High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Trip report

Jefferson Park via Woodpecker Ridge

We deiced to try a new approach this year for our annual trip to Jefferson Park. Our plan was to hike the Woodpecker Ridge Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail and then on to Jefferson Park with a possible bushwack to see Russell Creek Falls on the way back. We parked at the Woodpecker Ridge Trailhead which is a little over 5 miles along Forest Road 040.
Woodpecker Ridge Trailhead

The Woodpecker Ridge Trail extends approximately 1.8 to the Pacific Crest Trail in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. The trail starts off with a steep climb through the forest before gaining the ridge and leveling out. There were lots of juicy ripe huckleberries along this section. As we hiked along the ridge we entered the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.
Entering the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness on the Woodpecker Ridge Trail

Unlike some of the other trails that lead to Jefferson Park Mt. Jefferson remained mostly hidden from the Woodpecker Ridge Trail. Only near the end did we get a look at the mountain.
Mt. Jefferson from the Woodpecker Ridge Trail

Shortly after getting our first look at the mountain we arrived at the Pacific Crest Trail and turned left.
Woodpecker Ridge Trail junction with the PCT

We had another Mt. Jefferson sighting from a pond not far from the junction.
Mt. Jefferson from a pond along the Pacific Crest Trail

Most of the views along the PCT were to the NW across the Whitewater Creek drainage to Triangulation Peak and Bocca Cave
Triangulation Peak and Bocca Cave from the Pacific Crest Trail

Bocca Cave and Triangulation Peak

One of the other differences between this approach and the other trails leading to Jefferson Park is the presence of a sometimes tricky creek crossing. The bridge-less crossing of the glacier fed Russell Creek can be dangerous during high water flow. It was a mostly dry crossing on this morning though.
Russell Creek crossing


Russell Creek crossing

Our plan was to recross the stream before too much additional water was added to the flow as the temperatures rose during the day. A few smaller creek crossings brought us to the familiar junction with the Whitewater Creek Trail after a total of 3.2 miles on the PCT.
False hellbore

Junction with the Whitewater Creek Trail

We had come up the Whitewater Trail on our previous visit on 8/8/2015 and were anxious to compare the scenery given how dry the prior year had been. It had looked more like Fall than Mid-Summer on that visit but this year had seen more snow so we were expecting more water, more green, and more flowers. The difference was already noticeable when we arrived at the informational sign for Jefferson Park.

Entering the Jefferson Park area

Mt. Jefferson

Shortly after passing the sign the trail passes through a small rock field where we had seen a pika the year before. One greeted us this year in almost in the exact same spot.

A nice display of paintbrush greeted us as we entered Jefferson Park.
Paintbrush in Jefferson Park

We stuck to the Pacific Crest Trail ignoring the signed trails to Bays and Scout Lakes as we headed for Russell Lake at the far end of Jefferson Park. Along the way we passed a small pond that gave another good example of the difference a year can make.

Pond in Jefferson Park

Mt. Jefferson from Jefferson Park

Patches of paintbrush dotted the meadows along the way providing beautiful scenes.
Mt. Jefferson from Jefferson Park

We followed the PCT to the South Breitenbush River which was lined with wildflowers.
Wildflowers along the South Brietenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Brietenbush River

South Brietenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Brietenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Brietenbush River

We turned off the PCT and crossed the river to Russell Lake where Mt. Jefferson was reflecting nicely.
Mt. Jefferson from Russell Lake

Once again the difference in water level and flowers from the prior year was obvious.

Mt. Jefferson from Russell Lake

Mt. Jefferson from Russell Lake

Patches of red paintbrush lined the lake as we made our way around its shore.
Mt. Jeffferson from Russell Lake

Paintbrush along Russell Lake

Park Butte from Russell Lake

After circling Russell Lake we returned to the Pacific Crest Trail and then turned down the South Breitenbush Trail.
Junction with the South Breitenbush Trail

We followed this trail to a meadow overlooking the river.
South Breitenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Breitenbush River

Wildflowers along the South Breitenbush River

At a rock cairn in the meadow we turned left and headed up a small hill to Park Lake.
Trail to Park Lake

Mt. Jefferson from Park Lake

From Park Lake we followed a trail along a dry creek bed up to Rock Lake.
Mt. Jefferson from Rock Lake

After passing by Rock Lake we crested another small hill and arrived at Bays Lake.
Mt. Jefferson from Bays Lake

We left Bays Lake after a short rest and headed toward Scout Lake passing a small unnamed lake along the way.
Mt. Jefferson from the lake between Bays and Scout Lakes

Park Butte and Scout Lake

Mt. Jefferson from Scout Lake

After visiting Scout Lake we returned to the PCT and headed out of Jefferson Park. We arrived back at the Russell Creek crossing at 11:15am and found that there hadn’t been much change in the water level yet.
Russell Creek Crossing

The butterflies were out now though.

Fritillary butterfly on yarrow

Butterfly on thistle

After recrossing the creek we began watching for a spot to leave the PCT in order to bushwack down to a view of Russell Creek Falls. This waterfall was on my radar based on a report by a fellow hiker and avid waterfall hunter. He had warned of a steep cliffy approach so we weren’t sure if we’d be successful or not. I had done some preliminary scouting using Google Maps and a topographic map to find what had looked like the most suitable ridge to head down. Just off the trail we found an old campsite and then plunged into the forest.
Bushwack to a view of Russell Creek Falls

The ridge was indeed extremely cliffy on the Russell Creek side so we began fighting our way through the brush on the opposite side. We were glad that at least there weren’t any rhododendron plants at that elevation. As we continued down we kept looking for a way back toward the creek but the terrain and forest pushed us further away. After getting quite a ways downstream from the falls we found what appeared to be a possible gully. I began to work on finding a way down but it was very steep and after struggling and slipping twice I began looking to see if we could side hill back upstream. That wasn’t going to happen due to the cliffs lining the creek. I climbed back up to where I had left Heather and we adjusted our plan. We headed back upstream sticking as close to the top of the ridge as possible hoping to get some sort of view of the falls. We managed to find another gully closer to the falls where another steep descent brought us to a view halfway down the cliffs.
Russell Creek Falls

Russell Creek Falls

Russell Creek Falls

There wasn’t any way down from the view that looked even close to safe so we declared victory here and took a break before climbing back up to the PCT. The 151′ waterfall was indeed impressive but we can’t recommend attempting to see it. The steep slopes and abrupt cliffs make this a difficult and dangerous goal.

After fighting our way back to the PCT we headed for the Woodpecker Ridge Trail saying goodbye to Mt. Jefferson as we passed the pond.
Mt. Jefferson from a pond along the Pacific Crest Trail

We made it back to the car after a total of 15.5 miles. I thought I had escaped relatively unscathed after the bushwacking adventure but after changing into a pair of shorts I was ambushed by an evil yellow jacket (or jackets) and received a pair of stings on my leg. Those things are just plain mean.

Happy (yellow jacket free) Trails!


High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Trip report

Jefferson Park – 2015

Since 2011 Jefferson Park has been the one destination that has been on our schedule every year. This year we planned a joint outing with my parents who had not been to Jefferson Park yet. We picked them up bright and early from the Whispering Falls Campground and drove to the Whitewater Trailhead arriving shortly after 6am. We had agreed that we would hike at our own paces and would look for each other in Jefferson Park and if we didn’t meet up there we would do so back at the car. What we failed to do was set a time that we would start back to the car at in case we didn’t run into them. After giving my parents a brief description of what to expect from the trail on the way up we set off.
Whitewater Trailhead

The forest showed the same signs of the warm and dry year we’ve had. Everything seemed to be at least a month ahead of schedule. Few flowers remained and some of the leaves were already starting to turn color.

The sky to the south was a bit hazy with smoke from fires in Southern Oregon, but Mt. Jefferson was enjoying relatively blue skies.

The Three Pyramids


At the 1.5 mile mark the Triangulation Trail joined from the left at a saddle. This marked the end of the steepest portion of the hike which is never really all that steep to begin with. Approximately a mile from that junction the trail enters a small rock field with a view of the top of Mt. Jefferson.
Mt. Jefferson from the Whitewater Trail

As I was taking a picture of the mountain I noticed movement in the rocks to my left. I looked over to see a pika dart out onto the rocks.

We love pikas and were excited to be getting such a good look at this one since we typically only hear their “meep” warning of our presence. As we were watching the first pika we began to notice others. In the end we’d spotted 5 different pikas and a chipmunk in the area.


Pika and a chipmunk

We wound up seeing a sixth pika a little further along the trail making this the highest number of pikas we’d seen on a single hike. Normally seeing a pika, let alone 6, would be the wildlife highlight of a hike, but shortly before reaching the first crossing of the Whitewater Creek around the 4 mile mark the pikas were topped. As we passed a small meadow at the base of a butte we heard some rocks sliding. My first thought was mountain lion because of a recent discussion on how many of the cougar sightings I heard about were the result of hikers hearing rocks moving. When we looked over toward the source of the noise the animal we saw was black so we knew it wasn’t a cougar. It was a bear. This was only the second bear we’d seen while hiking and the first one had run away so quickly that I wasn’t able to get a picture. This time I had my camera ready and the bear was running up an exposed rock slide so I was able to get a few pictures before it disappeared.
Black Bear




We continued on to the Pacific Crest Trail energized from the excitement of seeing the bear. At the PCT we turned left, re-crossed Whitewater Creek, and entered Jefferson Park.

Shortly after entering the park we came to a signed junction and needed to decide where we wanted to go this time.

We settled on heading north on the PCT and trying to find a climbers trail that was shown on one of our maps leading up to the Whitewater Glacier. As we made our way through the park we were struck by just how dry it was and how far past all the flowers already were. The scenery was still amazing though.



Pond in Jefferson Park


We found what appeared to be a decently used trail in what seemed to be the correct area and set off toward the mountain. The trail we were following started bending back to the south though so we were forced to abandon it and take a more direct route toward the ridge where we hoped to pick up the climbers trail. We found another clear path and began following it but then it petered out on a tree covered ridge.

We seemed to be in the correct area according to the map and GPS, but we were unable to spot anything that looked like a trail so we decided to go to plan b and head to Russell Lake where we could pick up the PCT again and decide what to do from there.

We found a few flowers around Russell Lake but again the dry year was evident. The lake was at the lowest level we’d seen and there was no water flowing out of the lake to the South Breitenbush River.
Mt. Jefferson from Russell Lake



There was still a little water coming down another branch of the river from Park Ridge allowing some monkeyflowers to still be blooming.



We had considered following the PCT part way up Park Ridge and visiting Sprauge Lake which we had not done before, but after looking up at the climb we’d need to do we decided to save that for another trip and instead we headed for the South Breintenbush Trail.

As we reached the South Breitenbush Trail we ran into another couple who recognized my Portlandhikers button. They had stayed overnight near Bays Lake and were on their way up to Park Ridge. After talking for a bit we continued on watching for the side trail to Park Lake which we’d find in a hillside meadow above the river.

The water level at Park Lake was also lower than we’d ever seen, but we realized it was a deeper lake than we’d thought as we looked down into the green water.

Next up along the trail was Rock Lake. Like all the lakes in Jefferson Park this one has colorful water and great views of the mountain. We spotted some trout in the lake as we passed by and got a kick out of watching a happy bird bathing along the shore.




From Rock Lake we made our way to Scout Lake where we thought we might find my parents. It was around 11am and we thought they might have stopped at the lake for a break. We didn’t see them, just more wonderful Jefferson Park scenery.


Our next thought was that they might be at Bays Lake so we headed over to the south end of that lake to take a look. We hadn’t spent much time on that side of Bays Lake so we decided to do some exploring.

Park Butte from Bays Lake

We headed down to the day use peninsula and removed our packs to take a break and check out the area.


Mt. Jefferson from Bays Lake


When we resumed our hike we decided to just loop around the rest of the lake and then head back to Scout Lake.




We still hadn’t seen any signs of my parents by the time we had made it back to the PCT from Scout Lake and we debated on whether to head back to the car or go up the PCT again toward Russell Lake in search of them. It was at this point that we realized that it would have been a good idea to establish a time at which we would head back to the car. We made it all the way back to Russell Lake without running into them which had us a little concerned that they may not have made it all the way to the park. Heather had come up with a theory though, she suggested that they might have gone directly to Russell Lake since that was the ultimate goal for my Mom. If they had done that we easily could have missed them while we were touring the other lakes and then missed them again while we were on the PCT if they had taken one of the other signed trials to Scout Lake. Either way we were fairly certain they were either on their way back to the car or were already there waiting so we headed back down ourselves.

Heather asked a group of young hikers that were on their way up if they’d seen anyone matching my parents description and they had, which made us feel better. We didn’t think to ask how far ahead of us they were though. We picked up our pace but kept getting distracted along the way. It was interesting to see how much the water level had risen in Whitewater Creek as the heat caused an increase in the glacial runoff.


We also kept looking back at the views of Mt. Jefferson.



We were still making pretty good time trying to catch them when we rounded a little bend in the trail and saw a gentleman trying to dust himself off. He was covered in dirt with some scratches on his head and there was a camera mounted on a tripod behind him on the trail. He explained that he had set the timer on the camera and was running up the trail to get in position for the picture when he had tripped. He said he was fine but hadn’t realized he was bleeding until Heather pointed it out. Luckily none of the cuts were deep and there was no real damage. He told us that it wasn’t going to affect his enjoyment of his hike. Just more proof that there is no such thing as a bad hike.

We never did catch up to my parents and I half expected to see them sitting on the bench along the trail at the trailhead, but instead we found them at a picnic table just a few feet away. We found out that they had indeed gone straight to Russell Lake and relaxed there awhile before heading to Scout and Bays Lakes. Heather had been right again. We didn’t know how far we’d wound up hiking with all the wandering we’d done, but we found out when I plugged the Garmin into the computer. According to the GPS we’d covered 18.1 miles, a little bit more than we’d planned on but that’s what can happen with a place as scenic as Jefferson Park. Happy Trails!


High Cascades Hiking Mt. Jefferson Area Oregon Trip report

Jefferson Park – 2014

The only location we have visited in each of the last three years is Jefferson Park in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. For awhile it looked like that streak might be broken this year, but then Heather accidentally signed up for a 5k race on what was to be our final weekend of hiking in October. We rescheduled our final October hike and I decided to take advantage of the Columbus Day holiday and head to Jefferson Park to keep my streak alive.

We had rotated the trails we used to reach Jefferson Park between the three most popular approaches – The Whitewater Creek Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail from the north, and the South Breitenbush Trail. Since the Whitewater Creek Trail offered the shortest drive and hike I decided to revisit that trail.
It is also the most popular approach but the parking area was nearly empty when I arrived. It was a surprisingly warm morning despite the forecast of snow for the very next day and I was able to leave my hat and gloves in my pack as I set off. I’d dressed for a typically chilly Fall morning and I wound up having to remove my two lower layers before I’d gone a quarter mile, but once I got my clothing situation corrected I was able to set a nice pace as I climbed along the Sentinel Hills.

The trail started off in the trees offering only brief glimpse of the top of Mt. Jefferson. One and a half miles in an unmarked trail joined from the left coming from Triangulation Peak. Another mile from the junction is where the views started unfolding as the trail wound up and around the Sentinel Hills.

The Three Pyramids

Triangulation Peak

Mt. Jefferson

Fall was on display in the wilderness and the forest was full of color.




The trail joined the Pacific Crest Trail at the 4.2 mile mark which I continued North on for another .9 miles to Jefferson Park.

The view of Mt. Jefferson from the park is the main attraction.

There are many other attractions in the park though including five named lakes, the South Fork Breitenbush River, and wildflower meadows (If you time it right). We had visited all the lakes and the river and seen some of the wildflowers, but we had never headed toward the mountain itself. I decided that was what I was going to do on this visit so I took the first well worn trail leading off to the right from the PCT and headed for Mt. Jefferson.

I wasn’t sure where this trail was going to lead as it climbed through a series of meadows.

Eventually I came to the tree line where a series of rock cairns appeared to lead up a ridge of loose rocks.

I kept going following the cairns as best as I could. As I was climbing I noticed a fellow hiker higher up along the ridge. The view behind was getting better by the minute as the elevation gain was allowing for a great look down at Jefferson Park.

Soon I could see Mt. St. Helens with a fresh ring of snow on its upper reaches.

The final push to the crest of the ridge was steep and full of loose footing and the wind was whipping up dust devils.

The wind had been fairly strong but it was nothing compared to the gusts that met me as when I finally gained the ridge crest. It nearly knocked me off balance so I got low and found a nice big rock to sit down on. The other hiker was about 30 yards up the ridge doing the same thing. We were at the foot of the Jefferson Park Glacier staring up at the summit of Mt. Jefferson.

Unfortunately the Sun was also almost directly in front of us making pictures difficult in that direction but the view back toward Jefferson Park did not have that same problem. Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier had joined Mt. St. Helens on the horizon and the entirety of Jefferson Park was spread out below.

Mt. Rainier & Mt. Hood beyond Park Butte


To the northwest I could see Triangulation Peak and Bocca Cave where we had been about a month earlier.

It appeared that it would have been possible to continue east up the ridge along the glacier but the wind was blowing too hard to attempt going any further so I began my descent back down into the park. Once I had made it back down into the meadows I turned right on the first good trail I came to thinking I had hit the PCT already. It was still early enough I had decided to head across the park and visit Russell Lake and hoped to return past the other four named lakes. I quickly realized that I wasn’t on the PCT and I had taken one of the use trails that crisscross through the park. I decided to continue along it as it was leading me in the correct direction for the lake through a series of meadows. I even found some aster still in bloom along the way.






I ended up at the SE end of Russell Lake which was perfect since we had not been to this side of the lake on our previous trips.

Again the Sun was in a position to wash out some of the picture but the the view from the lake was as amazing as ever.


I walked around the north end of the lake and located the PCT which I turned left on and started to head back. Near the South Fork Breitenbush River I was surprised to see a single paintbrush still blooming in the middle of a meadow.

When I reached the South Breitenbush Trail I left the PCT and headed west. As the trail began descending a small hillside toward the river I turned left at a switchback marked with a rock cairn. This trail led to Park Lake.

Staying to the left of Park Lake I followed the path up to Rock Lake.


And then continued on to Bays Lake.

I took a break at Bays Lake and soaked my feet for a bit before heading to the East and Scout Lake.



Just a short distance to the East of Scout Lake I was back on the PCT right where I had left it that morning. It was time to say goodbye to Jefferson Park for another year.

On the way back down to the trailhead I was finally able to get a few pictures of the mountain without interference from the Sun.

The ridge that I had been on earlier.

The only real bummer of the day was not having Heather there to hike with. This was my first solo hike and I have to say I really missed sharing the experience with her. I found it hard to just stop and enjoy the surroundings as much as we normally would. It was an interesting experience but hopefully not one that happens often. Happy Trails!