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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon

Breitenbush Cascades & Devil’s Ridge Trail – 7/13/2019

We were looking for a relatively short, nearby hike so that we could get back to Salem early. It was Salem Summit Companys (our favorite local outdoor store)7th anniversary so they were having a sale, raffle, and free pizza. We turned to Matt Reeder’s “101 Hikes in the Majestic Mt. Jefferson Region” for inspiration and chose a pair of hikes not far outside of Detroit, OR.

Our first stop was at the Breitenbush Cascades. The trailhead for this short (a third of a mile) hike is located on one of the worst Forest Service roads in NW Oregon, FR 4220 aka Skyline Road. We had braved this road once before on a hike to Jefferson Park Ridge (post). That had been a much longer drive on this road than the 3.5 miles we had to endure to reach the pullout on the right shortly before the the road crossed North Fork Breitenbush River. A very small temporary Forest Service sign was all that marked the trailhead where a pair of paths led into the forest. In hindsight we should have taken the path leaving to the left of the parking area, but instead we took the path straight ahead.
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As we would discover in a few minutes the trail to the left went straight to the river then turned right along the water to meet up with the path we’d taken. The path we took descended a bit and also brought us to the river near a small cascade.
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There was also a view here to Bear Point across the valley, a hike that we are hoping to do later this month.
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The trail switchbacked down to what Reeder describes as the top tier of the Breitenbush Cascades.
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The river almost immediately spills over the lip of another cascade.
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This second tier is reachable via another switchback although the trail down is steeper and there is a bit of an awkward drop down some exposed rock.
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Slick rocks and moss make caution here important as the river plunges downhill yet again beyond the second tier.
IMG_3294The river below the second tier.

The river actually loses over 1200′ from this second tier as it cascades down to join the South Fork North Fork Breitenbush River. By all accounts this is likely the tallest waterfall in Oregon if the cascades are considered a single feature, but the steepness of the terrain make this second tier the final tier that is safely reachable, at least without special equipment.

We headed back uphill to the small cascade above the first tier where we stayed right along the water. This led us back to the parking area via that left hand trail and past another nice little cascade on the river.
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We drove back down FR 4220 and wound up passing what appeared to be a brand new Mercedes SUV (complete with dealer plates) coming up the rocky, rutted road. I guess that’s one way to break a new car in.

Once we’d finished with the 3.5 miles of FR 4220 we turned left on paved FR 46 and drove 5.6 miles to FR 50 (11 miles from Highway 22 at Detroit). After .2 miles of potholes on this gravel road we parked at a pullout on the left at the remains of a guard station that burned in 2000.
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From the pullout we walked down the road to a gate for the Breitenbush Hot Springs Resort and turned left onto the signed Gorge Trail.
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We had been on this trail before in 2013 (post). This time we planned on the more strenuous hike to Devil’s Peak.

Even thought we’d been on this first section of trail there had been some changes. Namely the footbridges that lead across the North Fork Breitenbush River which need to be repaired or replaced routinely.
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After crossing the river the trail climbed gradually through the forest where we spotted our first blooming Washington lily and prince’s pine of the year.
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Just over a mile from the parking area we passed a spur trail on the left joining from South Breitenbush Gorge Trailhead.
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At the 1.5 mile mark we arrived at the signed junction with the Emerald Forest Trail.
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While the South Breitenbush Gorge Trail is maintained by the Forest Service a network of trails including the Emerald Forest and Devil’s Ridge Trails are maintained by the Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center.

We turned onto the Emerald Forest Trail which descended for 100 yards to a footbridge over the South Fork Breitenbush River. A previous version of the bridge could be seen to the left.
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Beyond the river the trail steadily climbed for nearly a mile to a junction with the Spotted Owl Trail. Here we turned left following pointers for the Cliff Trail and Devil’s Lookout.
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This trail also climbed as it transitioned from unburned forest to the fire scar of the 2017 Little Devil Fire.
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Just over a quarter mile from the trail junction we arrived at a second junction along a ridge where the Devil’s Ridge Trail continued climbing to the left while the Cliff Trail dropped to the right.
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We turned left and as we started what would be a fairly intense climb a woodpecker tapped away at the trees.
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A little less than a quarter mile from the junction we came to a somewhat ominous sign.
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While “at your own risk” gave us something to think about at least the trail wasn’t closed so we ducked under the sign and continued. We were ready to turn back if either of us felt uncomfortable but in the meantime we continued to climb.

Because the trail follows the spine of a ridge there isn’t a lot of room for it to zigzag up so at times it was brutally steep. We tried to entertain ourselves with the remaining flowers which included our first fireweed, diamond clarkia, scouler’s bluebells (lots), and pearly everlasting of the year.
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IMG_3399A clump of fireweed.

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IMG_3408Scouler’s bluebells

IMG_3411Diamond clarkia

IMG_3416Cat’s ear lily

IMG_3419yarrow

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A little over a half mile from the junction we arrived at the Devil’s Lookout, a rocky viewpoint. Although we had some blue sky overhead clouds seemed to be encircling us.
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The trail then dropped a bit as it crossed a somewhat level saddle before launching itself uphill again.
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IMG_3442Another Washington lily

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After gaining 200′ in a tenth of a mile the trail became more reasonable as it climbed along a much gentler slope. There were some interesting rock formations along this section.
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IMG_3455Devil’s Peak ahead

In addition to the rocks we spotted a spectacular Washington Lily with various stages of blooms. It smelled just as good as it looked too.
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As the trail neared Devil’s Peak it took a different approach than launching straight uphill and wound around to the left. The tread along the hillside had been damaged by the fire and required a little caution.
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The trail wrapped around to the opposite side of Devil’s Peak where there were a few reaming wildflowers from what looked like it had been a decent display.
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A trail used to continue along the ridge all the way to Triangulation Peak (post) but that trail had long been abandoned before the fire.
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The trail now got back to business and did indeed head basically straight up to the top of Devil’s Peak.
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The view had reportedly been great of Mt. Jefferson before the fire and with many trees now burned the view was even more open, but those pesky clouds just weren’t cooperating.
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Ironically we had been able to see Mt. Jefferson clear as a bell during our drive to Detroit but the best we could get now that we were closer was a glimpse of the snowy lower flank.
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Triangulation Peak was below the clouds though.
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We spent some time resting and exploring the summit which had some excellent rocks to sit on.
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After a nice break we stared down. The steepness of the descent made it necessary to keep our speed under control and it was tough on the knees.
IMG_3553A typical steep section.

We stopped when we could, breaking for insects and ripe strawberries.
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When we arrived back at the trail junction we stayed straight on the Cliff Trail which continued the theme of steep descents. After just 200 feet we veered left at a “Cliffs” pointer.
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Short spur trails led out to a couple of cliff top viewpoints which overlooked the forest.
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Beyond the cliffs the trail really dropped as it descended into a narrow valley.
IMG_3572Looking back up from the bottom.

IMG_3575Still dropping but much more gradually.

Approximately a half mile from the cliffs the trail ended at the Spotted Owl Trail. Here a right turn takes you back to the Emerald Forest Trail in half a mile where you can then return to the trailhead via the earlier route.
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If you have a shuttle car that you left at the Spotted Owl Trailhead or if you are a guest at the resort you can turn left here and follow the Spotted Owl Trail a little over a mile to the visitor parking area at Breitenbush Hot Springs. The description in Reeder’s book has you loop through the resort but the resort has apparently hardened their stance on allowing hikers to pass through the resort itself.

This wasn’t a particularly long hike (9-10 miles) and the roughly 2400′ of elevation gain isn’t all that high a number but the steepness of those gains made this a surprisingly tough hike. It would have been nice to have had a view of Mt. Jefferson but this year seems to be the year of partly cloudy skies so all we can do is keep trying. In any event it was a nice hike and gave us a good excuse to check out the Breitenbush Cascades. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Breitenbush Cascades and Devil’s Ridge Trail

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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Trip report

South Breitenbush Trail to Jefferson Park 8/11/18

We kicked off six days of hiking with a visit to Jefferson Park. Since 2011 Jefferson Park had been an annual destination until last year when we were forced to skip our visit due to the Whitewater Fire. For this years visit we started at the South Breitenbush Trailhead.
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This was our second time on this trail with our first coming in 2013 (post). We had remembered that the trail was quite rocky, but forgotten how much more of a climb it was than either the Whitewater (post) or Woodpecker Ridge (post) trails. The Whitewater Trail remains closed for now due to the fire while the Woodpecker Ridge Trail is open but undergoing repairs by the Forest Service. The other option to reach Jefferson Park is from the north via the PCT over Park Ridge (post) but one time driving the road to that trailhead was enough for us.

We followed the South Breitenbush Trail uphill through the trees along the increasingly rocky tread.
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At the two mile mark we found that the Forest Service had replaced the sign for the Bear Point Trail, a hike that is on our schedule for next year.
South Breitbenbush Trail junction with the Bear Point TrailBear Point Trail sign 2013

IMG_9831Bear Point Trail sign 2018

There aren’t many views of Mt. Jefferson along the lower portion of the trail and on this day the mountain was playing peak-a-boo through some clouds.
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We noticed another difference at the 4.2 mile mark where the trail passes a small pond. This years drought conditions were obvious by the difference in the water present.
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Just over a half mile from the pond the trail passes over a ridge and descends through a rock field where we spotted one of our favorite animals, a pika.
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After the descent the trail levels out somewhat as it passes through wildflower meadows before arriving alongside the South Breitenbush River.
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As we neared a junction with a side trail to Park Lake at the six mile mark a break in the clouds finally revealed Mt. Jefferson.
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We decided to return via Park Lake so we stuck to the South Breitenbush Trail after crossing the river on rocks and climbed for nearly a half mile to its end at the Pacific Crest Trail.
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IMG_9924South Breitenbush Trail sign at the PCT junction.

IMG_9925PCT heading south through Jefferson Park.

We turned left on the PCT and headed north crossing the river again before turning right toward Russell Lake after .2 miles.
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Russell Lake never disappoints. We passed around its north end and took a break on some rocks on its SE side.
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After a snack we continued around the lake for a bit before veering to the SW and returning to the PCT which we followed south for .3 miles to a sign for Scout and Bays Lakes.
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By the time we had reached Scout Lake the clouds had gained the upper hand and Mt. Jefferson had all but vanished.
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With the mountain hidden and a five day backpacking trip beginning the next day we decided to skip Bays Lake and turned right at a sign for Rock and Park Lakes.
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We likewise skipped Rock Lake this time staying above it and passing Park Lake.
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We returned to the South Breitenbush Trail and headed back down to the trailhead. With the clouds rising to overtake Mt. Jefferson there was a better view of the surrounding valleys and ridges which showed the scars of the Whitewater Fire.
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Aside from a few trees on hilltops surrounding the park there was no other visible sign of the Whitewater fire in the areas we visited.

We had been a little surprised by the lack of people we encountered in Jefferson Park but we were apparently just a bit early because we passed a lot of people heading up as we were descending. We made it back to our car by 1:30pm after hiking 14.3 miles and headed home to pack. It had been a relatively quick visit to Jefferson Park but we were planning on being on the road by 5am the next morning in hopes of reaching the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead before 11am. Happy Trails!

Flickr: South Breitenbush Trail to Jefferson Park

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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Throwback Thursday Trip report

Throwback Thursday – Jefferson Park Ridge

This week’s Throwback Thursday hike features our second hike to Jefferson Park. Jefferson Park had been the one destination that we had visited each year starting in 2011. Unfortunately that streak ended in 2017 due to the area being closed by the Whitewater Fire. That fire started along the Whitewater Trail which we used in 2011, 2014, and 2015 and also swept over the Woodpecker Ridge Trail which we took in 2016. There are two other approaches for day hikes to Jefferson Park which appear to have escaped the Whitewater Fire for the most part, the South Breitenbush Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail from Forest Road 4220. In 2013 we used the South Breitenbush Trail and on October 7th, 2012 we completed the hike featured in the post.

Of the four approaches we’ve done this was the most scenic in large part due to the dramatic view from Park Ridge. It is also the approach with the worst (by far) drive to the trailhead. Forest Road 4220 aka Oregon Skyline Road can be accessed via Forest Road 46 from the north (Portland) by turning left off of FR 46 21.8 miles beyond Ripplebrook onto FR 4690 for 8.1 miles then turning right onto FR 4220 at a stop sign. As FR 4220 passes the Olallie Lake Resort and Horseshoe Lake Campground it deteriorates. Beyond the Horseshoe Lake Campground the final two miles may be impassable to passenger cars. From the south (Salem or Bend) the trailhead is accessed from the other end of FR 4220. From Detroit, OR we took FR 46 north for 16.9 miles to a junction where we turned right onto FR 4220. The 6.5 mile drive to the trailhead was narrow and rough and can be impassable when wet or snowy. The drive was bad enough that we have no plans to repeat it despite this being a very good hike.

We arrived at the large parking area relieved to be done with the drive.
Big parking lot at the Pacific Crest Trail

The large parking area was fairly empty due to it being fairly late in the year so we had the trail to ourselves as we headed south on the PCT.
Pacific Crest Trail

Not far from the trailhead we passed some talus where we spotted a pika for the first time.
Pacific Crest Trail

Pika

We then passed through a short section of forest burned in the 2010 Pyramid Butte Fire.
Huckleberry bushes

Pyramid Butte

We had planned on taking a side trail to Pyramid Butte as there had been a trail to the top of the butte but the fire had made the area confusing so we decided to stick to the PCT. We were soon out of the burned area and passing through forest colored with red huckleberry leaves.
Pacific Crest Trail

From the trailhead the PCT gained 1400′ in 3.7 miles to its crest on Park Ridge but much of the gain was gradual especially early on. The elevation gain provided for some excellent views to the north where Mt. Hood was visible beyond Pyramid Butte.
Ruddy Hill, Pyramid Butte, Mt. Hood and Olallie Butte

Pyramid Butte and Mt. Hood

To the south though the much closer Mt. Jefferson merely peaked over the top of Park Ridge.
Mt. Jefferson

Mt. Jefferson behind Park Ridge

Pacific Crest Trail

Pacific Crest Trail

It was a little chilly and got chillier as we approached Park Ridge. Snow patches and partially frozen ponds lined the trail as we began to leave the trees and climb up the ridges northern flank.
Frozen pond along the Pacific Crest Trail

Frost around the pond

Park Butte

Pacific Crest Trail

Rock cairns and posts helped mark the way through the rocks which had replaced the meadows and we followed existing footprints through patches of snow.
Pacific Crest Trail

The view north to Mt. Hood from the open ridge was spectacular.
Mt. Hood and Olallie Butte

That view was quickly trumped though as we crested the ridge and finally had a full view of Mt. Jefferson with Jefferson Park below.
Mt. Jefferson, Russel Lake, and Sprauge Lake from Park Ridge

The ridge marks the boundary of the Mt. Hood and Willamette National Forests.
Sign marking the border between the Willamtte and Mt. Hood National Forests

Sign marking the border between the Willamtte and Mt. Hood National Forests

We took a nice long break on top of the ridge enjoying the views. As we rested a couple on horseback rode by stopping momentarily to discuss the beauty of the area. After resting up we headed down toward Jefferson Park.
Mt. Jefferson and Jefferson Park

It was just under 2 miles down to Russell Lake. The PCT was a little steeper on this side of Park Ridge as it traversed downhill past springs, red huckleberry bushes and meadows with wildflowers still in bloom.
Pacific Crest Trail

Huckleberry bushes along the Pacific Crest Trail

Lupine

Mt. Jefferson from the Pacific Crest Trail

Behind us Park Butte rose from the end of Park Ridge.
Park Butte

We eventually got a good look at Russell Lake.
Russell Lake

Before we made it down there though we ran into a small buck.
Small buck along the Pacific Crest Trail

After crossing the dry bed of the South Breitenbush River we turned off the PCT to visit Russell Lake.
Wildflowers along the South Breitenbush River

Mt. Jefferson from Russel Lake

After visiting that lake we returned to the PCT and continued south another three quarter miles to Scout Lake.
Mt. Jefferson

Scout Lake

After another short rest we returned the way we’d come. On the way back the remaining gentians were opening up to the sunlight.
Gentians

We followed the PCT back up Park Ridge where the views were no less impressive.
Pacific Crest Trail

Mt. Hood and Olallie Butte

Mt. Hood, Olallie Butte and Sara Jane Lake

We cruised back past the now thawed ponds and more blooming gentians to the trailhead where we would once again need to brave FR 4220 in order to get home.
Pond along the Pacific Crest Trail

Gentians

Pyramid Butte, Mt. Hood and Olallie Butte

Ruddy HillFR 4220 visible below the rocky slope.

We obviously survived the drive back. We hope to get back to Park Ridge someday. We have considered heading up the PCT from Jefferson Park on subsequent visits but have wound up balking at prospect of the 1000′ of elevation gain necessary to get to the top. It will likely be part of a backpacking trip the next time we are up there, until then we have the memories. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Jefferson Park Ridge

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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Trip report

Jefferson Park via Woodpecker Ridge

We deiced to try a new approach this year for our annual trip to Jefferson Park. Our plan was to hike the Woodpecker Ridge Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail and then on to Jefferson Park with a possible bushwack to see Russell Creek Falls on the way back. We parked at the Woodpecker Ridge Trailhead which is a little over 5 miles along Forest Road 040.
Woodpecker Ridge Trailhead

The Woodpecker Ridge Trail extends approximately 1.8 to the Pacific Crest Trail in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. The trail starts off with a steep climb through the forest before gaining the ridge and leveling out. There were lots of juicy ripe huckleberries along this section. As we hiked along the ridge we entered the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.
Entering the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness on the Woodpecker Ridge Trail

Unlike some of the other trails that lead to Jefferson Park Mt. Jefferson remained mostly hidden from the Woodpecker Ridge Trail. Only near the end did we get a look at the mountain.
Mt. Jefferson from the Woodpecker Ridge Trail

Shortly after getting our first look at the mountain we arrived at the Pacific Crest Trail and turned left.
Woodpecker Ridge Trail junction with the PCT

We had another Mt. Jefferson sighting from a pond not far from the junction.
Mt. Jefferson from a pond along the Pacific Crest Trail

Most of the views along the PCT were to the NW across the Whitewater Creek drainage to Triangulation Peak and Bocca Cave
Triangulation Peak and Bocca Cave from the Pacific Crest Trail

Bocca Cave and Triangulation Peak

One of the other differences between this approach and the other trails leading to Jefferson Park is the presence of a sometimes tricky creek crossing. The bridge-less crossing of the glacier fed Russell Creek can be dangerous during high water flow. It was a mostly dry crossing on this morning though.
Russell Creek crossing

Monkeyflower

Russell Creek crossing

Our plan was to recross the stream before too much additional water was added to the flow as the temperatures rose during the day. A few smaller creek crossings brought us to the familiar junction with the Whitewater Creek Trail after a total of 3.2 miles on the PCT.
False hellbore

Junction with the Whitewater Creek Trail

We had come up the Whitewater Trail on our previous visit on 8/8/2015 and were anxious to compare the scenery given how dry the prior year had been. It had looked more like Fall than Mid-Summer on that visit but this year had seen more snow so we were expecting more water, more green, and more flowers. The difference was already noticeable when we arrived at the informational sign for Jefferson Park.

8/8/2015
Entering the Jefferson Park area

8/13/2016
Mt. Jefferson

Shortly after passing the sign the trail passes through a small rock field where we had seen a pika the year before. One greeted us this year in almost in the exact same spot.
Pika

A nice display of paintbrush greeted us as we entered Jefferson Park.
Paintbrush in Jefferson Park

We stuck to the Pacific Crest Trail ignoring the signed trails to Bays and Scout Lakes as we headed for Russell Lake at the far end of Jefferson Park. Along the way we passed a small pond that gave another good example of the difference a year can make.

2015
Pond in Jefferson Park

2016
Mt. Jefferson from Jefferson Park

Patches of paintbrush dotted the meadows along the way providing beautiful scenes.
Mt. Jefferson from Jefferson Park

We followed the PCT to the South Breitenbush River which was lined with wildflowers.
Wildflowers along the South Brietenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Brietenbush River

South Brietenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Brietenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Brietenbush River

We turned off the PCT and crossed the river to Russell Lake where Mt. Jefferson was reflecting nicely.
Mt. Jefferson from Russell Lake

Once again the difference in water level and flowers from the prior year was obvious.

2015
Mt. Jefferson from Russell Lake

2016
Mt. Jefferson from Russell Lake

Patches of red paintbrush lined the lake as we made our way around its shore.
Mt. Jeffferson from Russell Lake

Paintbrush along Russell Lake

Park Butte from Russell Lake

After circling Russell Lake we returned to the Pacific Crest Trail and then turned down the South Breitenbush Trail.
Junction with the South Breitenbush Trail

We followed this trail to a meadow overlooking the river.
South Breitenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Breitenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Breitenbush River

At a rock cairn in the meadow we turned left and headed up a small hill to Park Lake.
Trail to Park Lake

Mt. Jefferson from Park Lake

From Park Lake we followed a trail along a dry creek bed up to Rock Lake.
Mt. Jefferson from Rock Lake

After passing by Rock Lake we crested another small hill and arrived at Bays Lake.
Mt. Jefferson from Bays Lake

We left Bays Lake after a short rest and headed toward Scout Lake passing a small unnamed lake along the way.
Mt. Jefferson from the lake between Bays and Scout Lakes

Park Butte and Scout Lake

Mt. Jefferson from Scout Lake

After visiting Scout Lake we returned to the PCT and headed out of Jefferson Park. We arrived back at the Russell Creek crossing at 11:15am and found that there hadn’t been much change in the water level yet.
Russell Creek Crossing

The butterflies were out now though.
Skipper

Fritillary butterfly on yarrow

Butterfly on thistle

After recrossing the creek we began watching for a spot to leave the PCT in order to bushwack down to a view of Russell Creek Falls. This waterfall was on my radar based on a report by a fellow hiker and avid waterfall hunter. He had warned of a steep cliffy approach so we weren’t sure if we’d be successful or not. I had done some preliminary scouting using Google Maps and a topographic map to find what had looked like the most suitable ridge to head down. Just off the trail we found an old campsite and then plunged into the forest.
Bushwack to a view of Russell Creek Falls

The ridge was indeed extremely cliffy on the Russell Creek side so we began fighting our way through the brush on the opposite side. We were glad that at least there weren’t any rhododendron plants at that elevation. As we continued down we kept looking for a way back toward the creek but the terrain and forest pushed us further away. After getting quite a ways downstream from the falls we found what appeared to be a possible gully. I began to work on finding a way down but it was very steep and after struggling and slipping twice I began looking to see if we could side hill back upstream. That wasn’t going to happen due to the cliffs lining the creek. I climbed back up to where I had left Heather and we adjusted our plan. We headed back upstream sticking as close to the top of the ridge as possible hoping to get some sort of view of the falls. We managed to find another gully closer to the falls where another steep descent brought us to a view halfway down the cliffs.
Russell Creek Falls

Russell Creek Falls

Russell Creek Falls

There wasn’t any way down from the view that looked even close to safe so we declared victory here and took a break before climbing back up to the PCT. The 151′ waterfall was indeed impressive but we can’t recommend attempting to see it. The steep slopes and abrupt cliffs make this a difficult and dangerous goal.

After fighting our way back to the PCT we headed for the Woodpecker Ridge Trail saying goodbye to Mt. Jefferson as we passed the pond.
Mt. Jefferson from a pond along the Pacific Crest Trail

We made it back to the car after a total of 15.5 miles. I thought I had escaped relatively unscathed after the bushwacking adventure but after changing into a pair of shorts I was ambushed by an evil yellow jacket (or jackets) and received a pair of stings on my leg. Those things are just plain mean.

Happy (yellow jacket free) Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157672410754435

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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Trip report

Jefferson Park – 2015

Since 2011 Jefferson Park has been the one destination that has been on our schedule every year. This year we planned a joint outing with my parents who had not been to Jefferson Park yet. We picked them up bright and early from the Whispering Falls Campground and drove to the Whitewater Trailhead arriving shortly after 6am. We had agreed that we would hike at our own paces and would look for each other in Jefferson Park and if we didn’t meet up there we would do so back at the car. What we failed to do was set a time that we would start back to the car at in case we didn’t run into them. After giving my parents a brief description of what to expect from the trail on the way up we set off.
Whitewater Trailhead

The forest showed the same signs of the warm and dry year we’ve had. Everything seemed to be at least a month ahead of schedule. Few flowers remained and some of the leaves were already starting to turn color.
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The sky to the south was a bit hazy with smoke from fires in Southern Oregon, but Mt. Jefferson was enjoying relatively blue skies.

The Three Pyramids
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At the 1.5 mile mark the Triangulation Trail joined from the left at a saddle. This marked the end of the steepest portion of the hike which is never really all that steep to begin with. Approximately a mile from that junction the trail enters a small rock field with a view of the top of Mt. Jefferson.
Mt. Jefferson from the Whitewater Trail

As I was taking a picture of the mountain I noticed movement in the rocks to my left. I looked over to see a pika dart out onto the rocks.
Pika

We love pikas and were excited to be getting such a good look at this one since we typically only hear their “meep” warning of our presence. As we were watching the first pika we began to notice others. In the end we’d spotted 5 different pikas and a chipmunk in the area.
Pika

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Pika and a chipmunk

We wound up seeing a sixth pika a little further along the trail making this the highest number of pikas we’d seen on a single hike. Normally seeing a pika, let alone 6, would be the wildlife highlight of a hike, but shortly before reaching the first crossing of the Whitewater Creek around the 4 mile mark the pikas were topped. As we passed a small meadow at the base of a butte we heard some rocks sliding. My first thought was mountain lion because of a recent discussion on how many of the cougar sightings I heard about were the result of hikers hearing rocks moving. When we looked over toward the source of the noise the animal we saw was black so we knew it wasn’t a cougar. It was a bear. This was only the second bear we’d seen while hiking and the first one had run away so quickly that I wasn’t able to get a picture. This time I had my camera ready and the bear was running up an exposed rock slide so I was able to get a few pictures before it disappeared.
Black Bear

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We continued on to the Pacific Crest Trail energized from the excitement of seeing the bear. At the PCT we turned left, re-crossed Whitewater Creek, and entered Jefferson Park.
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Shortly after entering the park we came to a signed junction and needed to decide where we wanted to go this time.
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We settled on heading north on the PCT and trying to find a climbers trail that was shown on one of our maps leading up to the Whitewater Glacier. As we made our way through the park we were struck by just how dry it was and how far past all the flowers already were. The scenery was still amazing though.
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Pond in Jefferson Park

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We found what appeared to be a decently used trail in what seemed to be the correct area and set off toward the mountain. The trail we were following started bending back to the south though so we were forced to abandon it and take a more direct route toward the ridge where we hoped to pick up the climbers trail. We found another clear path and began following it but then it petered out on a tree covered ridge.
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We seemed to be in the correct area according to the map and GPS, but we were unable to spot anything that looked like a trail so we decided to go to plan b and head to Russell Lake where we could pick up the PCT again and decide what to do from there.

We found a few flowers around Russell Lake but again the dry year was evident. The lake was at the lowest level we’d seen and there was no water flowing out of the lake to the South Breitenbush River.
Mt. Jefferson from Russell Lake

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There was still a little water coming down another branch of the river from Park Ridge allowing some monkeyflowers to still be blooming.
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We had considered following the PCT part way up Park Ridge and visiting Sprauge Lake which we had not done before, but after looking up at the climb we’d need to do we decided to save that for another trip and instead we headed for the South Breintenbush Trail.
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As we reached the South Breitenbush Trail we ran into another couple who recognized my Portlandhikers button. They had stayed overnight near Bays Lake and were on their way up to Park Ridge. After talking for a bit we continued on watching for the side trail to Park Lake which we’d find in a hillside meadow above the river.
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The water level at Park Lake was also lower than we’d ever seen, but we realized it was a deeper lake than we’d thought as we looked down into the green water.
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Next up along the trail was Rock Lake. Like all the lakes in Jefferson Park this one has colorful water and great views of the mountain. We spotted some trout in the lake as we passed by and got a kick out of watching a happy bird bathing along the shore.
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From Rock Lake we made our way to Scout Lake where we thought we might find my parents. It was around 11am and we thought they might have stopped at the lake for a break. We didn’t see them, just more wonderful Jefferson Park scenery.
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Our next thought was that they might be at Bays Lake so we headed over to the south end of that lake to take a look. We hadn’t spent much time on that side of Bays Lake so we decided to do some exploring.
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Park Butte from Bays Lake

We headed down to the day use peninsula and removed our packs to take a break and check out the area.
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Mt. Jefferson from Bays Lake

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When we resumed our hike we decided to just loop around the rest of the lake and then head back to Scout Lake.
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We still hadn’t seen any signs of my parents by the time we had made it back to the PCT from Scout Lake and we debated on whether to head back to the car or go up the PCT again toward Russell Lake in search of them. It was at this point that we realized that it would have been a good idea to establish a time at which we would head back to the car. We made it all the way back to Russell Lake without running into them which had us a little concerned that they may not have made it all the way to the park. Heather had come up with a theory though, she suggested that they might have gone directly to Russell Lake since that was the ultimate goal for my Mom. If they had done that we easily could have missed them while we were touring the other lakes and then missed them again while we were on the PCT if they had taken one of the other signed trials to Scout Lake. Either way we were fairly certain they were either on their way back to the car or were already there waiting so we headed back down ourselves.

Heather asked a group of young hikers that were on their way up if they’d seen anyone matching my parents description and they had, which made us feel better. We didn’t think to ask how far ahead of us they were though. We picked up our pace but kept getting distracted along the way. It was interesting to see how much the water level had risen in Whitewater Creek as the heat caused an increase in the glacial runoff.
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We also kept looking back at the views of Mt. Jefferson.
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We were still making pretty good time trying to catch them when we rounded a little bend in the trail and saw a gentleman trying to dust himself off. He was covered in dirt with some scratches on his head and there was a camera mounted on a tripod behind him on the trail. He explained that he had set the timer on the camera and was running up the trail to get in position for the picture when he had tripped. He said he was fine but hadn’t realized he was bleeding until Heather pointed it out. Luckily none of the cuts were deep and there was no real damage. He told us that it wasn’t going to affect his enjoyment of his hike. Just more proof that there is no such thing as a bad hike.

We never did catch up to my parents and I half expected to see them sitting on the bench along the trail at the trailhead, but instead we found them at a picnic table just a few feet away. We found out that they had indeed gone straight to Russell Lake and relaxed there awhile before heading to Scout and Bays Lakes. Heather had been right again. We didn’t know how far we’d wound up hiking with all the wandering we’d done, but we found out when I plugged the Garmin into the computer. According to the GPS we’d covered 18.1 miles, a little bit more than we’d planned on but that’s what can happen with a place as scenic as Jefferson Park. Happy Trails!

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157656592737940

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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Trip report

Jefferson Park via South Breitenbush Trail

Our hike this week brought us back to what is my personal favorite destination – Jefferson Park. I can’t really say what it is about the area that makes it my favorite, but I think it is a case where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Jefferson Park is home to several lakes, wildflower meadows, berry patches, snow melt ponds, creeks, and the beginnings of the South Fork Breitenbush River. Oh yeah, the back drop to all of this is Mt. Jefferson, Oregon’s 2nd tallest peak at 10,497′. Our first visit came late in September 2011 when we took the Whitewater Trail and entered the park from the south. In October 2012 we took the Pacific Crest Trail from the north up Park Ridge and down into Jefferson Park. This year we would be coming from the west on the South Breitenbush Trail.

This wasn’t our first time on the South Breitenbush Trail. Earlier this year we had hiked a lower portion of the trail along the South Breitenbush Gorge. https://wanderingyuncks.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/south-breitenbush-gorge-trail/ For this hike we drove past that portion of trail to the third trail head 5 miles up road 4685. We set off from the large parking area just as the Sun was beginning to shine on the top of the ridge across the South Fork Breitenbush River’s valley. The forest was dense and quite dark as the Sun was hidden behind the ridge we were climbing. The trail climbed steadily far enough from the river to hide it’s existence. The trees also hid Mt. Jefferson as we crossed several small streams before the forest began thinning as it became drier. I noticed what appeared to be a brushy clearing that might offer a view so I started looking for a side trail. Sure enough I spotted a pair of rocks oddly placed on a small log which signaled a faint path out through the manzanita. A short distance later Mt. Jefferson came into view giving us our first good view of the mountain.077

Onward and upward we trudged as the forest became sparser offering more frequent views of the mountain. We started noticing more and more ripe huckleberries as we entered the areas that got more sunlight and made sure we took a good sampling. The trail finally flattened out on a plateau where we encountered our first snow melt pond.
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It seemed to belong in Jefferson Park which made us feel like we must be close which turned out to not exactly be the case. We passed through heather meadows that must have been quite a display when they were in bloom and also found some nice patches of wild blueberry bushes where the ripe berries in the sun smelled just like a freshly baked pie. We finally switchbacked down along the edge of a rock slide and followed a flower lined creek toward the South Fork Breitenbush River.

I had begun to think that we might have missed out on most of the wildflowers despite the fact we had come much earlier than in previous years. As usual I was worrying for nothing. Beginning with the creek the number of flowers began to increase and by the time we had traveled a short distance along the river we found the bank was ablaze in yellow and orange.
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On the other side of the trail was a field of purple and white below the rock summit of Park Butte.
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We had managed to come at a great time when many of the earlier flowers were still in bloom, but there were also later flowers such as gentians on display. To top it off the mosquitoes were no longer a nuisance.

We crossed the river and climbed a small ridge to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail and turned north (left) toward Russell Lake. The outlet of Russell Lake is one of the sources of the river and its location between Park Butte and Mt. Jefferson makes it an ideal lunch spot. We ate our lunch (and a few more berries) while we watched a plethora of fish jumping in the lake. It seemed like there was one jumping everywhere you looked, and I even managed to get a picture of one.
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After lunch we headed south along the PCT through the meadows of Jefferson Park eventually taking one of the many side trails toward the other lakes of the park. We started at Scout Lake and worked our way around the shore so we were across from Mt. Jefferson.
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We then headed west over a small hill and down to blue Bays Lake with its rocky peninsulas.

Bays Lake
Bays Lake

From Bays Lake we made our way north past small Rock Lake to Park Lake and another great view.

Park Lake
Park Lake

A trail following the outlet of Park Lake led us back to the South Breitenbush Trail near the river crossing.

The wildflowers were even more impressive on the way out as the Sun was now overhead and many of the flowers such as the gentians were opening.

Gentians
Gentians

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Butterflies had also come out to play.
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After having taken all three of the main approaches to Jefferson Park my favorite would be coming in from the north on the PCT over Park Ridge. The view from the ridge is second to none, but the awful road to the trail head also has few rivals. The Whitewater trail was the easiest and offered nice views, but the entrance to Jefferson Park is not as impressive as the others. The South Breitenbush Trail was the longest (6.2miles one way compared to 5.6 & 5.1 respectively) and gained the most elevation but it offered a great variety of scenery and is the least visited of the trails. In reality you can’t go wrong by picking any of these trails as Jefferson Park is well worth the trip. Happy Trails.

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