13 Mar

69. Bear Point

Distance: 7.8 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 3,000 feet
Trailhead elevation: 3,029 feet
Trail high point: 6,034 feet
Season: July – October
Best: July – October
Map: Mount Jefferson Wilderness (Geo-Graphics)

Download a map of this hike
Download a GPS track of this hike

Directions from Salem:
• From Salem, drive OR 22 east for 49.2 miles to Detroit.
• Turn left at a sign for Breitenbush, Elk Lake and Olallie Lake onto FR 46.
• Drive 11.6 miles to a junction with FR 4685 on your right. Turn right.
• This road begins as pavement, crosses the North Fork Breitenbush River and immediately transitions to gravel.
• Drive 4.6 miles to a large parking lot on your right, located in a large open flat. There is room for many cars.

Alternate directions from Portland (via Estacada):
• From Estacada, drive approximately 25 miles to the Ripplebrook Guard Station.
• Just past Ripplebrook the road becomes FR 46, which is not maintained in the winter.
• Continue on paved, two-lane FR 46 for 28.7 miles to a pass, where you enter the Willamette National Forest.
• Continue downhill on FR 46 another 5 miles to a junction with FR 4685, which will be on your left.
• This road begins as pavement, crosses the North Fork of the Breitenbush River and immediately transitions to gravel.
• Drive 4.6 miles to a large parking lot on your right, located in a large open flat. There is room for many cars.
• Coming this way is a little longer than the Salem approach but far more scenic.

Hike: While there is no shortage of great views in the rugged backcountry north of Mount Jefferson, few can compare with the panorama from Bear Point’s former lookout site. Despite its proximity to the famed Jefferson Park, Bear Point remains virtually unknown. What’s more, the hike is 5 miles shorter than the trek to Jefferson Park, it is rarely steep despite climbing 3,000 feet, and melts out on average 2 – 3 weeks before Jefferson Park. So what are you waiting for?

The trail begins in a clearing and tunnels through a forest of alder near the South Breitenbush River, meeting with an old alignment of the trail after a quarter mile. From here the trail turns right and begins a long, slow climb out of the canyon through attractive second-growth forest that blazes yellow and orange in the fall. Though never steep, the climb is continual for the first two miles of the hike. As you ascend out of the wide canyon of the South Breitenbush River, the trail begins to change character, becoming drier and more alpine. You cross several small creeks before passing the ruins of an old seedling shed at 1.5 miles. Continue climbing on rocky tread until you level out somewhat. At 2.2 miles from the trailhead, you will abruptly meet the Bear Point Trail at a signpost buried in a large cairn.

To hike up to Bear Point, turn left and hike aside a trickling creek on brushy trail until you leave the forest. You then begin climbing at a moderate grade up the ridge via a long series of switchbacks. The views become grander and grander, as Mount Jefferson dominates the skyline at the end of each switchback. The trail is rocky and narrow but the route is obvious. Because the trail is open and rocky, an early start on hot days is imperative.

After 1.8 miles and nearly 1,700 feet of elevation gain from the junction, the trail crests the ridge, turns right and leads to the summit of Bear Point. Pick your adjective: The view is stupendous, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, jaw-dropping and so much more. Three miles to the south is snowclad Mount Jefferson, with the Three Sisters and Three Fingered Jack immediately to the right. Below you is secluded, deep and very blue Bear Lake, flanked by elusive Dynah-Mo Peak with Park Ridge behind. Olallie Butte rises over the red cinders of Ruddy Hill and the rugged, fire-scarred canyon of the North Fork of the Breitenbush River to the northeast; keen eyes can spot Breitenbush Cascades (Hike 60) tumbling out of the Olallie Plateau near Ruddy Hill. Below you on your right is the deep canyon of the South Fork of the Breitenbush. Behind you is Mount Hood and points further north. With a view like this, you can imagine why there was a fire lookout here! The remains of the lookout (which was disposed by burning in 1968) dot the summit. Before you sit down for lunch, look around for bits of glass and metal – the only remainders of the erstwhile lookout. The individuals who worked here had the greatest job in the world!

Return the way you came or explore some more around the area – after all, paradise is at your feet. It is up to you to choose your own adventure.

The stupendous, jaw-dropping view from the summit of Bear Point

The stupendous, jaw-dropping view from the summit of Bear Point

13 Mar

56. Olallie and Monon Lakes

Distance: 6.7 mile loop
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
Trailhead elevation: 4,956 feet
Trail high point: 5,011 feet
Season: July – October
Best: September
Map: Green Trails #525 (Breitenbush)

Download a map of this hike
Download a GPS track of this hike

Directions from Portland:
• From Estacada, drive southeast on OR 224 approximately 25 miles to the RipplebrookvGuard Station.
• A short distance after Ripplebrook, OR 224 becomes FR 46 at a junction with FR 57. Continue straight (right) on FR 46.
• Drive another 22.3 miles on FR 46 to a junction with the Olallie Lake Road (FR 4690) – you will notice that “Olallie” is painted on the road with an arrow to mark the direction.
• Turn left here onto FR 4690 and drive 6.1 miles of narrow pavement and another 1.9 miles of rocky gravel to a junction with the Skyline Road, FR 4220.
• Turn right here and drive 5.1 gravel miles to the Olallie Lake Resort.
• Drive past the resort entrance and 100 feet later, turn right into the signed parking area for the Pacific Crest Trail.

Directions from Salem:
• From Salem, drive OR 22 east approximately 49 miles to Detroit.
• Turn left at a sign for Breitenbush, Elk Lake and Olallie Lake onto FR 46.
• Drive 16.6 miles on FR 46 to a pass where you enter the Mount Hood National Forest.
• Continue another 6.6 miles (for a total of 23.2 miles from Detroit) to a junction with FR 4690 on your right, signed for Olallie Lake.
• Turn right onto FR 4690 and drive 6.1 miles of narrow pavement and another 1.9 miles of rocky gravel to a junction with the Skyline Road, FR 4220.
• Turn right here and drive 5.1 gravel miles to the Olallie Lake Resort.
• Drive past the resort entrance and 100 feet later, turn right into the signed parking area for the Pacific Crest Trail.

Hike: Olallie and Monon Lakes are separated only by a narrow band of rock, so it makes sense to hike around the both of them in one day. Although there are loop trails around both lakes, allowing for two different hikes, each lake is different in character and neither loop is all that long, making a full day circuit ideal. Please note that swimming is banned in Olallie Lake, as the lake serves as the drinking water source for the resort. If you want to go for a swim, Monon Lake is the place to be.

Begin your hike at the Olallie Lake Resort. Follow the road through first the resort and then Paul Dennis Campground. When you reach the end of the campground, look for a trail setting off to the east between sites 14 and 16. It may be a bit vague at first (and is unsigned) but soon becomes obvious. You will hike just above the lakeshore through a forest of spindly lodgepole pine. Along the way, excellent views of Mount Jefferson open up through the trees. At 0.9 mile, pass an unsigned junction with the trail to Long, Dark and Island Lakes. This trail heads east into the Warm Springs Reservation (in fact, you are in the reservation at this junction) and is not recommended unless you have a Tribal Fishing Permit and actually plan on fishing (otherwise, don’t bother). Instead, keep right to continue following the Olallie Lake shoreline.

After another 0.5 mile, reach another fork, this time with the Monollie Trail. This short trail connects Olallie and Monon Lakes. If you want to hike around Olallie Lake only keep straight here, but if you prefer the larger loop, turn left and hike the short distance to Monon Lake. This short trail passes tiny Nep-Te-Pa and Mangriff Lakes, reaching another fork above Monon Lake just 0.1 mile later (or 1.5 miles from the trailhead). Turn left on the Monon Lake Trail. You will traverse around Monon Lake’s bays as you hike through forest burned in a 2001 fire. The top half of Mount Jefferson rises above the far end of the lake but the view is not as impressive as that of Olallie Lake. Shallower than Olallie Lake, Monon Lake also has better reflections on calm days and is a delightfully deep
shade of blue on sunny days. As you traverse around Monon Lake, you will come to the realization that it is much larger than you thought when you first saw it. The many bays and inlets in the lake make this a much longer hike than you thought it would be (it isn’t long, but it’s longer than it looks on a map). Eventually you leave the burn behind and begin walking on a series of boardwalks designed to keep your feet dry. Monon Lake actually grows in size during snowmelt, so this part of the lakeshore is quite soupy. Huckleberries grow in tremendous quantities here, providing hikers with a tasty treat in August and September!

At 3.1 miles from the trailhead (and 1.3 from the Monollie Trail), reach the end of the Monon Lake Trail at a campsite on the Skyline Road. Turn right. You will follow the Skyline Road for 0.3 mile until you reach the northern trailhead for Monon Lake. Turn right here and hike 0.9 mile along the north shore of Monon Lake to the junction with the Monollie Trail. Turn left here and hike the 0.2 mile back to Olallie Lake, where you will turn left again. Follow
the trail around Olallie Lake. The views here up to Olallie Butte are particularly impressive. Just a short distance later, reach Peninsula Campground, where the Olallie Lake Trail seems to disappear. Follow user trails (or the
campground loop road) until you find the continuation of the trail, which departs from near the group site at the northwestern end of the campground. Continue another 0.3 mile on this wide trail until it dead ends at the Skyline
Road, near site 10 at Camp Ten Campground. Turn right and walk the Skyline Road for about a mile to the PCT Trailhead and your car on the left.

Olallie Lake in June, at the resort

Olallie Lake in June, at the resort

12 Mar

20. Little North Santiam River

Distance: 9 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 1,800 feet
Trailhead elevation: 1,294 feet
Trail high point: 1,791 feet
Season: all year
Best: all year, but especially October – April
Map: Opal Creek Wilderness (Imus)

• 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 North
Fork Crossing 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.
• Turn right and drive across the bridge over the river.
• Drive 0.5 mile to the trailhead, a parking lot on your left with a signboard.

Editors note: In my book it says that the trailhead is on the right. It is actually on the left. If you are following the mileage you can’t possibly miss the trailhead, but it’s worth noting.

Download a map of this hike
Download a GPS track of this hike

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. Few people come 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.

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 Santiam. 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 Santiam, 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 Santiam drainage and is found on all of the creeks upstream.

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 view 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 Santiam 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. At 3.3 miles, you can look across the river to Three Pools, a popular day-use site. Here the Little North Santiam 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 a new bridge before reaching the upper trailhead, at a scenic wooden road bridge over the Little North Santiam 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?

The magnificent Little North Santiam River

The magnificent Little North Santiam River

12 Mar

1. Table Rock


Distance: 7.4 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet
Trailhead elevation: 3,382 feet
Trail high point: 4,890 feet
Season: June – October
Best: June – July
Map: Opal Creek Wilderness (Imus)
Map of hike: Link

• From the junction of OR 213 and OR 211 on the western edge of Molalla, drive 2.1
miles through town to a junction with South Mathias Road.
• Veer right on South Mathias Road here.
• Drive this road for 1 mile south to a junction with S Feyrer Park Road, and veer left.
• Continue on this road for 1.6 miles until you cross the Molalla River and meet South
Dickey Prairie Road.
• Turn right on Dickey Prairie Road and drive 5.4 miles to a sign on your right marking the
Molalla River Recreation area.
• Turn right and cross the Molalla River. Here the road curves to the left immediately and
becomes the Molalla River Road.
• Continue on this road for 11 miles to a junction with the Horse Creek Road on your
• Continue straight (ignoring the road veering downhill to the right) and drive another
1.7 miles to a junction with the road to Table Rock.
• Turn left onto gravel Table Rock Road and drive 2.5 miles to a junction with a road up
towards Table Rock.
• Turn right and drive 4 miles to the end of the road.

GPS Track
Download a map of this hike

Hike: By far the most popular hike in the small Table Rock Wilderness, the trail to the summit of the wilderness area’s eponymous peak is surprisingly well-graded and fairly easy. The views from the summit are magnificent and wide-ranging, and there are even a couple of campsites at the summit if you feel like camping overnight (bring water, though). If you time it correctly, you may even come home with a bag full of delicious huckleberries – a delightful treat indeed!

Begin by following the old road, now a wide trail east to where it washed out in 1996. At 0.3 mile, the trail cuts uphill to the right into a lovely forest of lichen-draped hemlocks to avoid the washout that closed the road. After a few tenths of a mile, the trail rejoins the road, which you follow for almost a mile to the old trailhead. Turn right here. The trail passes a decaying signboard and begins a moderate ascent up the surprisingly gentle north face of Table Rock. After one mile of uphill, the trail switchbacks under the massive, fortress-like rock face and talus slopes below the summit. Here you will likely hear the meep of the pika, a small, round-eared mammal that lives in rockslides. Wear boots on this hike – this stretch is quite rocky as the trail follows cairns through this maze of rockfall. The basalt formations on the huge walls of the mountain are among the most impressive in this part of the Cascades. Once past the rockslide, the trail climbs to meet an unsigned junction with the trail over to Rooster Rock (Hike 2). Turn left here and climb 0.6 mile, skirting along the huge basalt cliffs but never close enough for discomfort, to the wide summit. Here the view is incredible – you can see snowpeaks from Mount Rainier to the Three Sisters, as well as most of the Willamette Valley. What is less impressive, so to speak, is the tremendous number of clearcuts visible below – a testament to the small size of the Table Rock Wilderness as well as the huge amount of logging on BLM land. There are a few campsites if you feel like spending the night but make sure to bring your own water – there is none anywhere close to the summit.

Return the way you came, or head over to Rooster Rock to extend your hike. If you choose this second option, however, be warned that the stretch of trail over to Rooster Rock is far rougher and steeper as it rides the rollercoaster of Table Rock’s broad ridge 2 miles to Rooster and Chicken Rocks (see Hike 2 for more information).

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10 May

16. Rock of Ages Ridge / Bell Creek Loop

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16. Rock of Ages Ridge

Distance: 15.2 mile loop loop
Elevation Gain: 4,600 feet
Season: March – November
Best: June – July
Pass: None
Map: Columbia River Gorge (Geo-graphics)
Note: Rock of Ages Trail does not show on most area maps.

Directions: From Portland, drive east on Interstate 84 to the Bridal Veil exit 28. Immediately after exiting the freeway turn left and drive east on the Historic Columbia Highway 5.6 miles to a parking lot at Horsetail Falls. If you are coming from Cascade Locks, exit the freeway at the Dodson Exit 35 and drive west on the Historic Highway for 2.4 miles to Horsetail Falls.

Note: This is an edited, updated version of the hike described in Off the Beaten Trail. I re-hiked this trail in June 2014 and added on an extra 5-mile loop on the newly-cleared Bell Creek Trail, which passes through the nicest grove of ancient forest in the Columbia River Gorge. If you have the time and energy you absolutely should follow this loop – taken together, the Rock of Ages Ridge / Bell Creek Loop is without a doubt the best hike in the entire Columbia River Gorge.

Hike: A natural rock arch, a fabulous view of the Columbia River Gorge, a hair-raising rock spine, the most impressive grove of ancient forest in the Columbia River Gorge and three waterfalls on a popular return trail; you will find all of these things on the trek up Rock of Ages Ridge, along the Bell Creek Trail and down Oneonta Creek. Though access is easy, the hike is not. In fact, the first mile up Rock of Ages Ridge is quite probably the most difficult stretch of trail in this book. After that, however, you are in the clear and free to enjoy the quietest part of the western Gorge.

The hike begins at scenic Horsetail Falls, which spills some 214 feet to the floor of the Gorge directly beside the scenic highway. The trailhead is to the left side of the falls. Begin switchbacking uphill, quickly topping out above the falls. Directly ahead of you on the trail is another falls, 75-foot Ponytail Falls. As soon as the falls is in sight, look immediately to your left for a well-worn boot path that climbs over some tree roots. This is the Rock of Ages Trail. Twenty yards from the turnoff pass a “Trail Not Maintained” sign – your cue that you are going to have some serious fun – and begin climbing at a furious pace. Because of the grade of this trail – and it is brutally steep – it is recommended that you avoid this trail on rainy days and that you avoid coming down this way (think bobsled run – but even more dangerous). After 0.5 mile of thigh-burning ascent, look for a spur trail to your left where the trail switchbacks to the right. Turn left here and take this up and down path for 200 feet to a small natural rock arch and a spectacular view east over the Gorge. Even though you have only hiked 0.8 mile, you would be wise to break here as you have yet steeper uphill to go. Watch your step at the arch – it is located at the edge of a cliff.

Return to the main trail and recommence climbing at the same unrelenting grade. You will likely need to use your hands (watch out for poison oak) and trekking poles are a must here. 0.3 mile from the arch the trail tops out at the Devil’s Backbone, a narrow spine of rock with a 180 degree view of the Gorge. Acrophobes be warned! You can escape the worst of the Backbone by following a user trail to the left but it is recommended you spend a couple minutes soaking in the view of the Gorge from the Backbone. Be VERY careful, though; a fall here would be serious. From here, begin climbing again through scenic second-growth forest for 1.7 miles (gaining another 1900 feet) to a junction with the Horsetail Creek trail 2.9 miles from the trailhead. Turn right.

The Horsetail Creek Trail meanders through a peaceful forest, crossing several forks of Horsetail Creek over the next 1.7 miles. Reach a signed junction with the Bell Creek Trail at 4.7 miles from the trailhead, where you are faced with a difficult choice. While you can continue straight another 2.3 miles of well-graded level and downhill trail to the Oneonta Trail, the Bell Creek Trail presents the option of a tantalizing loop through a spectacular grove of ancient forest. The only problem is that adding on this loop requires you to hike an additional 5 miles with more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain on top of what you’ve already done. It is absolutely worth it. If you don’t feel that you have the time or energy, continue on the Horsetail Creek Trail 2.3 miles to Oneonta Creek. Turn right here on an user trail that cuts through the Devil’s club over to the bridge over Oneonta Creek, and continue downstream approximately 2 miles to a junction with the Ponytail Falls Trail. Turn right here, climb above Oneonta Gorge and continue 3/4 of a mile to Horsetail Falls and your car.

Otherwise, from the junction of the Horsetail Creek and Bell Creek Trails, turn left.

The next 4 miles are a breeze after what you’ve endured. Meander through peaceful second-growth fir and pine at a mostly level grade, descending slightly to cross Horsetail Creek’s three forks before ascending again. Without an official trailhead and high on a forested ridge, this is one of the quietest places in the Columbia River Gorge accessible by trail. Take the time to enjoy the silence – you have earned it.

About 3 miles from the Rock of Ages / Horsetail Creek trail junction, begin descending steadily towards Oneonta Creek via a series of switchbacks. Finally reach the creek 6.6 miles from the beginning of your hike and begin planning. In the summer this ford will not be difficult but in fall, winter and spring it is extremely challenging. Somebody has blazed a cutoff trail to the left that leads to the Oneonta Trail near a bridged crossing of the creek. While this trail appeared after I last hiked this trail, I strongly urge you to look for this trail and use it if possible (especially during the rainy season). However you choose to cross the creek, you will meet the Oneonta Trail almost immediately on the far side of the creek. There is a fantastic campsite at the junction of the Horsetail Creek Trail and Oneonta Trails.

From here the remainder of the hike is a cakewalk; an extremely popular, highly scenic cakewalk. Descend the well-maintained trail aside roaring Oneonta Creek. 1.5 miles later reach dazzling Triple Falls, a three-pronged 64-foot plunge. Continue another 0.5 mile downstream to a fork with the Horsetail Falls Trail. Turn right and descend to a breathtaking bridge over Oneonta Creek between its Middle Falls and the Lower Falls, out of sight below. Ascend quickly back up the canyon wall and follow this wide trail back to Ponytail Falls (the trail actually ducks behind the falls) and shortly thereafter, your car.