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

Gordon Lakes Trail

We continued our recent trend of choosing our hikes based on the weather forecast and wound up picking the Gordon Lakes Trail for our most recent hike. We chose this trail because it stayed mostly in the forest with very limited view opportunities that wouldn’t be spoiled by the rainy forecast. The Gordon Lakes Trail covers a little over 7 miles between eastern and western trailheads. We began our hike at the west trailhead located on Forest Service Road 325 outside of Sweet Home. There was some disagreement on how to reach road 325 between our field guide, the Forest Service, and Google Maps. They all agreed that from Sweet Home we needed to drive Highway 20 east 19 miles to milepost 46 and turn right on a forest service road for approximately 5 miles. Our field guide gave this road the number 2031 while the Forest Service numbered it 2044. Google Maps showed 2032 as the number which was the number we found on the stake as we turned onto this road. We managed to follow this winding road fairly easily to a hiker symbol on the right across from road 325. The signless parking area was 100 yards uphill to the left on road 325.
Gordon Lakes Trailhead//

Our next bit of confusion came as we got ready to set off. There were no signs indicating the location of the trail. Two old roads led off from the parking area in the same general direction, one downhill and the other uphill and the hiker sign was back downhill across road 2032. The road leading uphill looked like it was a trail, but the map I had looked at for the trail appeared to show a trail switchbacking downhill from the trailhead which I later realized was my misreading the topographic map. After several minutes of exploring the uphill road and consulting the GPS we decided that it was in fact the trail and began climbing.

The trail left the road behind and began switchbacking uphill through a previously logged area where we could see a little of the valley below.


Thimbleberry leaves lined the path with color.

After the switchbacks the trail entered older forest and crossed a pair of roads where there were still no signs indicating where or what the trail was.


The first feature we were looking for was Falls Creek which the trail would parallel much of the way. There wasn’t much water in the creek but it was still pleasant and the fall colors and various mushrooms and fungi along the trail made it feel very much like Autumn.









Yellow mushrooms//



Chocolate and vanilla mushroom//


We finally saw our first trail signs right around the 3.5 mile mark at a junciton.


Shortly after the first junction we came to a second junction at the edge of Gordon Meadows.

Described as “marshy” in our field guide the meadows were much larger than we had expected. Being late in such a dry year the meadows seemed rather dry as we passed by on the trail.


The trail had been climbing very gradually since leaving the switchbacks behind near the beginning of the hike but we began encountering some steeper climbs beyond the meadows. The trail climbed up and over a series of ridge ends as we headed for Gordon Lakes. Just over 3 miles from Gordon Meadows we arrived at a fork in the trail near the lakes.

The signs pointed us toward the right hand fork while the GPS unit showed the left hand fork as the official trail. We went right following the signs to the northern Gordon Lake.

The rain that had been in the forecast had not materialized and we were enjoying some sun breaks in the clouds as the trail crossed the small outlet creek that flowed down into the lower southern lake.
Cloud in the creeklet between the Gordon Lakes//


We spent a little time on a log at the edge of the lake watching dragonflies zoom about.

Northern Gordon Lake//


After having a snack we left the northern lake and passing over the ridge between the two lakes and heading down toward the southern lake.


Southern Gordon Lake//

We crossed the creek between the lakes and picked up the trail shown on our Garmin on the opposite side.

We followed the path uphill where we discovered that there were a few downed trees across the trail which may have been why the signs had pointed to the other fork of the trail, but we made our way past the blowdown and climbed back up to the fork. We headed back making our way over the ridge ends, past Gordon Meadows, and started back down the switchbacks. We still hadn’t experienced any rain but the clouds in the valley were on the move.


It finally started to rain when we were back on the old roadbed heading down to the parking area less than 5 minutes away. Our total mileage clocked in at 15.4 miles, but Gordon Lakes can be reached from the eastern end of the trail in less than half a mile by starting at the trailhead on Forest Service Road 230. Happy Trails!