Categories
High Cascades Hiking Oregon Three Sisters Area Trip report

Rainbow Falls and Substitute Point – 07/04/2021

For the Fourth of July we typically pick a hike in the Old Cascades but this year we aimed higher and headed for the Three Sisters Wilderness in the High Cascades. We had two stops planned, a short hike on the Rainbow Falls Trail to the viewpoint of distant Rainbow Falls and a longer hike on the Foley Ridge Trail to Substitute Point. We stopped first at the Rainbow Falls Trailhead since it is right off Foley Ridge Road (FR 2643) on the way to the Foley Ridge Trailhead. Neither of these trailheads currently require a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit for day hikes (you are required to fill out a free self-issued permit at each TH though).
IMG_9616

The first half mile of the trail follows an old road bed to a former trailhead.
IMG_9623

IMG_9624

We continued along the trail entering the Three Sisters Wilderness before turning along the edge of the steep hillside high above Separation Creek (post)
IMG_9629

IMG_9632One of two phantom orchids we saw along the trail.

IMG_9633Newish looking wilderness sign.

IMG_9634Maples overhanging the trail.

IMG_9635

IMG_9642Madrone trunks

A little under 1.5 miles from the TH we arrived at a rock fin where a short scramble led to a view of distant Rainbow Falls. It was just after 8am which wasn’t an ideal time due to the falls being to the east with the Sun directly behind and still low in the sky.
IMG_9644It’s a pretty narrow scramble so probably not for kids or those uncomfortable with heights.

IMG_9645A lone madrone at the end of the fin.

IMG_9647Looking toward the falls. (The North Sister is back there too but not visible due to the lighting.)

IMG_9654Rainbow Falls on Rainbow Creek

IMG_9651The best I could do with the lighting.

IMG_9652Looking up Separation Creek.

IMG_9658Looking back up along the rocks.

A use trail continued toward the falls, but as far as I know it’s not possible to reach them or to get a better view so we returned the way we’d come. From the Rainbow Falls Trailhead we then drove another 5 miles up FR 2643 to its end at the Foley Ridge Trailhead.
IMG_9661

The 8 mile long Foley Ridge Trail begins at the trailhead and leads into the Three Sisters Wilderness were it eventually ends at the Pacific Crest Trail. We had been on the upper end of the trail twice, once on a backpacking trip around the South Sister (post) and the other another backpacking trip where we explored some of the areas waterfalls (post). Today’s plan was to hike the first 4.5 or so miles of the trail to the Substitute Point Trail and then follow that 0.7 mile trail to a former lookout site atop Substitute Point. We were looking forward to the view atop the point but also interested to see what the area looked like after being hit hard by wildfires in 2017.

The first mile and half of the trail was unaffected by the fire and hosted a few blooming rhododendron and other woodland flowers.
IMG_9663

IMG_9666Pink pyrola

IMG_9669Crossing of Gold Creek which was nearly dry but it hosted a fair number of mosquitos.

IMG_9671Columbine, bunchberry, and wild roses.

IMG_9672An anemone with some bunchberries

IMG_9674Entering the Three Sisters Wilderness

IMG_9675Queen’s cup

IMG_9680Beargrass

20210704_091724Candy sticks

IMG_9684Rhododendron

IMG_9691Pacific coralroot

We soon found ourselves in the fire scar which at least lessened the number of mosquitos greatly.
IMG_9692

The 2017 Separation Fire was started by lighting in August along with dozens of others. The fire became part of the Horse Creek Complex which burned something in the neighborhood of 30,000 acres. It was the same year as the Eagle Creek and Whitewater fires making 2017 a really bad year for great hiking areas. Nearly four years later signs of the slow recovery could be seen in the form of wildflowers and small trees.
IMG_9693Washington lily

IMG_9695Lupine

IMG_9697Squirrel

IMG_9698

IMG_9702Tiger lily

The trail briefly entered an area of older trees that had fared a little better during the fire.
IMG_9712

IMG_9715Twinflower

IMG_9726Leaving the green trees behind.

The trail climbed gently which allowed us to fully appreciate the wildlife and wildflowers, in particular some really impressive Washington lilies.
IMG_9728Washington lilies

IMG_9739

IMG_9736They smell as good as they look too!

IMG_9743This one was a monster.

20210704_134302_HDRChest high

IMG_9745Crab spider on the lower left petal.

IMG_9749Penstemon

IMG_9756Earlier in the week I had been reading that the blossoms turn pink after being pollinated.

IMG_9760Clodius parnassian

IMG_9765Pretty moth

IMG_9767Penstemon

IMG_9776Woodpecker

IMG_9778Pond along the trail.

IMG_9782Water lilies

The trail began to level off as it passed between Proxy Point on the left and Substitute Point on the right. With the trees being burnt we had a good view of the rocky Proxy Point but the angle of the hillside below Substitute Point kept it hidden. Also visible was The Husband further ahead to the East.
IMG_9791Looking toward Proxy Point

IMG_9790The Husband, South Sister, and the shoulder of Substitute Point.

IMG_9801Frog along the trail.

The trail curved around the base of Substitute Point where we got a view of Three Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson.
IMG_9805Proxy Point, Scott Mountain (post), Three Fingered Jack and Mt. Jefferson

IMG_9808Bleeding heart

We came to the junction with the Substitute Point on its NE side.
IMG_9813The Husband from the junction.

The Substitute Point Trail didn’t appear to have been maintained, possibly since the fire, but it was easy enough to follow as it headed uphill.
IMG_9815

IMG_9824

IMG_9825This was sort of a mean trick, the trail entered these green trees then almost immediately switched back into the burn.

IMG_9826

IMG_9828Phlox

The climb wasn’t particularly steep until the end as it approached the rocky spire where a lookout once sat. As we approached it was hard to believe there was a trail to the top.
IMG_9831

There was in fact a nice trail that wound up the west side, although a single downed tree did require a hands and knees crawl along the way.
IMG_9836

IMG_9840

IMG_9838Mt. Bachelor from the trail.

IMG_9841Proxy Point

IMG_9843Some unburned forest and a view of Diamond Peak.

IMG_9844Diamond Peak (post)

IMG_9845The Little Brother and North & Middle Sister behind The Husband with South Sister to the right.

IMG_9917The trail leading up.

The view at the top was at the same time spectacular and sad. We could see that much of the area that we’d explored on our previous backpacking trips had been burned badly by the fires.
IMG_9851The summit of Substitute Point

IMG_9855Scott Mountain, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, and Belknap Crater (post).

IMG_9861Proxy Point and Scott Mountain.

IMG_9869The Three Sisters, Little Brother and The Husband

IMG_9863Mt. Bachelor, The Wife, and Sphinx Butte.

IMG_9865Kidney Lake

img src=”https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51292219058_ec3f2f67bc_c.jpg” width=”800″ height=”600″ alt=”IMG_9866″>South Sister

IMG_9877Mt. Bachelor and The Wife

IMG_9868North and Middle Sister behind The Husband

IMG_9872Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Washington

We took a nice long break at the top watching butterflies soar around us.
A swallowtail and two whites (maybe clodius parnassians) in flight.

After our break we headed back. We’d had the hike to ourselves but were now passing a handful of hikers heading up the trail. We stopped a few times to watch butterflies (in hopes they would land) and to smell the occasional lily.
IMG_9931Clodius parnassian in a blossom.

IMG_9933Moth and a parnassian.

The hike here came to 10.3 miles with 2000′ of relatively gentle elevation gain. With the 2.8 miles we did at Rainbow Falls it came to a 13.1 mile day and a great way to spend the 4th of July.

Track for Substitute Point

While we were sorry to see how badly much of the area was burned it was encouraging to see the trails were in relatively good shape and that there was new growth coming. We fear that hiking in recently burned forest is only going to become more common in the years to come but hike we will. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Rainbow Falls and Substitute Point