For Labor Day we headed back up to Washington where we’d been able to mostly avoid smoke from the numerous wildfires in the West. We’d spent the day before in the Indian Heaven Wilderness (post) and today we were returning to the Trapper Creek Wilderness for the first time since 2013 (post). The wilderness areas are just eight miles apart, separated by the Wind River Highway (and Wind River).
Our planned hike for the day was inspired by a featured hike in Sullivan’s 5th edition of his “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington” book. While Sullivan describes two options for hike #34, Trapper Creek, both were a bit short for us after the 2 hour drive to reach the closest trailhead. His first option is a 3.8 mile out and back to what he calls the “Grove of Giants”, a stand of old growth cedar trees starting at the Trapper Creek Trailhead. His second option (beginning at a different trailhead) is a 5 mile out and back to visit Soda Peaks Lake. Our plan was to park at the Trapper Creek Trailhead and do an out and back hike passing the Grove of Giants, then continuing on the Soda Peaks Lake Trail to Soda Peaks Lake and beyond to a viewpoint on the rim above the lake.
The Trapper Creek Trail started out nearly level which made for a nice warm up before climbing.
Not far from the trailhead the unsigned Dry Creek Trail joined from the right.
Warning sign for burned trees due to the 2020 Big Hollow Fire (there’s that four letter “F” word again). The wilderness had been closed most of the year due to that fire (and some bad winter storms) and was only reopened in August.
The trail climbed gradually along a hillside above Trapper Creek for three quarters of a mile to a 4-way junction with the Observation Trail which we had been on in 2013.
The Observation Trail.
We stayed straight on the Trapper Creek Trail here.
For the next three quarters of a mile the trail gradually descended to a unnamed creek crossing.
On the far side of the creek we turned left onto the Soda Peaks Lake Trail.
We followed the creek downhill ignoring a side trail joining from the left and came to a footbridge over Trapper Creek.
Sign at the jct with the side trail joining from some private cabins.
The trail then passed through a stand of alder before turning left and reaching the Grove of Giants just under half a mile from the Trapper Creek Trail.
One of the big trees was down.
At the grove the trail made a sharp right turn and began an arduous three mile climb gaining over 2300′ of elevation.
Lousewort was just about the only flowers left blooming along the trail.
Observation Peak from the trail.
There were three short stretches in saddles where the trail briefly leveled out giving us a respite from the climb.
Fungus amid some bark.
Big rock outcrop along the trail.
Mountain ash changing into its Fall colors.
Mt. Hood from the trail.
Red bunchberries and a blue berry from a queen’s cup.
Mt. St. Helens from the trail.
Mt. St. Helens
The only real obstacle came about a quarter of a mile from the lake where a large tree trunk blocked the trail. It was too wide to step over and at too steep an angle to climb over.
The only option was to climb steeply uphill to pass around the top of it.
Mt. Adams from the trail.
Almost to the lake which was busy with folks that most likely took the shorter route in.
Day use area at Soda Peaks Lake.
I don’t think we’d seen anyone all morning on the trails so the barking dogs and yelling people (maybe they were just talking loud but I wasn’t used to hearing voices) were enough encouragement to move on after a short break. The rim viewpoint that we planned to make our turnaround point was another 1.1 miles and 600′ of climbing away. The trail immediately climbed away from the lake from the day use area.
It then curved around the north side of the lake passing through several rock fields where we heard a few pikas but were not able to spot any.
Not a pika, but it was a cute chipmunk.
After some gradual climbing the trail got serious and switchbacked steeply to the rim where it turned right following it for 0.2 miles to the viewpoint.
The Goat Rocks with a smoke plume rising behind them to the north.
Mt. Adams with Soda Peaks Lake in the trees below. The row of peaks in between Mt. Adams and the lake is the Indian Heaven Wilderness.
The Red Mountain lookout where we’d been the day before.
There were more people coming down the trail headed for the lake. After a moment admiring the view and catching our breath we also headed back down. We stopped again briefly at the lake then said our goodbyes.
It was a long descent and our knees were happier once we were back on the Trapper Creek Trail. Heather also suffered a yellow jacket sting on her calf on the way down which wasn’t a nice surprise.
Mt. Hood and some vine maples.
This stellar’s jay almost hit Heather in the head.
Back on level ground.
The hike wound up being 12.5 miles with 3800′ of elevation gain. It was in the 80’s when we arrived back at the trailhead and the heat just made the hike a little harder. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable day in the Trapper Creek Wilderness. Happy Trails!
The horrible wildfire season finally thwarted one of our planned trips when California announced that all National Forests would be closed over Labor Day Weekend (and at least through September 17th). This was at least the third year in a row we had a backpacking trip in the Siskiyou Wilderness planned but either fire or weather has kept those plans from happening each time. Much like last September many of the areas that aren’t on fire are suffering from unhealthy air quality due to the smoke so our options were limited. (How I miss the days of rain being the driving factor on where we were going to hike.) One of the areas that has been less impacted by the smoke has been SW Washington and so we turned to that area once again for a pair of hikes over the holiday weekend. We skipped Saturday as smoke was an issue pretty much everywhere save for the Coast and Coast Range and waited for the next system to push the smoke east (sorry Central Oregon).
For our hike on Sunday we turned to Matt Reeder’s “Off the Beaten Trail” 2nd edition. In his Indian Racetrack and Red Mountain description (hike #15) Reeder describes an alternate loop using the unmaintained Basin Lakes Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail as an alternate to the 7.4 mile out and back that he suggests. We’d been to Indian Racetrack and Red Mountain as part of a diffent loop (post) so this other loop sounded more interesting than the out and back. We figured if the old Basin Lakes Trail was too hard to follow we could simply turn back and still do the out and back as described since it was only 2 miles to the basin then an additional mile up to the Pacific Crest Trail. We started our hike at the Falls Creek Horse Camp. The Falls Creek Trail heads southwest from the horse camp descending to Falls Creek Falls.
The trail we wanted, the Indian Racetrack Trail, began on the opposite side of Forest Road 65.
There were no signs for the obvious trail.
Once we were on the trail we ignored an unsigned side trail on the right which presumably led down to Falls Creek.
Approximately 0.2 miles from FR 65 a second trail joined from the left at a wilderness signboard.
Approximately 120 yards beyond the signboard we arrived at an unsigned fork.
The Indian Racetrack Trail continued to the right while the abandoned Basin Lake Trail veered left. While the Forest Service no longer maintains the trail (or even lists it on their website) the tread was obvious and based on the number of road apples on the ground it is used fairly regularly by equestrians.
A half a mile up this trail we came to a small meadow where a couple of hikers were camped.
They warned us that where were quite a few trees down the closer you got to the Basin Lakes but that didn’t dissuade us and we continued on. The trees weren’t much of an issue and in most cases clear paths simply went around them.
We crossed a branch of Falls Creek just under a mile along the trail.
The tread continued to be fairly easy to follow for another half mile and then it vanished, at least from our sight, near a gully.
After a few minutes of hunting for it (which included crossing and recrossing the gully) we decided to simply follow the tallest ridge in the direction of the lakes using our GPS and Reeder’s map. A quarter mile later we were looking down at Peggy Lake on our left.
We stayed on the ridge above Peggy Lake and turned on the far end made a hard right toward Janet Lake.
Typical vegetation and trees on the ridge.
We rediscovered tread as we dropped to a saddle near Janet Lake.
Sign at the saddle between Peggy and Janet Lakes.
We did walk down to the bank of Janet Lake to admire its reflection.
From Janet Lake it was another 0.1 miles to an unnamed (at least officially) Basin Lake, sometimes on tread and sometimes not.
I believe Oregon Hikers calls this one “Cindy Lake”.
We passed another lake on our left a quarter mile later.
That was followed by what appeared to be a mostly dry lake bed on the right, now filled with green grass.
We were now at the eastern end of the basin facing a steep climb up to the Pacific Crest Trail. We needed to gain almost 500′ to reach that trail and at the moment we weren’t sure if there was any tread to follow up.
We scanned the hillside but couldn’t pick anything out so we put our route finding hats on and identified a small saddle where it looked like a trail would go and headed for it. As we approached we stumbled on tread.
The small saddle we’d been aiming for.
From there we were able to follow a faint path up and out of the basin.
Heather down to the right between a couple of trees.
Me getting close to the top.
The top of the ridge.
The Pacific Crest Trail runs right along the ridge (despite where it’s shown on Google Maps) and passes over the top of Berry Mountain to the south. After catching our breath we turned right and headed toward Berry Mountain and yet more climbing.
Fortunately it was the PCT so the climb was relatively gradual as it switchbacked up 170′ in 0.4 miles.
At a switchback a bit below the summit we were treated to a spectacular view of Mt. Hood.
Mt. Jefferson was also visible to the right of Mt. Hood. Unfortunately so was the smoke being produced by the Bull Complex Fire which destroyed the historic Bull of the Woods Lookout (post) on Labor Day 😦 .
The PCT stuck to the long summit which would have also provided good views of Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens on a clearer day.
Looking toward Mt. St. Helens
The peaks in the Trapper Creek Wilderness (post) to the west.
We finally began to descend from Berry Mountain and after 3 miles on the PCT arrived at a signed junction for the Indian Racetrack Shortcut Trail.
Cliffs on Berry Mountain
Mt. Hood as we headed downhill.
Red Mountain and its lookout tower.
This beargrass is way off schedule.
On our previous hike we’d arrived at this junction from the other direction so when we turned right we one a somewhat familiar trail. After a brief stint in the forest the trail entered larger and larger meadows.
After a half mile we arrived at the Indian Racetrack Trail arriving on our right.
This would be the route back to our car but first we wanted to revisit the lookout on Red Mountain so we continued straight for approximately 50 yards and turned left at a pointer for the Indian Racetrack Trail.
We followed the trail 0.8 miles to a road and then followed the road another quarter mile to the lookout gaining a total of 700′ along the way.
Mt. Adams from a viewpoint along the way.
We passed two sets of hikers on their way down, the second of which mentioned having accidentally driven to the lookout. Apparently someone had vandalized the gate which allowed vehicles to drive up the road. Hopefully the Forest Service can get that remedied quickly as Google still shows the Indian Racetrack Trailhead on Red Mountain.
Not sure if someone forced the door open too or not.
View of Mt. Adams beyond Indian Heaven.
Photo taken from the doorway, it looked like nothing had been vandalized.
Mt. St. Helens still hiding behind that line of clouds.
We took a long enough break at the summit to get to a brief glimpse of Mt. St. Helens summit.
Mt. Adams with a few clouds passing by.
Mt. Hood with smoke from the Bull Complex behind.
We headed back down the Indian Racetrack Trail to Indian Racetrack and then continued on it past Race Track Lake. We passed quite a few hikers on our way down and saw more at Indian Racetrack.
Indian Heaven Wilderness sign on Red Mountain with Mt. Adams in the background.
Race Track Lake on the left.
It was 2.3 miles total from the junction back to the Falls Creek Horse Camp. We continued to see more and more hikers and were once again glad we’d gotten an early start allowing us to have the lookout to ourselves.
Footbridge over Falls Creek.
Butterfly near Falls Creek.
Sign at the final trail junction near FR 65.
Reeder called this a 12 mile loop but our GPS came in at 11.2 miles which was a nice surprise. Total elevation gained was approximately 2850′. For this loop route finding, map, and navigation skills are highly recommended, otherwise the out and back option still provides a nice hike. Happy Trails!
After spending the night in our tent at Badger Lake (post) Heather’s foot was feeling better enough to give the Norway Pass hike a go. We were up nice and early thanks in part to an owl who visited the lake just before 4am. After a breakfast of Mountain House’s Spicy Southwest Skillet (our current favorite) we packed up and started our hike back to Elk Pass.
The view from the trees surrounding our campsite as we prepared to leave.
We had decided not to follow the Boundary Trail all the way back to Elk Pass opting to cut over to a forest road after the first two miles near the Mosquito Meadows Trail junction. Sullivan mentions doing this stating that it is “slightly quicker, but a bit tedious”. Our hope was there would be less elevation gain because we’d done a fair amount of up and down on the trail the day before.
Mt. St. Helens catching some morning light.
Mt. Rainier without a whole bunch of smoke.
There were a couple of paths near the trail junction where people had cut over to the old forest service road which was only about 10 yards away (but hidden by trees from the trail). We turned left at the first of the paths and quickly popped out onto the road.
We turned right on the roadbed and followed it downhill just under half a mile to FR 2551 which is still in use.
We snagged a few black caps along the road to as a post breakfast snack.
We turned right onto FR 2551 and were pleasantly surprised to find that there was very little elevation change (just a slight gain) over the 1.7 miles back to FR 25.
The very top of Mt. St. Helens from FR 2551.
Sullivan had labeled this stretch with the word slide which had caused a little apprehension in deciding to try this return route but despite the obvious slide(s) that had occurred here the road was in decent shape.
Not sure what kinds of birds were in this tree but there were a lot of them.
FR 25 at the end of a long straight away.
We turned right again at FR 25 walking along the shoulder for 150 yards to the Boundary Trailhead.
The Boundary Trail crosses FR 25 near the road sign ahead. The picture was taken from FR 2551 at FR 25.
We pulled our day packs out, refilled our water with some extra we had left in the car and drove north on FR 25 to FR 99 where we turned left heading for the Norway Pass Trailhead. A short connector from the trailhead leads to the Boundary Trail.
We turned left at the Boundary Trail and climbed for just over a mile to a signed junction with the Independence Ridge Trail. A couple was taking a break at the junction and another hiker, from the Mt. St. Helens Institute, coming down hill stopped to ask them if they were debating on which way to go. They weren’t and she said good because the Independence Ridge Trail is “dicey”.
We could hear a waterfall in the valley below.
The top of the waterfall.
Penstemon and pearly everlasting.
Looking back over our shoulders to Meta Lake.
Mt. Adams also from over our shoulders.
Switchback at the Independence Ridge Trail junction.
The Boundary Trail climbed less steeply beyond the junction with the exception of an up and down to cross a dry stream bed.
Heading down to the stream bed.
As the trail made it’s final climb to Norway Pass Mt. Rainier was visible beyond the ridges to the north.
Norway Pass (the low saddle to the right) from the trail.
Approaching the pass.
To get a good view of Mt. St. Helens we had to descend on the trail a short distance beyond the pass.
After admiring the view we headed back stopping along the way to debate what these flowers were and whether or not they were non-natives (we believe they probably are).
With much of the 2.2 mile return hike being downhill we made good time back to the trailhead where we changed and then started the long drive home.
Mt. Adams and Meta Lake from the trail.
This hike was just 4.4 miles but gained nearly 900′ of elevation making it a good workout with great views.
The hike out of Badger Lake had been 4.2 miles so combined it was an 8.6 mile day. Knowing that we had now hiked at least portions of all 100 featured hikes in another of Sullivan’s books was the icing on the cake of a fun but tiring visit to Mt. St. Helens. Happy Trails!
After having spent a week in SE Oregon checking off a few of Sullivan’s featured hikes in that region we turned our focus back to the Northwest Oregon/Southwest Washington guidebook where just 3 featured hikes remained. All three hikes were located on the NW side of Mt. St. Helens, a three and a half hour drive from Salem. These last three hikes were a good example of some of the things we’ve had to work out on what counts toward being able to check off a hike. Due to their distance day hikes were out and a limited number of nearby rooms meant we needed to get creative. Our plan was to do portions of all three hikes on Saturday starting at Mt. St. Helens and ending with us backpacking in to Badger Lake and the finishing up on Sunday by driving back to Mt. St. Helens to complete one of the three options Sullivan has for his Spirit Lake hike (4th edition hike #29).
One of the quirks with Sullivan is that while he has the 100 featured hikes he often gives multiple options. Typically the second option is an extension of the shorter option but sometimes the options go in different directions or are even completely different hikes starting at different trailheads. Two of these last three hikes had three options. For Spirit Lake the shortest option, Harmony Falls, started at the Harmony Trailhead while the other two, Norway Pass and Mt. Margaret, began at the Norway Pass Trailhead. We had hiked up Mt. Margaret on a previous trip coming from the other direction (post) so we didn’t feel we needed to do that option but the other two options would be new to us so we planned on doing them both starting with Harmony Falls and saving Norway Pass for Sunday.
From the Harmony Viewpoint a 1.2 mile trail leads 700′ downhill to Spirit Lake.
Mt. St. Helens from the viewpoint.
As has been the case this Summer there was a good deal of haze surrounding us but we had blue(ish) sky overhead. There were also a fair amount of wildflowers blooming, at least compared to what we had seen in SE the previous week.
Mt. St. Helens
Prior to the 1980 eruption of the mountain Harmony Falls was a 50′ waterfall but most of the falls were buried as was the lodge that sat near the base of the falls. Now there is only a small cascade along the trail.
Mt. St. Helens and Spirit Lake from the end of the trail.
As we were making our way back we were doing our best to try and identify the various rock formations and peaks across the lake.
Coldwater Peak (post) is easy with the white equipment on top.
After finishing this 2.4 mile hike we continued driving toward Mt. St. Helens on FR 99 and parked at the Windy Ridge Interpretive Site where the road is gated and only open to research vehicles.
We were now working on featured hike #28 – Windy Ridge. Again Sullivan had three options, this time all starting from this parking lot. The shortest option was a .2 mile round trip up a steep set of stairs to the Windy Ridge Viewpoint at the northern end of the parking lot (see photo above). We set off across the lot to tackle this one first.
<img src="https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51413600517_e0b437d3fb_c.jpg" width="800" height="600" alt="IMG_3847">The interpretive site and Spirit Lake.
Mt. St. Helens.
Aside from a little section near the top the stairs were nicely spaced making the climb better than it looked from the bottom.
In addition to Mt. St. Helens both Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier were visible from the viewpoint although on this day the haze was an issue.
The interpretive signs at the viewpoint did a good job of identifying different features that were visible which we appreciated.
The Johnston Ridge Observatory was visible across Spirit Lake on a far hillside.
It’s often hard to tell if you’re seeing dust from rockfall or steam from one of the vents.
After reading the signs and taking in the views we headed down the stairs and to the other end of the parking area where we walked past the gate and followed FR 99 for 1.8 miles to a sign for the Abraham Trail, the return route for the longer option.
Butterfly on ragwort
Butterfly on pearly everlasting
Lupine in the pearly everlasting
Golden-mantled ground squirrel
Might be Oregon sunshine
The longer option would add approximately 2.2 miles and 500′ to our hike and visit the Plains of Abraham. As with Mt. Margaret we had visited the Plains of Abraham (post) previously so we were going to stick to the shorter option. Beyond the junction with the Abraham Trail FR 99 dropped to a small parking area for research vehicles where two trails began.
To the left was the Windy Trail and to the right was the Truman Trail. Our plan was to take the Windy Trail and hike a clockwise loop returning on the Truman Trail.
We followed the Windy Trail just over a mile to the Loowit Trail where we turned right.
Paintbrush and dwarf lupine
The Loowit Trail junction.
The Loowit Trail immediately dropped into a gully to cross a small stream.
Spirit Lake from the junction.
In the gully.
We continued another 0.4 miles before arriving at Big Spring which was a big surprise.
Another gully to cross.
Big Spring is in the willow thicket.
We knew that there was a spring but more often than not the springs wind up being small trickles or big mud puddles but not Big Spring. This was a good sized stream beginning almost right next to the Loowit Trail.
The stream flowing over the Loowit Trail.
A pink monkeyflower at the spring.
Looking back at the willows and Big Spring.
Another half mile of big views and a couple of gully crossings followed Big Spring. We were excited to spot mountain goats lounging on a ridge between the mountain and the trail along this stretch.
Coldwater Peak to the right.
The Sugar Bowl lava dome.
Spirit Lake from the trail.
The first goats we spotted are on this ridge above the lone tree.
The Loowit Trail crossing two gullies in a short stretch, one red one black.
Dropping into the second gully.
From the second gully we could see quite a few more goats on the ridge.
A half mile from Big Spring we arrived at another trail junction.
Approaching the junction with the side trail to Loowit Falls.
Sign for Loowit Falls.
We stayed straight here following the pointer for Loowit Falls for another half mile.
Loowit Falls (right side of the photo) was visible for much of the half mile.
Looking back at Coldwater Peak and Spirit Lake. (The top of Mt. Rainier is barely visible peaking over the top of the ridges.)
As we neared the falls we noticed another small herd of mountain goats on the hillside.
We could also see the hummocks (post) off in the distance to the NE, pieces of the mountain that slid off during the 1980 eruption and settled in the debris flow creating odd mounds.
Loowit Falls looked bigger than I had expected. We took a good break at the viewpoint with a couple of other hikers and a pair of young Forest Service workers.
Spirit Lake from the viewpoint.
After our break we returned to the Loowit Trail to continue the loop.
Just under three quarters of a mile from the Loowit Falls Trail junction we arrived at the Willow Springs Trail junction.
Here we left the Loowit Trail by turning right on the 0.8 mile long Willow Springs Trail.
Mt. St. Helens from the Willow Springs Trail.
Heading toward Spirit Lake.
The Willow Springs Trail ended at the Truman Trail where we again turned right.
We followed the Truman Trail for a mile and a half back to the research vehicle parking area, re-crossing the gullies and streams we had crossed on the Loowit Trail.
The Dome above Spirit Lake
Vehicles ahead in the research parking area.
From the parking area we followed FR 99 (mostly uphill until the very end) 1.8 miles back to the Windy Ridge Interpretive Site. The haze was improving as the day wore on and we could now at least make out some snow on Mt. Adams.
Mt. Adams to the left.
Look out for snakes, not the poisonous kind just don’t want to step on them.
Some sort of sulphur butterfly on pearly everalsting.
The 53.7 mile long Boundary Trail’s western end is near Norway Pass where we planned on hiking the next day while the eastern end is located at Council Lake near Mt. Adams. The section of the trail that we planned on hiking was a 4.3 mile segment from Elk Pass to Badger Lake. From the signboard at the trailhead a short spur led away from FR 25 into the trees before joining the Boundary Trail.
We turned left on the Boundary Trail and promptly arrived at FR 25 which we then crossed.
This trail is open to both mountain bikes and motorcycles which probably explains why it was only briefly one of Sullivan’s featured hikes (#30 in his 4th edition). The forest was pretty and quiet (no motorcycles during our visit) but the trail showed a lot of wear from tires.
One plus was a good variety of berries along the way and there were a few flowers as well.
Mushrooms (the flowers of Fall)
I was really surprised to still be able to make out the remains of the petals on these trillium.
These bunchberries with a few petals left were near the trillium above.
At the 2.3 mile mark we passed the Mosquito Meadows Trail on the left.
At this junction Heather told me to go on ahead and find a campsite then hike up Badger Peak without her if I wanted. Her plantar fasciitis had flared up on the way back from Loowit Falls and was struggling a bit. We had planned on hiking up to the summit after setting up camp and I didn’t want to wait for morning because the rising Sun would have been directly behind Mt. Adams. (Sullivan’s short option for this hike was to the lake and back while the longer option was to the summit.)
The trail gained a little over 600′ over the next two miles which doesn’t sound like a lot but nearly all the elevation was packed into two short sections of the leg.
These thimbleberries weren’t ripe but a short distance further were a lot of ripe ones. I thought I might have to hike back and retrieve Heather from them.
A brief glimpse of Mt. Rainier from the ridge the trail was following, it looked like a lot of the smoke had blown away.
Two miles from the Mosquito Meadows Trail I arrived at a junction with the Badger Peak Trail.
Before I headed up that trail though I needed to hike on to Badger Lake to find a campsite (and get rid of my full backpack). Beyond this junction the trail passed through a meadow crossing Elk Creek and arriving at the lake on the far side.
Pink monkeyflower along Elk Creek
The trail near Badger Lake was particularly torn up and there were several signs posted admonishing motorcyclists to stop driving off trail.
Torn up hillside near the lake, it only takes one or two idiots to cause a lot of damage (the same goes for hikers/mountain bikers).
The little puddle in the foreground is not the lake, it is further back.
I found a tent site back in the trees near the meadow and dropped my pack off and hung my hunter orange shirt so Heather couldn’t miss it. Then I grabbed my day pack and hiked back to the Badger Peak Trail and headed uphill.
This mushrooms was at least as wide as a salad plate.
It was 0.8 miles to the summit with 700′ of elevation to gain which meant the trail was pretty steep. In addition the motorcycles had gouged a deep trough in the center of much of the trail which was uncomfortably narrow to walk in. It turned out to be for the best that Heather had decided to skip the summit.
The view was nice though and the sky around Mt. Adams had also cleared up greatly from earlier in the day.
A hiker from Boise was at the summit when I arrived. She said she had been planning on staying up there until sunset but was having second thoughts due to the chilly breeze and not wanting to have to hike down the trail in the dark. I helped her identify the different mountains as this was her first time to the area. She was on a driving expedition as was thinking of heading to the Olympic Mountains next.
Mt. St. Helens was hard to make out with the combination of haze and Sun position.
Looking south toward Mt. Hood (I could make it out with the naked eye.)
Mt. Hood in the haze.
The Goat Rocks were also hard to make out due to the smoke.
Western pasque flowers, aka hippies on a stick, below the summit.
I headed down after a short break and found Heather finishing setting up our tent.
We took our dinner over near Badger Lake and then turned in for the night. It had been a long day with a lot of hiking. For me it was a 19.4 mile day with approximately 3800′ of elevation gain and Heather was in the 18 mile range with over 3000′, no wonder her plantar acted up.
The last of the sunlight hitting Badger Peak.
We hoped her foot would be feel better in the morning so the hike out wasn’t too miserable and so she might be able to do the Norway Pass hike. For now though we just needed to get our sore bodies to let us fall asleep. Happy Trails!
Mount Mitchell is located near Cougar, WA just south of the Lewis River (post) and only 10 miles south of Mt. St. Helens providing an up close view of the mountain’s southern flank. That is if there is any visibility at the summit. On our recent visit we had near zero visibility from the former lookout site but despite missing out on the view this was an enjoyable hike which will soon likely be inaccessible due to planned logging activities.
Until 2011 the hike to Mount Mitchell began at the Mount Mitchell Trailhead on the north side of the mountain and was a 5 mile round trip gaining just over 2000′. In 2011 the owner of private land which the access road passes through gated the road and cut off recreational access. An alternate route via the North Siouxon Creek Trail requires a 20+ mile hike and quite a bit more elevation gain but for now at least there is a third unofficial option, a hunter’s path from the east along Sugarloaf Ridge to the Mount Mitchell Trail. The hike starts on Washington Department of Natural Resources land (which means a Discover Pass is required) at the end of a dirt/gravel road not shown on Google Maps (it is visible on the satellite image though).
The start of the “trail” at the end of the road.
Wildflowers at the trailhead.
It was a cloudy morning but the last forecast I had seen was for partly sunny skies so we were hoping the clouds might burn off, although some precipitation wouldn’t be the worst thing given the current drought conditions in the West. After briefly following an old road bed the trail launched steeply uphill through thick vegetation.
It’s hard to capture steepness in pictures but it was steep. Luckily this wasn’t the case for long and we soon found ourselves on a more level trail.
For an unofficial trail it was in good shape and easy to follow. We did run into a hunter later in the day who said he had been one of the people that originally cleared some of the trail years ago. He wasn’t sure the history of the trail, he thought possibly loggers, but the tread had been there. He also said that it had become a much clearer and well wore trail ever since it showed up on “some yuppie hiker website”. While the tread was good and there were pointers and flagging present there was also a lot of recent flagging done for the timber sales along the first mile or so of the hike.
Orange dot on a tree.
Another orange dot.
Occasionally there were short steep climbs but nothing as steep as the first part.
Pink flagging on the right related to the timber sale.
Water in a creek bed.
Mushroom amid bunchberry leaves.
Timber sale boundary sign on the right with a flag.
After leaving the timber sale the trail continued through a nice forest until reaching basalt cliffs below Sugarloaf Mountain near the 2.5 mile mark.
The cliffs reminded us a lot of Table Rock (post) near Mollalla just not quite as tall. We thought we heard a pika or two “meep” from the rocks but weren’t able to spot any. There were however a good number of flowers blooming along the route below the cliffs.
Bluebell of Scotland
The view north, not much to see.
Mount Mitchell from the path.
The trail nearing the end of the basalt cliffs.
The trail reentered the forest beyond the cliffs and a short distance later arrived a junction with the Sugarloaf Trail.
We turned right on the Sugarloaf Trail and followed it 200 yards to a viewpoint where we met the hunter who gave us the back history on the area.
The view south across North Siouxon Creek was the same as it had been to the north.
It’s possible to follow a faint trail from the viewpoint to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain but with no views to be gained by doing so we returned to the junction and continued east on the Sugarloaf Trail toward Mount Mitchell.
It was apparently a good beargrass year along the trail.
A half mile from the junction we arrived at the Mount Mitchell Trail as it made a turn uphill.
We followed the left hand fork uphill through more beargrass stalks.
Fireweed amid the beargrass.
We reached the rocky summit after 0.4 miles only to find ourselves in the middle of passing clouds.
Mt. St. Helens is out there somewhere.
Looking east over the site of the former lookout.
The survey marker and one of several neat rock formation near the summit.
Closer look at the formation.
It was an interesting summit even without the views but it was also a little chilly due to the dampness of the passing clouds and our own sweat from the hike up so we didn’t stay too long before heading back down. We had wondered if this was going to be one of those hikes where the skies didn’t clear up until we were on our way back down but that wasn’t the case today. By the time we were passing the basalt cliffs it was sprinkling off and on and the visibility was even less than it had been earlier when we passed through.
This time we for sure were hearing the meeps of pikas so we took our time passing through and stopped below the largest rock field and watched.
Heather was the first to spot one darting toward some brush at the edge of the rocks. After a little more surveying I spotted a flash of movement in the middle of the rocks. After seeing another bit of movement I took a picture of the area and even though I couldn’t pick it out then I got a pika in the picture.
A second picture after seeing it move again.
The pika disappeared for a moment behind a larger rock but we waited it out knowing from experience that it would probably reemerge to keep an eye on us.
The pika popped back out below the larger rock that it had run behind.
This was our first pika this year as we haven’t spent much time in areas where they are present in 2021 and they are not easy to spot.
A non zoomed in photo, the pika is still in the same spot as in the two photos immediately above.
Having seen the pika more than made up for the lack of views. We completed the final 2.5 miles in on-again off-again light showers.
Spotting this patch of ghost pipe emerging from the forest floor was another highlight on the return hike. The hike is reportedly 7.3 miles with a little over 2000′ of elevation gain but Heather’s GPS put us at 7.8 miles and mine registered 8.3 miles. (If you’ve read other posts you know that Heather’s unit used to almost always show the higher mileage but lately mine has been.) Whatever the actual mileage it was a good hike through a very nice forest which sadly, barring a last minute successful change, may not be possible in the future.
Typically I’d say Happy Trails here but the thought of losing another to logging, fire or abandonment somehow makes it seem inappropriate.
As we continue to close in on and complete some of our long term hiking goals such as hiking all 100 featured hikes in at least one edition of William L. Sullivan’s five 100 Hikes guidebooks some of the remaining hikes have provided some challenges (post). Distance, weather, and various closures have required us to be flexible and get creative at times. Our visit to the Ridgefield and Willapa Wildlife Refuges in SW Washington was a good example. We had a visit to the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge on our schedule for 2020 but then COVID-19 struck and things changed. It was back on the schedule for this Spring but nesting Sandhill Cranes caused the refuge to close the 1.5 mile Kiwa Trail which was part of Sullivan’s featured hike. The Ledbetter Point hike had been a featured hike in the “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Oregon Coast & Coast Range” 3rd edition but was moved to an additional hike in the 4th edition. We had switched to the 4th edition as the one to attempt completing all 100 featured hikes in part because the hike at Ledbetter Point was only 4 miles long but was a three and a half hour drive from Salem. Subsequently we switched back to the 3rd edition due to the indefinite closure of the Salmonberry Railroad which was a new featured hike in the 4th edition.
After having to postpone our Ridgefield hike and modify the plan if we were going to hike there this year (I had originally combined it with a hike at the Stiegerwald Wildlife Refuge but a restoration project has closed it for the entirety of 2021.) I came up with the idea to combine it with the Ledbetter Point hike which was also planned for this year. It was only a little bit out of the way to stop at Ridgefield before continuing up to Ledbetter Point State Park. The combined hikes would be close to 11 miles which was a reasonable distance and with an early start would likely get us back home between 5 and 6pm. (This did mean breaking our self imposed rule of not spending more time driving than hiking on day hikes but sometimes compromises must be made.) With the plan set we just needed for the hikes to be open and as luck would have it the sandhill crane colt fledged and the Kiwa Trail was set to reopen on the very day we had hoped to do the hike.
After paying the $3.00 entry fee at the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge our first stop of the morning was at the Kiwa Trailhead.
The Kiwa Trail crossed the Bower Slough and then splits to create a loop around South East and Middle Lakes. We chose to hike the trail in a counter clockwise direction.
Ducks in the slough.
South East Lake which was mostly dried up at this point in the year.
Apparently deer can’t read based on the trail leading past the sign.
The bed of South East Lake
Some moisture passing through this morning.
Walking along a cleaner looking portion of the slough.
Bridge/boardwalk between Middle Lake (left) and West Lake (right).
With the lack of water this time of year there wasn’t much in the way of wildlife other than lots of little birds flying in and out of the vegetation. The views were nice enough to keep us entertained on the short loop though and when we got back to the trailhead there were several deer in the field across the road and a rabbit just a short distance from our car.
Lots of ripening blackberries.
Second crossing of Bower Slough near the end of the loop.
Since the trailhead is along the 4.2 mile one-way auto tour loop we drove back around to the fee booth and restrooms at the start of the loop. Along the way we stopped several times for wildlife.
Great blue heron
Deer near the restrooms/fee booth.
From the auto tour loop we drove to our second stop in the refuge at the Ridgefield Trailhead in the Carty Unit.
Construction to build a new multi-purpose building is in process to be completed in 2022.
We passed the new building and crossed over some railroad tracks on a nice footbridge.
Doe in the brush near the tracks.
The trail then led to a replica plankhouse.
The trail split on the far side of the plankhouse with the Carty Lake Trail heading left around Duck Lake and the Oaks to Wetland Trail system to the right.
Carty Lake Trail and Duck Lake
Ducks on Duck Lake
We went right to explore the Oaks to Wetland Trails. The maps show several loop possibilities but an ongoing restoration project currently has some connector trails closed and an entire portion of the system closed on Thursdays.
Paved and dirt options allow for a mini-loop near the start, later the trails are all dirt.
One-way pointers for a second loop.
The trails can reportedly be quite muddy during the wet season but the current drought meant a hard packed surface.
Bright red poison oak climbing some of the tree trunks.
It’s possible to follow the Carty Lake Trail all the way to the Port of Ridgefield Trailhead on the Lake River but for our hike today we simply hiked until the trail turned south on the far side of Carty Lake then turned around and headed back to the car.
Orange jewelweed along Gee Creek.
Carty Lake also lacking much water.
Wapato at Carty Lake
The trail turning south toward the Port of Ridgefield.
From Ridgefield we drove north to Longview, WA where we crossed back into Oregon to take Highway 30 to Astoria only to return once again to Washington eventually making our way to the Ledbetter Point Trailhead.
We got a little confused at the trailhead as three trails appeared to start here, one was to the left of the restrooms, one on the right of the signboard which appeared to head straight for Willapa Bay, and another to the right of the signboard that appeared to head parallel to the bay. Our plan was to follow the Bay Loop Trail (Green) north along the bay to the Bayberry Trail (Yellow) and take that trail west across the peninsula to the Beach Trail at the Pacific Ocean. We’d then head south along the beach to the Weather Beach (Blue) Trail where we would turn inland and hook up with the Dune Forest Loop Trail (Red). Sullivan’s description of this hike would have had us turn left here for 0.6 miles back to the trailhead but our plan was to go right for 1.5 miles to the southern parking lot and then turn north along Willapa Bay for 0.7 miles back to the car.
The official trail is the one to the left of the restrooms but being unaware of that we struck out on the path which looked to head directly to the Willapa Bay.
Lots of salal along the trail.
The trail did pop us out near the bay and onto an official trail where we turned left.
We realized we’d chosen the wrong path when we spotted a group of hikers that had taken the left hand trail ahead of us on the trail. When we made it to where they had come out we found a signboard and viewing platform indicating it had been the official trail.
Map near the platform.
We continued up the beach until we spotted another signboard and hiker post.
High tide had been between 7 and 8am so the water was retreating from the Bay.
A short distance later we came to another signboard at the junction of the Bay Loop and Bayberry Trails. Here we began to follow the hiker posts coded in yellow for the Bayberry Trail.
The Bayberry Trail soon turned inland into the forest.
We were following another pair of hikers who had spotted something small running along the trail. We stopped and watched as what we believe was a mole hurried down the trail right past us nearly running into my foot in the process.
The trail eventually left the forest and entered the deflation plain behind the dunes along the beach.
Looking back along the trail.
Cresting the dune.
Snowy plover sign, a common sight along the beaches in Oregon too.
Bayberry Trail passing through the snowy plover closure area.
Bumblee on American skyrocket.
While there had been a bit of blue sky above Willapa Bay the Pacific Ocean was covered in fog (another familiar sight to for us).
We turned south as planned, hiking through the fog between the Pacific and the snowy plover closure area, until we spotted an opening in the foredune marking the Weather Beach Trail.
We followed this trail back into the forest to its end at the Dune Forest Loop Trail.
Chestnut backed chickadee
We turned right as planned wondering why Sullivan didn’t have you do the same.
Someone had written “umpassable (sic) swamp” below the word loop on this sign. This is when we began to guess why Sullivan had you turn left at the Weather Beach Trail junction.
Slug and a mushroom. We both thought of Alice in Wonderland.
While we did not encounter any swamps the vegetation did get thick and it was easy to see how in wetter times of the year the trail would be difficult if not impossible. Our biggest problem though were the mosquitos which were a nuisance.
Signboard at the southern trailhead.
We were happy to have reached the southern trailhead and gotten back to the bay where the openness and breeze kept the mosquitos away.
We turned north and followed the trail back to where we had come down from the trailhead and hiked back up that same way. There were a few downed trees that needed to be climbed over along this stretch. We were also fortunate to have a bald eagle land ahead of us with its catch and then watch as some pesky crows tried to steal it for their own.
Looking back over one of the trees.
Bumble bee on gumweed.
A pair of great blue herons in Willapa Bay.
The eagle has landed.
Looking for a quite place to eat.
We didn’t see what happened to the kill, if the eagle got to eat it or not.
The crows weren’t leaving the eagle alone.
Last of the trees to navigate.
Our hike here was a little over 6 miles giving us about 10.5 miles on the day with minimal elevation gain.
On the way home we stopped in Warrenton for a late lunch/early dinner at Nisa’s Thai Kitchen. We’d eaten here in 2017 and really enjoyed the food and it was as good as we had remembered. It was a good way to celebrate checking off our final featured hike of the coast guidebook as well as the 97th in the northwestern Oregon book. Happy Trails!
For the third hike in a row we found ourselves headed to Washington. Our destination this time was Beacon Rock State Park for a hike to Hardy Ridge. We’d been to the park twice before with Hamilton Mountain being our goal each time (on our second visit we also hiked up Beacon Rock (post)). For each of our hikes to Hamilton Mountain we had started at the Hamilton Mountain Trailhead but for today’s hike we parked at the Equestrian Trailhead.
There is a gated road and a trail that begin at the far end of the parking area which meet after a few hundred feet.
Equestrian Trail at the trailhead.
On the old roadbed/Equestrian Trail.
We followed the Equestrian Trail uphill through the forest and past a number of wildflowers for 1.2 miles to a 4-way junction.
Star-flowered false solomon seal
Possibly a cinquefoil
At the 4-way jct the Equestrian Trial continued straight with the West Hardy Trail to the left and Lower Loop Trail to the right.
We turned left on the West Hardy Trail which followed an overgrown road bed along the west flank of Hardy Ridge. A brief appearance of blue sky gave us a moment of hope that the mostly cloudy forecast might have been wrong but the blue was quickly replaced with gray clouds.
False solomon seal
Here come the clouds.
After 1.3 miles on the West Hardy Trail we turned right onto the Hardy Ridge Trail.
This hiker only trail climbed approximately 800′ in 0.8 miles to a junction at a saddle on Hardy Ridge.
At the junction we turned left onto a well worn trail (not shown on maps) that led north along Hardy Ridge. This trail followed the spine of the ridge 0.8 miles to the ridge’s highest point at an elevation a little under 3000′. On a clear day Mt. Hood and the tops of Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier would have been visible from the high point, but on this day the sights were limited to the various flowers blooming along the ridge. As we approached the high point we were greeted with a few snowflakes.
Glacier lilies along the trail.
Another hiker caught up to us at this rock field not far from the high point. It looked like the trail was going across the rocks for a bit and she decided to turn around but after just a few feet the trail resumed behind a bush.
Paintbrush and glacier lilies.
The high point.
Glacier lilies at the high point.
We didn’t stay long at the top, while we were fortunate to not be dealing with any of the winds the Columbia Gorge is known for it was chilly (as evidenced by the snowflakes) so we headed back down. Along the way we met a spotted towhee that wasn’t the least bit bothered by the weather.
As we made our way down the clouds began to lift a bit and by the time we were approaching the junction we were under them which gave us a nice view of Hamilton Mountain.
Hamilton Mountain (high point to the right) and the Columbia River.
Bonneville Dam and the Hamilton Mountain Trail crossing The Saddle.
Upper McCord Creek Falls (post-partially closed due to fire damage as of writing)
The only snowy peak we could see though was Larch Mountain (post) to the SW.
When we reached the junction we turned left onto the East Hardy Trail and began a mile long descent to another junction.
At this 3-way junction we faced a choice. Most descriptions of the Hardy Ridge Loop (including Sullivan’s) would have sent us straight on the East Hardy Trail for 0.8 miles to the Equestrian Trail then right on that trail 1.7 miles back to the trailhead for an 8.5 mile hike. We opted to extend our hike by turning left instead on the Bridge Trail.
Bleeding heart along a little stream.
False lily-of-the-valley getting ready to bloom.
Possibly a Dictyoptera aurora (Golden net-winged beetle)
A little over three quarters of a mile we arrived at the trail’s namesake bridge over Hardy Creek.
After crossing the creek the trail climbed for a tenth of a mile to the Upper Hardy Trail (another old roadbed).
Here again we could have shortened our hike by turning right following a pointer for the Equestrian Trail but we wanted to revisit The Saddle north of Hamilton Mountain. We turned left on the Upper Hardy Trail climbing approximately 300′ in 0.6 miles to yet another junction.
Hardy Ridge from the Upper Hardy Trail.
We once again faced a choice at this junction.
The left fork would have been slightly longer by leading us around the back side of a knoll and making a 180 degree turn following the east side of the ridge toward The Saddle.
We turned right opting for the slightly shorter route to The Saddle.
Just under three quarters of a mile after turning right we were rejoined by the the left hand fork of the Upper Hardy Trail.
Southern junction of the two forks of the Upper Hardy Trail.
The Upper Hardy Trail then descended for .2 miles to The Saddle and a junction with the Hamilton Mountain Trail.
Hikers coming down from Hamilton Mountain.
For the first time on this hike were at a familiar spot. We turned right onto the Equestrian Trail following it for 150 yards to a sign for Dons Cutoff Trail.
On both of our previous visits we had stayed on the Equestrian Trail following it downhill for a mile to a 3-way junction at Hardy Creek. This time we took Dons Cutoff which would bring us to the same junction in just a tenth of a mile more. Dons Cutoff headed steeply downhill arriving at the Upper Hardy Trail after half a mile.
Dons Cutoff Trail nearing the Upper Hardy Trail.
We turned left on the old roadbed following the Upper Hardy Trail for .4 miles to a junction with the Equestrian Trail and then arrived at Hardy Creek after another tenth of a mile.
Upper Hardy Trail
We crossed Hardy Creek on the Equestrian Trail following it for a half mile to the 4-way junction.
Had we opted for the described hike we would have arrived at this junction on the East Hardy Trail. We faced another choice here, keep on the Equestrian Trail for 1.7 miles or turn left onto the Lower Loop Trail and add approximately 0.4 miles to the hike. You guessed it we turned left and took the Lower Loop Trail which popped us out onto the Equestrian Trail at the 4-way junction where we had turned up the West Hardy Trail that morning.
We turned left and followed the Equestrian Trail downhill for the final 1.2 miles of what turned out to be 13 mile hike that gained approximately 2700′ of elevation. Slugs were out in force along the final stretch including a number of small black specimens.
Spotted this guy while I was photographing the slug above. Not sure if it’s a crane fly or ?
There are some hikes where missing out on the mountain views is a real bummer but this wasn’t one of those for us. It was just a great day in the forest with flowers, creeks, critters, and a good deal of solitude despite the park being popular. The number of trails and options provided in the park allow for people to spread out a bit with Hamilton Mountain being the busiest area which we pretty much avoided (other than The Saddle) on this day. Happy Trails!
We kicked off our official 2021 hiking season with a bit of an obscure hike from Matt Reeder’s “Off the Beaten Trail” (2nd edition) guidebook. The hike to the summit of Grayback Mountain is a gated dirt road walk through mostly private lands to a view of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks. Because the road to the summit passes through private land it is important to respect the landowners rights, Leave No Trace and be aware that access could be closed at anytime. The hike starts on Washington Department of Natural Resources Land (A Discover Pass is required to park) at a parking area at a gate.
To reach the trailhead we took Washington Highway 142 north from Lyle, WA 23.3 miles to a junction with the Glenwood-Goldendale Road where we turned left for an additional 5.6 miles to an unmarked junction with Grayback Road on the right. (The road crests just beyond this junction and begins to descend into the Klickitat River Canyon.) We followed Grayback Road for 0.6 miles to the parking area at the end of a meadow.
Looking back toward the meadow.
After checking out the various wildflowers around the trailhead we set off past the gate on Grayback Road.
Western white groundsel
Mahala Mat (Prostrate ceanothus)
We then just followed this road for 5.6 miles to a radio tower atop Grayback Mountain. There were several junctions with other roads along the way but by keeping more or less straight and uphill it was easy enough to follow the correct road.
Ranging in elevation from just over 2000′ to approximately 3700′ the scenery varied from oak and ponderosa pines interspersed with meadows to mixed conifers and then to open hillsides filled with wildflowers (mostly parsleys). The views were spectacular and we were fortunate to not only have relatively clear skies but little wind making our time at the summit quite pleasant. We saw no other people during the hike and I don’t think a minute went by that we didn’t hear at least one bird signing. Butterflies came out later in the morning and I spent much of the return hike trying to catch them at rest for pictures.
Showy phlox among the oaks.
Grayback Mountain from Grayback Road. The first 2.5 miles of the hike only gained 400′ while the next 3.1 gained 1400′.
The real climb started at about the 4 mile mark at a junction below Grayback Mountain.
Sagebrush false dandelion
Climbing up Grayback Mountain
Red breasted nuthatch
First view of Mt. Hood since the trailhead.
Mt. Hood beyond the Klickitat River Canyon
Entering the meadows on Grayback Mountain.
Approaching the first view of Mt. Adams.
Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks
Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks
In the meadows.
A balsamroot surrounded by parsley.
Western meadowlark in a patch of Columbia desert parsley.
Radio equipment atop Grayback Mountain with Mt. Adams beyond.
Mt. Hood (we could just barely make out the top of Mt. Jefferson too.) from the summit.
The Klickitat River
Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks
Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks (the Klickitat River originates from Goat Rocks.)
Obligatory survey marker photo.
Looking east across the summit to the long ridge of Indian Rock. The boundary of the Yakima Indian Reservation is just on the north side of the summit.
A few gold stars still had petals.
A hairstreak but I’m not sure which type.
At least 4 ants on a large head clover.
Looking back south down Grayback Mountain.
There was a lot of white-stemmed frasera in the area but this was the closest one to blooming (and it’s a ways off).
Maybe a brown elfin. I couldn’t get a clear picture of this one.
Erynnis propertius – Propertius Duskywing (aka Western Oak Dustywing). There were lots of these duskywings flying about, it turns out that oaks are their host plants.
Another Erynnis propertius
Juba skippers caught in the act.
Anise swallowtail coming in for a landing on showy phlox.
Alligator lizard on a log.
Western fence lizard
I believe these to be Mylitta crescents.
After our relatively crowded previous outing at Columbia Hills State Park (post) the hike to Grayback Mountain was a welcome dose of solitude. While the flower display wasn’t as plentiful here it was still nice and there appeared to be plenty more to come. The view from the summit was worth the visit on its own and the near constant bird song made for a perfect soundtrack for the day. Happy Trails!
We joined the masses of people heading to the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge to catch the wildflower display which may be brief this year due to a combination of a lack of moisture and higher than normal (what is normal anymore?) temperatures. While we try to avoid crowds the hikes in Columbia Hills State Park are a featured hike in William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Eastern Oregon” (Hike #2 in the 3rd edition) and one that Heather had missed out on in 2015 when I was joined by my parents (post). Knowing that word was out on social media that the bloom was on, we left even a little earlier than typical in hopes of minimizing the number of encounters with others. We followed the same order that I had done the hikes in during my first visit stopping first at the Horsethief Butte Trailhead.
Mt. Hood from the trailhead.
We followed the trail .3 miles to a junction where, unlike the first visit, we went right first following the trail around to the south side of Horsethief Butte where a fence announced the area beyond was closed.
Mt. Hood beyond Horsethief Lake
Standing at the fence looking east.
We then walked back about a quarter of a mile to a sign at an opening in the rock formation.
Here we turned and headed up into the rocks.
There is an optional side trail to a viewpoint inside the formation but we wanted to save the time and get to our second stop sooner rather than later. We had been the only car at the trailhead but half an hour later there were another half dozen cars (mostly rock climbers) with more arriving.
We descended from Horsethief Butte and after a short detour due to a wrong turn at a junction we arrived back at our and drove east on SR 14 for 0.7 miles to the Crawford Oaks Trailhead. While the trailhead opened in May of 2014 my parents I had not parked here opting instead to park at the Dalles Mountain Ranch making this a primarily new hike for me too.
There was a small handful of cars here but not bad (it was a different story later). We followed the Entry (Access) Road Trail uphill form the parking lot past the Ice Aged Floods Viewpoint.
Horsethief Butte and Mt. Hood from the viewpoint.
After a 180 degree turn the Entry Road approached Eightmile Creek near Eightmile Creek Falls.
Purple cushion fleabane
The road turned uphill along the creek where several Lewis’s woodpeckers were flying from oak to oak.
We followed the road down and across Eightmile Creek to an interpretive sign at a junction.
This was the start of a couple different loop options. We chose to take the left fork which was the Military Road Trail. Going this direction is the shortest route to the Crawford Ranch Complex plus it would mean that we would be heading toward Mt. Hood as we looped around on the Vista Loop Trail (the right hand fork here). The Military Road Trail climbed away from the creek reaching another junction after .3 miles. Here we forked left again leaving the Military Road for the Eightmile Trail. (Sticking to the Military Road would have led us to the Vista Loop Trail in .4 miles.)
Lupine, balsamroot and parsley
The Crawford Ranch Complex ahead to the left.
The Eightmile trail dropped to cross a smaller stream before finally returning to Eightmile Creek near a fence line.
Approaching the fence line.
While there was a bit of a break in the flowers at this fence line there was no shortage of birds.
Back of a scrub jay
The trail then veered away from the creek and came to another junction after passing through a fence. The flowers here were spectacular and both Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson were visible.
At the junction we went right on the Ranch Route Trail eschewing a visit to what looked like a very busy Crawford Ranch Complex. The Ranch Route meandered for 1.4 miles through the flowered covered hillsides before arriving at a junction with the Vista Loop and Military Road Trails.
We turned left on the Vista Loop Trail following it a total of 1.8 miles back to the the junction near Eightmile Creek.
The Columbia River, Horsethief Butte, and Mt. Hood
Large head clover
Approaching the junction.
We followed the Entry/Access Road back down to the now packed trailhead.
Hawk watching all the hikers.
A different hawk? watching the goings on.
Western fence lizard watching everything.
Poppy, manroot, and red-stemmed storksbill
The crowded trailhead
This stop clocked in at 6.9 miles and 900′ of elevation gain.
We opened up a spot here and drove west on SR-14 to Dalles Mountain Road where we turned north (right) and drove 3.5 miles to a fork near the Crawford Ranch Complex. Here we turned left heading uphill for another 1.4 miles (passing a number of hikers walking up along the road) to the Stacker Butte Trailhead. There were a fair number of cars but a few spots were open.
While both were part of the Crawford Ranch, Stacker Butte is not part of the Columbia Hills State Park but is part of the Columbia Hills Natural Area Preserve.
The hike here is pretty straight forward following the gravel road approximately 2.6 miles to some towers on the 3220′ summit of the butte. The flowers were thickest along the lower section of the hike with some that we had not seen down lower including paintbrush, daggerpod and some sicklepod rockcress.
Paintbrush amid the balsamroot.
Sagebrush false dandelions
Shooting stars in front of a little blue-eyed Mary
Large head clover
At the summit we were treated to a clear view of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, and Goat Rocks to the north.
After a little rest on top we headed down admiring the flowers along the way and watching for wildlife too.
Western fence lizards
White crowned sparrow
Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood as we neared the trailhead.
The three hikes came to a combined 13.2 miles and 2240′ of elevation gain which is why we didn’t just hike up the road from the ranch complex. It’s a little too early in the season for a 16 mile, 3000′ hiking day. Maybe in a couple more months. Happy Trails!
We normally only do one hike a month from November through April but a forecast of sunny skies and highs in the low to mid 60’s combined with a chance to see some early wildflowers was enough to break that rule and head to the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge. The first wildflowers (usually grass widows and/or parsleys) can show up as early as January in areas such as Catherine Creek (post) with things really picking up by late March and running through early June in the upper meadow of Dog Mountain (post). We had previously been to Catherine Creek (along with Coyote Wall), the Tom McCall Preserve (post), Columbia Hills State Park (post), Memaloose Hills (post) and Swale Canyon (post) so for this outing we decided to check out the Lyle Cherry Orchard and Sevenmile Hill.
Before we got to those wildflower hikes we planned a quick stop at the Mitchell Point Trailhead to make the 1.1 mile climb up to the top of the point. We had actually stopped here in 2018 (after our Memaloose Hills hike) to take the Wygant Trail up to a viewpoint. Originally my plan had been to do these three hikes in a different order starting at the Lyle Cherry Orchard and ending with Mitchell Point but after looking at the plan a little more I realized that it had two flaws. First the exit to the Mitchell Point Trail is only accessible from the eastbound lanes of I-84 and there is no westbound access to I-84 from the trailhead either. (I had made this mistake with the outing in 2018 leading to some extra driving.) The second issue had to do with crowds and our never ending attempt to avoid them. Leaving Mitchell Point as the last hike might have meant dealing with some crowds whereas we didn’t expect Sevenmile Hill to be busy. Our plan seemed to be working pretty well as we were the first car at the Mitchell Point Trailhead.
We headed to the left of the signboard to the Mitchell Point Trail which began climbing almost immediately.
The trail switchbacked up a forested hillside with a few blooming toothworts.
Bench at a switchback.
We then crossed a talus slope beneath Mitchell Point where lots of tiny blue-eyed Mary grew amid the rocks.
Reroute below Mitchell Point
Mushrooms’ and some sedums.
Views to the west along the Columbia River opened up as we climbed.
The trail briefly reentered the forest and climbed to a set of power lines and an accompanying road.
The trail never quite reached the road instead turning east then north as it headed out toward Mitchell Point.
We followed the trail out onto Mitchell Points Ridge which was dotted with wildflowers including a lot of bright grass widows.
Yellow bell lily
Desert parsley and woodland stars
Gold stars and woodland stars
In addition to the wildflowers the view from Mitchell Point was impressive.
North across the Columbia River into Washington
In typical Gorge fashion it was a bit windy (a theme that would continue throughout the day) which didn’t seem to bother the birds.
Looks like moss for a nest maybe?
We returned the way we’d come arriving back at the trailhead to find we were still the only people there, but we weren’t alone.
Turkeys on the Wygant Trail
At just over 2 miles round trip the hike to Mitchell Point made for a nice short hike but it comes at a price gaining over a thousand feet on the way up. From this trailhead we continued east to Hood River where we paid the $2 toll to cross the bridge into Washington. We continued east on SR 14 through the town of Lyle then parked at a gravel pullout on the left hand side of the road just beyond a tunnel. This was the unsigned trailhead for the Lyle Cherry Orchard Hike. There were maybe a half dozen or so cars here already which we were pleased with given the large number of cars we already passed by at the Coyote Wall and Catherine Creek Trailheads (and it wasn’t even 8:45 yet). The unsigned trail starts near the eastern end of the parking area and passing along a rock wall through oak trees with lots of poison oak.
From the signboard the trail continues to climb through the rock and oaks to a plateau where the poison oak is briefly left behind.
Lots of death camas blooming on the plateau.
We followed the trail as it headed gradually uphill toward a second plateau.
Looking up at the cliffs above.
Balsamroot blooming below the rim.
At a fork in the trail we detoured left for a view of the Columbia River.
We returned to the main trail which began to climb the hillside below the rim. While it was still a couple of weeks from prime wildflower season here there was a good balsamroot display along with a few other flowers in bloom.
Woodland stars with some lupine leaves
Columbia desert parsley
The trail leveled out again after reaching the rim of the upper plateau where it also reentered an oak woodland.
View west (With a snow capped Mt. Defiance (post) in the distance.)
Amid the oaks were some additional types of flowers.
Yellow bell lily, woodland stars, grass widows and shooting stars.
Yellow bell lilies
Sagebrush false dandelions
Just under 2.5 miles from the trailhead we came to a junction which is the start of a short loop. We stayed left arriving at an old road bed a short distance later where we turned right and soon entered the site of the old orchard. Nearly all the cherry trees are gone and the few that remain only have a few branches that continue to bloom and we were too early for those.
The trail looped through the now open meadow with views east of the Columbia River.
A short spur trail on the SW part of the loop led to a viewpoint to the west.
Tom McCall Point and the Rowena Plateau with Mt. Defiance in the distance.
After checking out the view we completed the loop and headed back the way we’d come. We had only encountered a couple of other hikers up to this point (we’d seen more from afar) but the return trip was a different story. There was a lot of mask donning and stepping aside on the way back to the trailhead.
Hikers on the trailhead and below.
One bit of excitement on the return trip was spotting a couple of orange-tip butterflies. We rarely see these pretty butterflies and it’s even rarer that I manage to get any kind of picture.
Just my third photo of an orange-tip.
The hike here for us came to 5.5 miles with another 1200′ of elevation gain giving us over 2200′ for the day so far. The parking area was now a full two rows of cars with more arriving (it was between 11:30 & 12:00). We quickly packed up and opened a spot for someone else and once again headed east on SR 14. We re-crossed the Columbia River on Highway 197 into The Dalles and took I-84 west for 5 miles following the Oregon Hikers directions to the Sevenmile Hill Trailhead
We weren’t sure how popular this hike is given that there are no official trails. That question, at least for this time of the year, was answered when we pulled into the empty gravel pullout.
Our plan was to follow the entry in the Oregon Hikers Field Guide (description). The area consists of Forest Service land surrounded by private holdings (note the no trespassing sign across the road in the photo above).
We headed uphill and left, away from the blocked road passing a gravel pit on our left.
We were supposed to reach a knoll with a small windbreak made out of erratics (rocks from the Rocky Mountains deposited by the Missoula Floods). The first knoll we climbed had some erratics but no windbreak.
Mt. Hood and Columbia desert parsley from the first knoll we tried.
Top of knoll #1.
A lone balsamroot blossom.
We weren’t sure if this was the right knoll or not but we did know from the map in the field guide that we should continue uphill and to the left. We kept climbing up the grassy hillside and reached the top of another knoll where we did indeed find a small windbreak.
From the knoll we followed a faint grassy track past a spring to a stand of oak trees.
The path leading past the spring to the oaks.
There was a fence on the hillside at the oak trees. We got a bit confused here reading the hike description. It reads “Head up gradually to your left, reaching a draw. Walk across the broken fence line here and cross a small bench. Continue hiking up to your left. At some point, you should see the southwest boundary corner of the property and a fence line ahead.” We had not noticed another fence line and this fence was broken here with no signs so we continued on the faint path. That was a mistake and the fence we passed through was the boundary. When we reached a small crest where we could see everything ahead of us there was no other fence in sight.
We quickly turned and began heading uphill to the NE to relocate the fence line and get ourselves on the correct side (Our apologies to whomever that land belongs too).
Back on the right side
Now we were back on course and followed the fence line uphill. While the wildflowers here would have been better from mid to late April there were a few splashes of color here and there.
Balsamroot surrounded by some little white flowers.
Lupine thinking about blooming.
Yellow bell lilies
We deviated from the description as we neared the top of the hill electing not to follow the fence through a stand of oak trees, where the guide indicates there is a profusion of poison oak, opting instead to pass through the oaks lower on the hillside.
We didn’t notice any poison oak here.
On the far side of the oaks we turned almost directly uphill reaching a viewpoint where Mt. Adams rose to the north beyond the Columbia River.
A grass widow at the viewpoint.
Mt. Hood over the oak stand.
We turned right along the rim following deer and elk trails through the oaks and past more viewpoints.
From a grassy rise along the ridge we could see a faint path leading into another stand of trees where we could also make out the fence line marking the eastern boundary of the Forest Service Land.
We headed downhill and followed the path to the fence line and then followed it down.
The Dalles beyond the fence line.
Heading down the fence line.
As we lost elevation we began to see quite a few more flowers. It seemed that the flowers at this eastern end were ahead of those to the west.
Large head clover
A lupine with blossoms.
Hillside covered in Columbia desert parsley
Our car had been joined by one other. (middle left of photo)
We turned away from the fence on an old farm road following it back to the road near the trailhead by the “No Trespassing” signs.
This loop came in at 4.3 miles according to my GPS and was at least 1250′ of elevation gain which was made more difficult by the cross country terrain. There was little to no level footing for the vast majority of this hike and coming after we had already hiked 7.6 miles and gained 2200′ it really tired us out. That being said it was a great day to be out. One thing to note is that all three hikes are in located in tick country (we were lucky enough not to pick up any) and both Sevenmile Hill and Lyle Cherry Orchard are in rattlesnake country (again didn’t see any). Happy Trails and stay safe out there!