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

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!