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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).
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The first half mile of the trail follows an old road bed to a former trailhead.
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We continued along the trail entering the Three Sisters Wilderness before turning along the edge of the steep hillside high above Separation Creek (post)
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IMG_9632One of two phantom orchids we saw along the trail.

IMG_9633Newish looking wilderness sign.

IMG_9634Maples overhanging the trail.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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

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IMG_9702Tiger lily

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

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

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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.
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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.
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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

Categories
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

IMG_3429Pearly everlasting

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

Categories
Bull of the Woods/Opal Creek Hiking Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Elk Lake Creek – Bull of the Woods Wilderness

While we continue to work on completing all of the featured hikes in William L. Sullivan’s guidebooks we occasionally take a break from that pursuit and take a hike recommended from another source. Our recent hike along the Elk Lake Creek Trail was one such outing.

Using Matt Reeder’s “101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region” we drove to the northern end of the Elk Lake Creek Trail.
Elk Lake Creek Trailhead

After a short forested section the trail traversed a burnt hillside above Elk Lake Creek.
Elk Lake Creek Trail

Washington Lilies above the Elk Lake Creek Trail

Washington lilies

Elk Lake Creek

As the gap between the creek and trail narrowed we passed a pair of small waterfalls leading into green pools. A small amount of bushwhacking was required to get the best views.
Elk Lake Creek

Elk Lake Creek

The burned section ended just before entering the Bull of the Woods Wilderness near Pine Cone Creek at the 1.1 mile mark.
Elk Lake Creek Trail

Elk Lake Creek Trail entering the Bull of the Woods Wilderness

Pine Cone Creek

Beyond Pine Cone Creek the trail entered a fir forest with rhododendron and ripening huckleberries.
Elk Lake Creek Trail

Just before the two mile mark we arrived at a crossing of Knob Rock Creek.
Sign for Knob Rock Creek

Knob Rock Creek

Knob Rock Creek

Just around a ridge end from Knob Rock Creek was Welcome Creek which had a couple of nice little waterfalls.
Welcome Creek

Waterfall on Welcome Creek

Waterfall on Welcome Creek

A short climb from Welcome Creek brought us to a junction with the Welcome Lakes Trail.
Welcome Lakes Trail

Welcome Lakes Trail sign

That trail climbs 2000′ in three miles through mostly burned forest to Welcome Lakes, a trip for another time. We stayed straight on the Elk Lake Creek Trail (Trail 559).
Elk Lake Creek Trail

From the junction the trail descended for two tenths of a mile to a ford of Elk Lake Creek. We had originally planned to do this hike last June but the high snow pack had left creek running high well into June making the fords of Elk Lake Creek dangerous. With a much lower snow pack this year the ford was only knee deep and not swift.
Elk Lake Creek ford

Elk Lake Creek

Elk Lake Creek ford

On the far side of the creek I nearly stepped on a rough skinned newt. He high tailed it off the trail and tried to disguise himself as a piece of bark.
Rough skinned newt

Rough skinned newt

For the next three quarters of a mile the trail passed through old-growth forest just a bit away from the creek but it was always within earshot and often eye sight.
Elk Lake Creek Trail

Elk Lake Creek

Just over 3.25 miles from the trailhead the trail arrived at a viewpoint above an emerald pool.
Elk Lake Creek

Emerald Pool

Emerald Pool on Elk Lake Creek

Emerald Pool

We spent a good deal of time marveling at the colors here on the creek before continuing on. Beyond the emerald pool a small section of trail had been claimed by a stream.
Elk Lake Creek Trail

We reached the second knee deep ford of Elk Lake Creek 0.4 miles from the pool.
Elk Lake Creek

On the far side, the trail became a bit brushy as it continued near the creek skirting a hillside of rocks.
Elk Lake Creek Trail

Hillside above the Elk Lake Creek Trail

As soon as we were past the rock fields the trail reentered the forest.
Elk Lake Creek Trail

We faced another ford near the 5 mile mark, this time of Battle Creek.
Battle Creek

Battle Creek

Just two tenths of a mile later we had reached our original goal – the junction with the Mother Lode Trail (Trail 558).
Elk Lake Creek Trail junction with the Mother Lode Trail

Mother Lode Trail

The Elk Lake Creek Trail continued from the junction and would have eventually brought us to Elk Lake after nearly another 4 miles but continuing from the junction meant climbing up a ridge. Instead of turning back here though we decided to hike a short distance up the Mother Lode Trail to visit Mother Lode Creek. This looked to involve much less climbing so off we went to yet another ford of Battle Creek.
Battle Creek

We soon entered forest burned in the 2010 View Lake Fire Complex and after a half mile on this trail came to a junction with the now abandoned Geronimo Trail.
Mother Lode Trail junction with the abandoned Geronimo Trail

What appeared to be a homemade sign marked that trail and its tread was still visible heading uphill into the burn.
Old Geronimo Trail

Mother Lode Creek was just a short distance away and we hiked down to it before turning back.
Sign for Mother Lode Creek

Mother Lode Creek

We returned the way we’d come stopping again at the emerald pool which was now in the sunlight. We watched fish swimming in the clear water for a bit before continuing on.
Emerald pool

Emerald Pool on Elk Lake Creek

Fish

The hike was a little over 11.5 miles with approximately 1500′ of total elevation gain and 5 fords (I forded Mother Lode Creek to get a picture of its sign). One of the things we really enjoyed about the hike was that there were several “attractions” along the way with the small waterfalls, the emerald pool, and the old-growth forest in general. There were a few mosquitoes around but one spraying of DEET seemed to keep most of them at bay. This makes for a great early summer hike as long as the water levels make the fords possible. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elk Lake Creek