12 Mar

13. Rho Creek and Big Bottom

Distance: 8.2 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 2,400 feet
Trailhead elevation: 2,624 feet
Trail high point: 4,529 feet
Season: May – November
Best: June

Download map of the Rho Creek area
Download map of Big Bottom
GPS Track of the Rho Creek Hike

This lovely and little-known hike traces a cascading stream through a mossy and magical forest just south of Big Bottom. The trail is at times very faint but it is well-marked, and generally easy to follow. Best of all, because this is a trail that is very much off the beaten trail, the chances are that you will have it all to yourself. Because of this, I do not recommend hiking it alone – this place is very, very remote – but also very, very beautiful.

Matt’s note: This hike is not easy to follow in some places. I highly recommend downloading both my maps above and my GPS track and following it if you plan on coming here. Here a link to my GPS track.

Rho Creek's mossy canyon

Rho Creek’s mossy canyon

Hiking into Big Bottom's ancient forest

Hiking into Big Bottom’s ancient forest

29 Mar

Wild Cheat Meadow / Triangulation Peak: A photo essay

The trail to Wild Cheat Meadow and up to the summit of Triangulation Peak is perhaps the epitome of Off the Beaten Trail. Though a well-known and somewhat popular trail reaches the summit of Triangulation Peak, this much longer route has everything a hiker could want: huge old-growth forest, a gorgeous, cascading creek, a huge meadow, wildflower-draped slopes and huge views of the high Cascades. While you will have to wait until July to go there, you can experience this hike vicariously through the following photos:

Wild Cheat old-growth

The trail to Wild Cheat Meadow climbs through spectacular old-growth forest. Photo by Wendy Rodgers.

Wild Cheat Meadow

Huge, tranquil Wild Cheat Meadow. There are wildflowers everywhere!

As you can see, Wild Cheat Meadow is a beautiful, peaceful place.

Wild Cheat Columbine

Columbine grows profusely in Wild Cheat Meadow.

Wild Cheat Columbine close-up

A closeup of a columbine in Wild Cheat Meadow. Photo by Wendy Rodgers.

After you leave the meadow, the trail climbs up to the ridge above, where you meet the Triangulation Trail. From here you traverse through the forest:

Triangulation Ridge

The Triangulation Trail traverses a steep, forested slope.

Larkspur heaven on Triangulation Ridge

Larkspur grows profusely (to put it lightly) on the ridge east of Triangulation Peak. The flower displays on this part of the hike are some of the best I’ve seen anywhere in Oregon.

Mount Jefferson from Triangulation Ridge

Mount Jefferson looms above the Triangulation Trail. Come here on a clear day and you might not want to leave this spot.

Before long, you re-enter the forest and traverse around to a junction with the Triangulation Peak Spur Trail. Once you reach the summit, the views are massive:

Mount Jefferson from Triangulation Peak

Mount Jefferson towers over the Whitewater Creek valley.

Triangulation Peak panorama

Panorama of the view from the summit of Triangulation Peak. What a view it is!

This may be my favorite hike in Off the Beaten Trail. I’m fairly certain it’s Wendy’s favorite. It may soon be your favorite.

20 Mar

Little North Santiam River Trail

Distance: 9.0 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 900 feet
Season: all year except in winter storms
Best: all year
Pass: NW Forest Pass
Map: Opal Creek Wilderness Area (USFS)

Directions: From Salem, drive OR 22 east for 23 miles to the second flashing light in Mehama. At a sign for the Little North Fork Recreation Area (and directly across from the Swiss Village restaurant), turn left. Follow the paved two-lane road up the Little North Fork for 14.5 miles to a junction with Elkhorn Drive SE in the small community of Elkhorn. Drive across the bridge over the river and continue for 0.4 miles to the well-signed trailhead on your left.

Hike: The Little North Santiam River Trail gets no respect. It has the same emerald pools, roaring waterfalls, magnificent old-growth as Opal Creek, just three miles upstream, with just a fraction of the crowds. Nobody comes here except on summer weekends, and the area’s low elevation makes this a year-round hike destination. In many respects, this hike is even better on a rainy winter day. In fact, some people even prefer this hike to Opal Creek; it’s just a shame the two hikes cannot be joined.

The trail begins at the edge of the small community of Elkhorn. You will skirt through a recovering forest with houses in sight for the first 0.2 mile before crossing a small side stream and descending into glorious woods beside the even more glorious Little North Fork. Everything is green, moist and radiant! At 0.6 mile follow a short side trail to a bench beside a roaring cascade in the river. This is a great place to relax but don’t turn back yet as the best is yet to come. The next mile is a joy as you wind through deep forest just above the Little North Fork, crossing roaring side creeks on scenic wooden bridges beneath towering Douglas firs. Notice how the river seems to be an electric shade of green; this is not the water but the green rock below magnified by the incredible clarity of the water. This feature is common throughout the Little North Fork drainage and is found on all of the creeks upstream.

The incomparable Little North Santiam River.

The incomparable Little North Santiam River.

Soon the canyon begins to contract and the trail climbs to avoid a very narrow gorge. Along the way up, listen for the roar of Triple Falls on Henline Creek, tumbling directly into the river just across the gorge. The falls is visible but tree branches make it difficult to get an unobstructed view of the falls. Once past the falls, the trail continues its climb up the canyon wall, topping out at a rocky bluff high above the river with a few across to Henline Mountain’s cliffs. Note the madrone tree on this bluff, a rarity in the Cascades. This makes a nice spot to stop and catch your breath and if it’s clear, the views of the Little North Fork canyon will be outstanding.  The trail stays high above the river for a bit before dropping swiftly back to river level at 3.0 miles.

Three Pools from the Little North Fork Trail

Three Pools from the Little North Fork Trail.

At 3.3 miles, look across the river to Three Pools, a popular day-use site. Here the Little North Fork roars through a series of narrow rock channels, creating three deep, swimmable pools. A single rock pillar stands sentinel above the scene. Downstream the river flows gently through a placid stretch of water that is almost too green to be believed. Three Pools is extremely popular on summer weekends…and is almost deserted in other seasons. Sadly, you cannot cross the river here (consider stopping by after the hike) so continue hiking upstream. Along the way you’ll cross Little Cedar Creek on another scenic wooden bridge before reaching the upper trailhead, at a scenic wooden road bridge over the Little North Fork River 4.5 miles from your car. Across the river is lovely Shady Cove Campground. You could shuttle this hike but then, you won’t have the pleasure of hiking it again, now will you?