs as the trail passed a hillside dotted with a few asters.


After little over a quarter of a mile we found ourselves beneath a large talus slope (by the sound of it filled with a pika army).

Here we embarked on possibly the most significant climb of the day as the trail switchbacked up through the rocks to a saddle.
IMG_7510Apparently the trail was rerouted at some point because we could see tread that we never used.

IMG_7511The Three Pyramids beyond Bingham Ridge.

As we neared the saddle we spotted what must have been the pika lookout.


There was more talus on the opposite side of the saddle, and more pikas too!


We spotted at least 4 pikas (it’s hard to keep track when they are running in and out of the rocks) and heard many more. The only thing that could tear us away from our favorite wildlife critters was the view of Mt. Jefferson looming over Hunts Cove.
IMG_7534 (the clouds had finally vanished)

Continuing away from the saddle just a bit provided an excellent view of the mountain and Hanks Lake with a bit of Hunts Lake visible as well.

IMG_7551Hanks Lake

IMG_7552Hunts Lake

IMG_7553Rock fin above Hunts Cove.

Reeder hadn’t exaggerated by using spectacular to describe this section of trail. The views of Mt. Jefferson were amazing and a variety of wildflowers (past peak) lined the trail.
IMG_7560Penstemon and a western pasque flower.

IMG_7563Western pasque flower seed heads.





IMG_7576Paintbrush and lupine


20190824_102625Patridge foot

IMG_7584Mt. Jefferson, Goat Peak (behind the tree) and the Cathedral Rocks.

As the trail crossed a cinder field glimpses to the south between trees reveled the Three Sisters (among others).

IMG_7588South Cinder Peak

IMG_7591The Three Sisters

IMG_7594Three Fingered Jack

The trail briefly lost sight of Mt. Jefferson as it passed around a butte, losing a little elevation as it did so.

IMG_7597Paintbrush in a meadow behind the butte.

Although the view of Mt. Jefferson was temporarily gone the view was still good. There was a large basin full of meadows just below the trail and occasional views of South Cinder Peak and Three Fingered Jack.
IMG_7602South Cinder Peak

IMG_7603Three Fingered Jack


The trail gained a little of the elevation back as it came around the butte regaining a view of Mt. Jefferson in the process.

After passing another sign for the Pamelia Limited Entry Area at a now abandoned (but still used) portion of the Hunts Creek Trail we arrived at the Pacific Crest Trail.


We sat on some rocks here and rested. We were now at least 8 miles (that is the mileage Reeder assigns but with some extra exploring we’d done a bit more) from the Bingham Ridge Trailhead and needed a good break. Up until this point we’d only run into one other person, a bow hunter along the Bingham Ridge Trail. As we rested in the shade a pair of backpackers heading south on the PCT stopped briefly to talk. After they continued on we did little bit of exploring in the immediate area since there were a few flowers about and at least one tree frog.
IMG_7619Mostly past lupine



We returned the way we’d come enjoying the views just as much on the way back as we had the first time by. We didn’t see anyone else the rest of the day and we didn’t see anymore pikas, but as always there were a few things we spotted on the way back that we hadn’t seen or noticed earlier.
IMG_7632Butterfly on an aster.

IMG_7636Never seen one of these looks so clean and smooth, it almost looked fake.

IMG_7660We don’t know if this was just a stunted wallflower or something we’d never seen before.


We ended the day nearly out of water (luckily for us the temperatures stayed below 70 so it wasn’t too warm) and with some sore feet. Our GPS devices both showed us having traveled nearly 17 miles which was further than we’d planned but all the little side trips and exploring can really add up. Depsite the distance this was a great hike with varied scenery, good wildlife, and a reasonable elevation gain made better by the trails having such gradual grades. Of course any trail where we see multiple pikas is going to be aces in our minds. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Bingham Ridge

High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Trip report

Hunts Cove

There isn’t much like a midweek hike in September, the crowds have thinned out but the weather can still be great. When I was putting together our hiking plans at the beginning of the year one of the hikes I really wanted to do was Hunts Cove. The hike starts at the very popular Pamelia Lake Trail in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness which is one of only two areas in the Oregon Cascades (not counting Crater Lake NP) that requires you purchase a permit in order to enter them. Due to the popularity I decided to purchase our permit for a weekday after school started to hopefully minimize the number of other people we’d run into.

Having purchased our permit over four months in advance I was gambling on the conditions. Last year we had gotten permits for the other fee area along the Obsidian Trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness, only to spend the entire 18.6 mile hike in wet and view less low clouds. We lucked out this time though. The forecast had started out as cloudy with a chance of rain but by the time the big day arrived the outlook had greatly improved to clear skies and a high in the low 70s. As a bonus the snow level had dropped down to between 6500-7000′ meaning there would likely be some new snow on Mt. Jefferson. As an added bonus a friend of ours, one of Heather’s running buddies, Jessie, was able to get the day off and join us.

We set off on the Pamelia Lake trail in the soft light of morning through a peaceful forest along side Pamelia Creek. Soon we were surrounded by the sound of rushing water with Milk Creek to our left and Pamelia to our right. Milk Creek comes from glaciers up on Mt. Jefferson and evidence of a 2006 mudslide littered the forest floor. Just over 2 miles in on the trail we reached a T shaped junction at the edge of Pamelia Lake. To the right was a 3 mile trail up Grizzly Peak and to the right lay the path to our loop into Hunts Cove and then back on the Pacific Crest Trail. Before turning right though we headed down to the lake for a photo op.

Mt. Jefferson from Pamelia Lake
Mt. Jefferson from Pamelia Lake

There was a good deal of wildlife present on the lake. A great blue heron flew from a log in the center of the lake into the far grassy shore and a family of ducks glided silently into the reeds. Several canada geese could be seen at the far end of the lake near the lakes inlet.

We made our way around the lake to a second junction. Here we had to decide if we would do the loop clockwise or counterclockwise. We decided to stick to the lake shore and go counterclockwise first to Hunts Cove and then to the PCT. The trail crossed several streams that seemed to be flowing very well given the time of year. We assumed the recent rain/snow had helped rejuvenate them. Our favorite crossing was on a footbridge over a small scenic falls.

Footbridge & falls
Footbridge & falls

The trail began climbing gently as we passed the far end of Pamelia Lake. The path traveled along Hunts Creek, crossed over it, and then climbed up above it on the side of a ridge. As we climbed we began getting glimpses of Mt. Jefferson across the valley with it’s dusting of new snow.
At a sharp switchback we could hear what sounded like a waterfall a short distance away so we took a faint side trail in the direction of the sound and discovered a beautiful waterfall on Hunts Creek.

Just a short distance from the falls we found the signs marking the trail to Hunts Cove where we took the left fork travelling above a pretty meadow with a view across to the mountain. A half mile later we arrived at the first of the two lakes that call the cove home. Hanks Lake was up first. It was a lovely lake lined with meadows and a view of Mt. Jefferson.

Mt. Jefferson from Hanks Lake
Mt. Jefferson from Hanks Lake

Some of the biggest huckleberries and blueberries we’d seen were growing in large patches around the shore and we stumbled up a pair of sooty grouse in one of the thickets.

Sooty grouse on a downed tree
Sooty grouse on a downed tree

After a refreshing rest on the shore of Hanks Lake we continued on to Hunts Lake. Although Hunts Lake has no view of Mt. Jefferson it offered it’s own attractions. Heather spotted several fish in the clear water and over the lake loomed Cathedral Rock where we would eventually find the PCT.

Hunts Lake and Cathedral Rocks
Hunts Lake and Cathedral Rocks

We left Hunts Lake and returned to Hanks Lake to begin the real adventure. From Hanks Lake we could have returned to the trail junction and continued 3 miles to the PCT on the official trail or we could look for a former trail that lead from the far end of Hanks Lake up to the PCT shaving off a mile or more from the hike. We opted for the off trail adventure and set off around Hanks Lake in search of the old path. Using a Green Trails map I knew the old trail followed an inlet creek up to the PCT below Cathedral Rocks so we worked our way to an inlet creek and began working our way up along it. The map only showed one creek so despite not being able to find a convincing former trail we sallied forth through the brush.

Inlet creek we followed from Hanks Lake
Inlet creek we followed from Hanks Lake

The map indicated that the trail had eventually crossed the stream and continued on the far side so when I spotted a decent place to cross we hopped over to the other side. We found several sections of what could have once been a trail, but they could have been game trails as well and never saw any blazes or other indications of an official trail. Next we stumbled on a lovely meadow with a small pond in the center. At that point I decided to consult the Garmin. I knew we were headed in the right direction for the PCT but it wasn’t until I looked at the Garmin that I realized we had followed the wrong creek up. The Garmin clearly showed the additional stream that wasn’t on our other maps so that mystery was solved. Now it was a matter of finding the least steep climb up to the PCT. Using the GPS I headed to what looked like the most gradual ascent passing through a pair of small heather meadows.

Heather & Jessie in one of the small meadows
Heather & Jessie in one of the small meadows

Leaving the second little meadow we climbed one last steep section and suddenly popped out on the PCT. We were probably about a half mile further down the PCT than where I had expected to meet up with it, but that just meant a little shorter hike. After celebrating our find we turned left and headed north. After just a couple hundred yards the PCT dipped a bit and passed right along the edge of the meadow we had just left. That was good for a laugh or two :). This section of the PCT was great as it traveled between Cathedral Rocks on the right and Hunts Cove below to the left. Views extended across Hunts Cove to the far ridge and Three Fingered Jack beyond.

Three Fingered Jack from the PCT
Three Fingered Jack from the PCT


Hanks and Hunts Lakes from the PCT
Hanks and Hunts Lakes from the PCT

The PCT then reaches a plateau below Mt. Jefferson that is dotted with lakes and ponds. The first pond we arrived at was a strange red color. As I approached the water a frog swam from the shore and floated in the colored water.
Next up was Shale Lake and a wonderful view of the mountain.

Mt. Jefferson from Shale Lake
Mt. Jefferson from Shale Lake

Shale Lake had some great looking tent sites and next to it was nearly dry Mud Hole Lake. Across the trail lay Coyote Lake and several other small ponds.

Leaving the plateau we began descending down toward Milk Creek with views of Pamelia Lake below. Just before reaching Milk Creek we reached the turn off for the return trail to Pamelia Lake. Before heading back I went down to the Milk Creek crossing to get a picture of Mt. Jefferson.

Mt. Jefferson from Milk Creek
Mt. Jefferson from Milk Creek

We started smelling smoke while I was getting the picture at Milk Creek and when I turned around the sky behind us was filled with smoke. Then I notice that there was smoke drifting in front of Mt. Jefferson as well. When we got back to Pamelia Lake the scene was quite different than it had been in the morning.

Smoke over Pamelia Lake
Smoke over Pamelia Lake

Smoke had settled in the valley but we had no idea what the source was. On the way out there was just a bit of smoke in the forest but it didn’t detract from the beauty. Green moss covered much of the ground and dozens of varieties of mushrooms and fungus added character to the view.




We had a blast on this hike. For the most part we had the trails to ourselves the whole day and the weather had been perfect. Aside from the bit of smoke at the end of the day (which was apparently due to a controlled burn being done by the Forest Service near Sisters, OR) it couldn’t have been better. We’d knocked out 18.2 miles in just over 9hrs. It was really fun having Jessie join us on the hike. It was great having someone that didn’t even blink at the 5am departure time or the distance/time we were planning on doing. What a way great to spend a Thursday in September 😀 Happy Trails!

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