Spring has sprung! by Matt Reeder

It’s been a little bit since I’ve checked in here, because I’ve been out on the trail. What else would you expect? I’ll try to not make it so long the next time.

The spring so far has been marked by some fantastic new hikes as well as return to trips to some old favorites. Most of my hiking, as is usually the case, has been in the Columbia River Gorge. Without a new book to write I have been free to explore to my heart’s desire, and I’ve really tried to seek out the most interesting adventures each time I go out. I’ve been fortunate enough to get out a good amount, as I have many weekdays free for adventure. As luck would have it, I’ve hit the trail for 11 different adventures since the beginning of spring.

They are:

  • March 23 - Catherine Creek and Tracy Hill

  • March 24 - Klickitat River Trail

  • March 27-28 - Blue Pool and Clear Lake

  • March 31 - Deschutes River via Free Bridge Road

  • April 2 - Mitchell Point and Spirit Falls

  • April 9 - Columbia Hills State Park Loop

  • April 12 - Memaloose Hills

  • April 18 - Mosier Plateau, Lost Lake and Punchbowl Falls

  • April 20 - Road’s End and Munson Creek Falls

  • April 25 - Angels Rest and Bridal Veil Falls

  • April 27 - Cottonwood Canyon State Park

May is looking to be a lot of fun and full of lots of new adventures. I can’t wait!

7. Silver Falls Backcountry Loop by Matt Reeder

Distance: 9.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
Trailhead elevation: 1,363 feet
Trail high point: 2,374 feet
Season: all year (you may hit snow in winter)
Best: March – May, October - November
Map: follow the park map of the trail system
Pass: State Park Pass ($30 annual, $5 day, purchase on site)
Drivetime from Portland: 80 minutes

• From Portland, drive southeast on OR 213 for 30 miles towards Molalla and Silverton. Stay on OR 213, following signs for Silverton.
• In downtown Silverton, turn left on OR 214 and follow signs to Silver Falls State Park a total of 15.7 miles to a four-way junction signed for the South Falls Lodge.
• Turn left instead, onto a road signed for Overnight Facilities and the Campground.
• You will soon arrive at a fee booth. If you do not own the annual State Parks Pass, you can purchase a day pass for $5 at the fee booth.
• Continue straight to a T-junction. Turn left here, following signs for Overnight Facilities and the Conference Center.
• Drive 0.6 mile of paved road to a junction with a gravel road, signed for Howard Creek Horse Camp. Turn left here.
• Drive 0.1 mile to a turnoff for the Howard Creek Trailhead on your left.
• Turn left and drive into the trailhead, where you will find another fee booth should you still need to purchase a pass.

Everybody comes to Silver Falls State Park for the waterfalls. Can you blame them? Where else can you find 10 waterfalls in a narrow, verdant canyon so close to civilization? But the Silver Falls canyon is most definitely not off the beaten trail. Most people never visit the trails in the interior of the park, and
that’s a shame! While lacking in waterfalls, the interior of the park is home to impressive stands of ancient forest, woodland wildflowers, nice displays of fall color and the kind of solitude that really speaks to the heart. This lovely loop doesn’t go anywhere – there are no waterfalls, no views and no destination of note – but it does take you deep into the woods, into the solitary backcountry of the park. Even though you’ll
mostly be on abandoned logging roads, you will most definitely be off the beaten trail.

Begin at the Howard Creek Trailhead. From the signboard, walk straight to a junction and turn left. You’ll hike 0.6 mile (ignore signs for the horse camp, which just take you back to the trailhead) to a junction near Howard Creek signed for the Buck Mountain Loop. Turn left and begin hiking north until you reach another
junction at 1 mile. Turn right to stay on the Buck Mountain Loop and begin climbing up into the woods. The trail ascends into deep forest, passing occasional ancient trees that survived the logging prevalent in this area once upon a time. The forest is overwhelmingly green, but never more so than in early spring – the forest comes to life, glowing in the rebirth that spring brings. It will not surprise you to learn that this is an excellent hike on a rainy day.

Deep in the Silver Falls backcountry on a rainy day.

At 2.3 miles, 3.5 miles and 4.7 miles, you will reach junctions that may or may not be well-signed; in all three cases, keep right to continue this loop. You will reach the trail’s high point around the last of these junctions, where you may find snow in the winter months. Once you pass the third junction just after 4.7 miles, the trail begins a gradual descent to a junction at 5.4 miles. Here you keep right again and continue losing elevation to a junction with the Smith Creek Trail at 5.7 miles. Keep right yet again and drop down to a junction at 6.3 miles, where you are at last faced with a decision. The shortest way back to the trailhead would be to keep right again, staying on the Buck Mountain Loop to its end back near where you started; but the prettiest way is left, down into Smith Creek’s canyon. I recommend turning left on the Cutoff Trail. This short trail drops steeply down to a junction near a bridge over Smith Creek, just opposite the Silver Falls Conference Center. At 7.1 miles from the start of your hike, it’s not a bad idea to cross the bridge and
walk into the Conference Center, where you’ll find bathrooms, picnic tables…and people. If you’re not crossing the bridge, keep right here to stay on the loop. Continuing your hike, you’ll follow Howard Creek north, passing several enormous trees along the way, to a reunion with the Buck Mountain Loop at 8.5 miles. Keep left, cross a bridge over Howard Creek and reach a junction. Turn left and hike 0.7 mile to the Howard Creek Trailhead.

35. Tygh Creek by Matt Reeder

Distance: 4 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 1,700 feet
Trailhead elevation: 2,580 feet
Trail high point: 4,252 feet
Season: April - October
Best: April - May
Map: Flag Point (Green Trails #463)
Pass: none needed
Drivetime from Portland: 135 minutes

• Drive Interstate 84 east of Portland 78 miles to The Dalles.
• Leave the highway at exit 87 and follow signs to US 197, heading south out of The Dalles.
• Drive US 197 south 27 miles to a junction with Shadybrook Road, just north of Tygh Valley.
• Turn right on Shadybrook Road and drive 1.1 miles to a junction with Fairgrounds Road, where you turn left.
• After just 0.7 mile, turn right on the Badger Creek Road and drive this gravel road 6.6 miles to a junction with Ball Point Road, FR 27.
• Turn right and drive 3.5 paved miles to the unsigned Tygh Creek Trailhead, located at the crossing of Tygh Creek. There is room for 2 – 3 cars in the pulloff to the right. The trail departs from the left side of the road.

Hike: The Badger Creek Wilderness is a paradise for the solitude-seeker. With mile after mile of uncrowded trails and spectacular scenery that straddles the transition zone between lush western Oregon and arid eastern Oregon, there are many fantastic hikes to be discovered here. One of the best is the steep climb up to the ridge above Tygh Creek on the eastern edge of the wilderness. Here you will see an almost sublime melding of west and east and be treated with views from Mount Hood to the Three Sisters. The price for this awesomeness is steep though – or rather, the middle third of the hike is one of the steepest stretches of trail in this book. Bring trekking poles!

Flowers and oak trees along the Tygh Creek Trail.

Begin by following Tygh Creek for the first half-mile. Given the name of the trail, you would expect to continue following the stream – instead, reach a vague trail junction at 0.5 mile. Here you should bend to the right uphill (going straight will lead you to a dead end at the creek) and begin climbing. The uphill begins gradually but soon intensifies into some of the steepest, dustiest trail in the Badger Creek Wilderness. In the summer this dry, south-facing slope can be quite hot, so be sure to pack lots of water and rest when needed. On the flip side, this slope also hosts an impressive variety of flowers, among them balsamroot, lupine, paintbrush, larkspur and yellow fawn lilies. Be on the lookout for juniper trees here, at the far western edge of their habitat in Oregon, as well as several impressive groves of ponderosa pines. After 1.4 miles and 1,450 feet of ascent, reach the top of the ridge. Behind you, central Oregon stretches out
into the horizon. To the south, Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters loom in the distance over nearby Ball Point. This is an impressive spot!

The helispot viewpoint just off the Tygh Creek Trail.

Rather than stopping, however, crest a small ridge and reach a junction with a user trail on the left. Turn here and 100 feet later reach a large, rocky meadow that is sometimes used as a helispot. Ahead of you looms Mount Hood over the crest of the Badger Creek Wilderness. This is the most logical stopping point for this hike., as the trail beyond here becomes faint. If you wish to continue, you will reach a junction with the seldom-used Jordan Butte Trail in just 0.2 mile. From here, the trail becomes faint but is still relatively
easy to follow as it passes through a park-like grove of Ponderosa pines. As there is almost no undergrowth, staying in a straight line should keep you on track most of the time. That being said, I cannot recommend this stretch of trail to hikers unfamiliar or uncomfortable with following faint and abandoned trails. After another 0.7 miles, look for a spur trail darting off to your left – hike this out 100 feet to a rock garden with a view up to Mount Hood. As this is the last viewpoint for many miles, you should return the way you came. The Tygh Creek Trail continues another 3.5 miles to the Flag Point Road, about 0.5 mile
below the lookout (see Hike 34).

The Tygh Creek Trail is faint in some spots - this is a trail that could use some more boots!

24. Deschutes River Trail by Matt Reeder

Distance: 11.2 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
Trailhead elevation: 217 feet
Trail high point: 331 feet
Season: January - May, October - December
Best: January - April
Map: none needed
Pass: none ($5 fee if parked overnight)
Drivetime from Portland: 95 minutes

• From Portland, drive 75 miles to The Dalles on Interstate 84 and continue another 13 miles to Exit 97.
• Following signs for the Deschutes Recreation Area, leave the freeway at Exit 97 and arrive at a junction.
• Turn left and drive 3 miles to Deschutes State Park.
• Cross the river and turn right into the campground.
• Drive through the campground and park at the south end of the B campground loop, near the camp host and bathrooms. The trail is straight ahead at the end of a grassy field.

Hike: Just 90 minutes from the Portland metro area, the transition from wet Western Oregon to dry, desert-like Eastern Oregon culminates at the mouth of the Deschutes River. Follow an old road and riverside trail up this gorgeous, nearly treeless canyon to a plethora of great campsites and fantastic views of the river. A fire burned this canyon in the summer of 2018 but the vegetation is already returning; in some ways this hike is even prettier now than it was before the fire. Just make sure you avoid this canyon in the summer when it bakes in 100º heat; this is often the hottest place in the state of Oregon.

A snowy Deschutes River canyon, February 2019.

The trail begins on the lawn at the end of the B-Loop in Deschutes State Park Campground. Look for a trail heading upstream that follows the river. Shortly you will reach a junction with a trail darting uphill; this is the way to the road and a possible return trail. Here you are presented with a dilemma; the trail ahead follows the river closely but is in spots poorly defined. The fire cleared much of the brush here, making the trail easier to follow. If you are interested in the most scenic hike, follow the river. You will pass a narrow
spot at about 2 miles, where the trail climbs a bit to avoid a boulder field. Look uphill to an arch on the canyon wall above. At a little over 3 miles, come to the first campsite at Colorado Rapids, complete with a vault toilet. Here the user trail ends, as the canyon narrows upstream; instead follow the access road up to the road bed above. If you’ve arrived here by hiking the road and wish to visit this nice campsite, head downhill on the access road towards the bathroom. If you’re camping, there are plenty of spaces to pitch a tent.

The narrow spot in the Deschutes River canyon about 2 miles from the trailhead.

From here join the road as it climbs above the river next to an incredible basalt cliff. Notice how the rock has formed in numerous strange and phantasmagoric formations, among them a bizarre eye of radiating basalt emanating out of a cave about 30 feet above the road. The canyon here is stunning with basalt cliffs, green treeless slopes and, amazingly, what look like tide pools in the river below. The road parallels the river from this vantage point for a mile before opening back up again into the sunshine. At 5.6 miles from the trailhead you will come to an open spot. Until the 2018 fire, an abandoned wooden boxcar stood here, just off the trail to your right. This is still the recommended turnaround spot, but it isn’t as exciting now that the boxcar is gone. Maybe some day Oregon State Parks will see fit to place another boxcar or some sort of memorial here; we can all hope. Return the way you came.

In memorium: The Deschutes River Trail boxcar, January 2018. The boxcar burned in the Substation Fire during the summer of 2018.

92. Canyon Creek Meadows by Matt Reeder

Distance: 7.5 mile semi-loop
Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet
Trailhead elevation: 5,151 feet
Trail high point: 6,490 feet
Season: July - October
Best: July - August
Map: Mount Jefferson Wilderness (Geo-Graphics)

Directions from Salem / Albany:
• From Salem, drive east on OR 22 for 82 miles (or exactly 31.7 miles past the Breitenbush turnoff in Detroit) until OR 22 ends when it merges onto US 20.
• If coming from Albany, drive US 20 to Santiam Junction.
• Continue straight on US 20 for 5.4 miles to Santiam Pass.
• Drive US 20 past Santiam Pass for 8 miles to a turnoff for FR 12, opposite a sign that reads “Mt. Jefferson Wilderness Trailheads.” It may be difficult to turn against traffic. The turnoff is less than a mile from the turnoff to Suttle Lake.
• Turn left on FR 12 and drive 1.1 miles to a fork in the road.
• Keep right for another 3.3 miles to a sign for Jack Lake Campground.
• Turn left and drive 0.6 mile of narrow pavement to a bridge over Jack Creek.
• Keep straight 0.7 mile of pavement to a junction on the right signed for Cabot Lake TH.
• Keep straight, now on FR 1234, another 0.7 mile of washboarded gravel to a junction with FR 1235, Bear Valley Road, on your right.
• Keep left and drive 5.1 miles of wide but washboarded gravel road to Jack Lake and the huge trailhead for Canyon Creek Meadows. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Directions from Sisters:
• Drive US 20 for 12 miles northwest to a turnoff on your right for FR 12, signed for “Mt. Jefferson Wilderness Trailheads”.
• Turn right on FR 12 and drive 1.1 miles to a fork in the road.
• Keep right for another 3.3 miles to a sign for Jack Lake.
• Turn left and drive 0.6 mile of narrow pavement to a bridge over Jack Creek.
• Keep straight 0.7 mile of pavement to a junction on the right signed for Cabot Lake TH.
• Keep straight, now on FR 1234, another 0.7 mile of washboarded gravel to a junction with FR 1235, Bear Valley Road, on your right.
• Keep left and drive 5.1 miles of wide but washboarded gravel road to Jack Lake and the huge trailhead for Canyon Creek Meadows. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Note: A limited-entry permit to hike and backpack on this trail will be required starting in 2020.

Hike: Canyon Creek Meadows is one of the most spectacular places in the Oregon Cascades. The massive, heavily eroded wall of Three-Fingered Jack towers over fields of wildflowers, while cascading Canyon Creek is at turns glassy and roaring, providing myriad photo opportunities. This is a magical place, and everyone knows it – the crowds here are formidable throughout the summer. For maximum solitude and maximum wildflowers, try to plan a visit here mid-week in late July or early August, and for the best photos, stay overnight.

The trail begins at the massive Jack Lake Trailhead. There was a campground here before the B+B Fire, and some of the sites remain but they offer little privacy, and the only water is from the shallow lake. The trail curves around the north side of the lake and sets about a gradual ascent through forest that was incinerated in the 2003 fire. At about a half-mile from the trailhead, meet a junction with the Summit Lake Trail (in fact you’ve been on the Summit Lake Trail, which traverses the east side of Three-Fingered Jack as described in Hike 87). Turn left and hike uphill, into unburned forest and then downhill into the basin holding Canyon Creek Meadows.

Hiking into Canyon Creek Meadows.

At 2.1 miles, reach a junction with the trail into the meadows, beside trickling Canyon Creek. This is where the flower show starts in earnest in the summer – the displays of lupine in the meadows here are among the best in the Cascades. Just beyond the junction, there is a sign that reads “Trail not maintained”. This is to discourage people, but it isn’t working – the trail is very much maintained by the hundreds if not thousands of hikers of come up here every summer and fall. The Canyon Glacier Trail ascends into the forest for a bit before opening up into a steep hanging meadow with an excellent view of Three-Fingered Jack ahead. From here you will hike steeply uphill until you reach a junction above the huge glacial outwash plain that is the upper Canyon Creek Meadow. To visit the upper meadow, turn right and descend about eighty feet to the meadow – but let’s be honest: since you made it this far, you will almost certainly want to see the unnamed lake at the base of Three-Fingered Jack’s glacier. So keep going straight until you see the moraine in front of you. There is a proliferation of trails here but the best and most obvious one shoots for the notch in the moraine. Climb steeply here, passing lots of July and August flowers, until you crest the notch and arrive at a most incredible view: the massive, striated wall of Three-Fingered Jack, with the gorgeously translucent waters of the glacial lake below you. This is the source of Canyon Creek. Try to get here earlier in the season, when the lake is a most beautiful shade of turquoise; later in the summer, the lake turns an unappetizing shade of brown, robbing the scene of some of its majesty. This is an excellent place to stop, should you wish to do so. It is possible to continue to an equally impressive viewpoint below the heavily eroded eastern face of Three-Fingered Jack. All you need to do is continue up this trail above the moraine, always opting for the most obvious trail. Less than a half-mile later and several hundred feet higher, you’ll arrive at a small basin directly across the red and brown cliffs at approximately 6,500 feet of elevation, just 1,300 feet below the summit of the mountain. Views stretch south to the Three Sisters and north to Mount Jefferson but the star of this show is the magnificence of Three-Fingered Jack’s striated cliffs. Mountain climbers are sighted frequently on the cliffs above, and hikers have occasionally encountered mountain goats in this area – a rare sight indeed!

Three-Fingered Jack’s glacial lake.

When you need to turn around, return to the junction just above the upper meadow. From here, drop down into the meadow and drink up the view – it’s just as good as the high basin above, but this time you have acres of flowers in the foreground. Do not camp in this fragile spot. You can return the way you came, but I recommend making a short and scenic loop. Follow social trails around the perimeter of the meadow until you arrive at Canyon Creek’s slot canyon on the north end of the upper meadow. From here you will follow an obvious trail downhill, paralleling cascading Canyon Creek. The flower displays in this canyon, as
they typically are beside alpine creeks, are outstanding. Just a bit later, you will arrive at trail’s end at an unmarked and potentially obstructed junction with the main trail into the meadow – making it hard to hike this trail the opposite direction.

Rare white monkeyflower at Canyon Creek Meadows.

63. Park Ridge and Jefferson Park by Matt Reeder

Distance: 10.8 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 2,500 feet
Trailhead Elevation: 5,506 feet
Trail High Point: 6,886 feet
Season: July - October
Best: August
Map: Mount Jefferson Wilderness (Geo-Graphics)

Directions from Portland:

• From Estacada, drive southeast on OR 224 approximately 25 miles to the Ripplebrook Guard 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.

• Continue past this junction 6.6 miles to a junction with the Skyline Road (FR 4220) on your left at Breitenbush Pass.

• Turn left here and drive 1 mile of gravel road to a large gate.

• Continue past the gate, where the road abruptly worsens into a rocky, narrow and severely rutted track that will test the patience of any passenger car driver to his or her breaking point.

• Drive another 5.8 excruciatingly slow miles to the signed trailhead on your right, at a large parking lot made of bright red cinders.

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.

• Turn right here on the Skyline Road (FR 4220) and drive 1 mile of gravel road to a large gate.

• Continue past the gate, where the road abruptly worsens into a rocky, narrow and severely rutted track that will test the patience of any passenger car driver to his or her breaking point.

• Drive another 5.8 excruciatingly slow miles to the signed trailhead on your right, at a large parking lot made of bright red cinders.

Note: Starting in 2020 you will need a limited entry permit for this hike.

Hike: After driving into the trailhead on the Skyline Road, you could be forgiven for wondering if this hike is worth the trouble it took getting there. It most definitely is. The view from the summit of Park Ridge is impossibly great: Mount Jefferson reigns supreme over the parklands and lakes of Jefferson Park. A more scenic destination is difficult to imagine. Once you’ve seen Jefferson Park from above, it is almost impossible to resist the temptation to continue on down to Jefferson Park, where Mount Jefferson fills the sky above an alpine wonderland of gorgeous lakes and meadows filled with wildflowers. Unlike many places, even the hyperbole cannot prepare you for Jefferson Park.

Pick up the PCT at a signboard at the trailhead. Hike a hundred yards to a junction where you meet up with the main trail. Turn left and hike through alpine forest with small meadows as you ascend gently out of the basin that holds Breitenbush Lake. Pass by a couple of talus slopes where pikas meep as you pass and enter forest burned in the Pyramid Butte Fire in 2010. Look out to your right to rocky Pyramid Butte (Hike 62), badly scorched in the fire bearing its name. Once you leave the fire zone behind you will begin a moderate ascent through unburned forest until you reach a crest at about 6,100 feet. Descend for a bit before beginning another moderate climb; soon the trail levels out and passes through a series of rocky meadows that are covered in snow until late in July most years. The tip of Mount Jefferson peeks out behind Park Ridge, reminding you of your destination ahead. At approximately 2.5 miles from the trailhead, leave the forest behind and enter a moonscape of rockslides, snow patches and scattered ponds fed only by snowmelt. The trail braids here in many places as it passes by ponds and through scattered clumps of weather-beaten trees. Follow cairns across this stark, rocky basin until you reach Park Ridge’s snowy, boulder-strewn headwall. Soon you will arrive at a permanent snowfield; follow footsteps here up to the summit of Park Ridge, where the view will knock your socks off. Mount Jefferson towers over the meadows and lakes that make up Jefferson Park. A more amazing view is hard to imagine.

The viewpoint at Park Ridge.

Many hikers will want to make this their final destination. Though wildly beautiful, Jefferson Park is 2 miles and 1,000 feet of elevation below the summit of Park Ridge, miles and elevation you will need to regain on the way back to your car. If you choose not to hike down to Jefferson Park but have a bit more energy and a willingness to explore more of the rugged landscape up on Park Ridge, you have several options. Exploring either east or west along the ridge crest is highly recommended; every step east or west opens up new views to Mount Jefferson and hidden basins on both sides of the crest. Remember that the boundary with the Warm Springs Reservation is less than a mile east of the Park Ridge viewpoint, and continuing east from there is prohibited. If you are continuing to Jefferson Park, it’s 1.9 glorious miles downhill through hidden basins and meadows to a junction with the South Breitenbush Trail just west of Russell Lake. From here, the possibilities are seemingly endless. Return the way you came. For more information about Jefferson Park and points south see Hikes 70, 73 and 74.

Following the Pacific Crest Trail downhill to Jefferson Park.

Backpacking in Jefferson Park:
Jefferson Park is among the most crowded backcountry destinations in Oregon. If you wish to camp, plan ahead and check to see if a proposed permit system (similar to the one found at Pamelia Lake) has been implemented. In any case, be sure to camp in designated campsites (marked by a post) or at least 250 feet away from any body of water on bare, non-vegetated surface.

If you visit in July or August, mosquitos are a major nuisance. This is also peak flower season, and the park is extremely crowded. September brings cool weather and less crowds, and best of all, the mosquitos are gone. October brings cold nights and frequent snow showers. The vast huckleberry fields here turn a vivid shade of red, you are more likely to spot wildlife and the solitude is tremendous. You can’t beat it if you don’t mind the cold.

Morning in Jefferson Park.

14. Lower Lewis River Trail by Matt Reeder

Distance: 11.4 miles out and back
Elevation Gain: 600 feet
Trailhead Elevation: 1,247 feet
Trail High Point: 1,312 feet
Season: March - November
Best: April - June, October
Map: Lone Butte (Green Trails #365)
Pass: NW Forest Pass
Drivetime from PDX: 110 minutes

• From Portland, drive east on Interstate 84 to Cascade Locks.
• Leave the freeway at exit 44 and follow the off-ramp to the Bridge of the Gods.
• Pay the $2 toll and cross the river.
• On the far side, turn right at a junction with WA 14.
• Drive 5.9 miles, passing through Stevenson along the way, to a junction signed for Carson and the Wind River Road. Turn left here.
• Drive the Wind River Road north for 14.2 miles to a T-Junction. Turn right here to stay on the Wind River Road.
• Continue 12.9 miles of winding road to a junction with the Curly Creek Road on your left, just after the Wind River Road crosses over Old Man Pass.
• Turn left and drive the Curly Creek Road downhill for 5.1 miles to its end at a junction with FR 90, the Lewis River Road. Turn right.
• Drive FR 90 for just 0.9 miles to a junction with FR 9039 on the left. As the road leaves at a very sharp angle, this junction may be difficult to see, so watch your mileage closely.
• Turn sharply to the left here and drive downhill to a bridge over the Lewis River. Cross the river and continue uphill. At 0.9 mile from FR 90, turn left into the Curly Creek Falls Trailhead. The Lewis River Trail begins here.
• Note: You can also drive here via Cougar and around Swift Lake. This approach will take you at least 20 minutes longer, and is much more winding and curvy than the approach described above. Nevertheless, if you’re visiting this area in the winter, this is a safer approach as it stays at a much lower elevation.

Hike: After the Eagle Creek Fire in September 2017, the waterfalls on the Lewis River became the place to be. People flocked to Lower Lewis River Falls the most, bringing their campers, coolers and everything else you would associate more with a day at the beach. Amazingly, the crowds never discovered that the Lewis River Trail downstream of the falls passes through one of the finest groves of ancient forest in the Pacific Northwest. Because there are no waterfalls to be found, this portion of the Lewis River Trail has
remained relatively quiet. Hikers can follow the river upstream to a restored shelter in a riverside flat ideal for camping. Energetic hikers can continue upstream past some of the largest cedar trees you’ll ever see until you reach a campsite at a trail junction. And if you really want to see waterfalls, there are two within a short walk of the trailhead.

Begin at the Curly Creek Trailhead. Follow a wide trail downhill to a junction with the Lewis River Trail. Right will quickly take you to both Curly Creek Falls and Miller Creek Falls, both of which tumble into the Lewis River. Save this short detour for the end of your hike. So turn left and follow the Lewis River Trail upstream a little less than a half-mile to a crossing of FR 9039 beside the bridge. You could park here instead, saving yourself a little bit of hiking, but there isn’t much parking and you miss Curly Creek Falls. Locate the Lewis
River Trail and follow it through the woods along the river. The trail mostly stays to the slopes above the river, but you will have the occasional chance to ramble down to beaches and viewpoints. Along the way you will pass some truly huge trees, both Douglas fir and Western red cedar. At 3.1 miles from the trailhead, you will reach Bolt Camp Shelter. The shelter was first built in 1931 and was eventually restored in 1991. The shelter that stands here now was restored anew in 2013, and appears to be brand new. Hikers looking
for a easy hike or a quick backpacking trip should turn around here.

Bolt Camp Shelter.

Bolt Camp Shelter.

Beyond the shelter, the trail passes a huge, park-like flats along the Lewis River. Here the old growth becomes truly stupendous, with eight to ten-foot-thick Douglas firs and Western red cedars reigning supreme over the flats. Your neck may grow sore from looking up. This stretch of trail is even more scenic in the fall, as the undergrowth here is primarily vine maple, which turns many shades of yellow and orange. At 5.6 miles, the Lewis River Trail reaches a junction with the Speed Trail on your right. There is a nice campsite here if you’re backpacking. Ignore the Speed Trail – this path crosses the Lewis River and heads
uphill to FR 90. The crossing is dangerous and not recommended at any point other than late summer. Instead, return the way you came. You can keep going upstream as far as you wish, but unless you’ve arranged a car shuttle, every mile you hike upstream is a mile you have to hike downstream.

Hike 14 - Lower Lewis River 003.JPG

If you still have a little energy when you reach the junction near the trailhead, take the time to visit Curly Creek and Miller Creek Falls. Continue past the junction another 100 yards to Curly Creek Falls. The falls is a natural wonder: a 75-foot plunge into the Lewis River through a natural arch. It must be seen to be believed. Continue downstream another 100 yards to Miller Creek Falls, also on a stream emptying into the river; note how the creek divides in two just after the plunge pool. Both streams run extremely low in the summer, but in winter and spring they should be exceptionally scenic. When you’ve finished visiting these falls, return the way you came.

Curly Creek Falls

Curly Creek Falls

33. Fifteenmile Creek by Matt Reeder

Distance: 11.6 mile loop
Elevation Gain: 1,900 feet
Trailhead elevation: 4,627 feet
Trail high point: 4,627 feet
Season: June - October
Best: June - July
Map: Flag Point (Green Trails #463)
Pass: none needed
Drivetime from Portland: 110 minutes

* From Portland drive US 26 east to a junction with OR 35 on the side of Mt. Hood
* Turn onto OR 35 and continue for 13.5 miles to a junction with FR 44 (Dufur Mill Rd.) between mileposts 70 and 71.
* Turn right and continue on FR 44 for 5.2 miles.
* At a junction, turn right and continue on FR 44 for 3.1 miles.
* Turn right on unsigned but paved FR 4420 and continue for 2.2 miles to a junction.
* Drive straight, now on paved FR 2730 for 2.1 miles to rustic but charming Fifteenmile Campground. The trail departs from a sign on the left side of the campground, near the outhouse.

Hike: Traveling east out of the Cascades, the transition from wet, western forest to dry, high desert is rapid. Hike this outstanding loop on both sides of spectacular Fifteenmile Creek and you can experience an almost full transition and back in just 10 miles of hiking. There is a catch: you have to hike downhill first. While the thought of descending a canyon for five miles and then climbing back out might not be your cup of coffee, consider this: the way back is never steep, and the scenery is better on the second half of the loop. Because you have to climb out of the canyon later in the day, avoid this hike on hot days – it won’t be as nice when you’re climbing out in 95º heat.

Head out from the delightful Fifteenmile Campground into the pine forests above rushing Fifteenmile Creek, which Congress designated a Wild and Scenic River in 2009. In early summer look for a bouquet of flowers along the charming, stair-stepping creek. After half a mile reach a junction with the Cedar Creek Trail and turn right to begin the loop, crossing the creek and ascending slightly up to the ridge. From here it’s all downhill until your reunion with the Fifteenmile Trail. After 1.5 miles of descent you will reach Onion Flat, a park-like meadow dominated by old-growth Ponderosa pines. From here on down you can feel the transition into Central Oregon high desert as the terrain changes with each step. Look over the ridgeline across the canyon for views of Mount Adams and at one spot, the tip of Mount Hood. Also be on the lookout for peach-colored large leaf Collomia, very rare for this part of the Pacific Northwest, as well as bitterroot, which grows on the dry slopes on this trail in June. Cross a decommissioned road at 3.5 miles and begin a steep descent down into the canyon, finally crossing Fifteenmile Creek and reaching a reunion with the Fifteenmile trail exactly 5 miles from the campground. A beautiful cedar grove here along the glassy, crystal-clear creek immediately before the junction provides an excellent resting spot. Though unmarked, the Underhill Trail (Hike 32) also reaches this junction from the north; look for this faint trail heading uphill from the sign at the junction of the Cedar Creek and Fifteenmile Trails. After lunch it is well worth it to continue downstream (to the right) on the Fifteenmile Trail another 0.3 mile to Pinegate Meadow, surrounded by a cluster of tall, arching Ponderosa pines. Return then to the junction with the Cedar Creek Trail and continue straight.

Now on the Fifteenmile Trail, the climb out of the canyon begins with a relatively level stretch through flower gardens along Fifteenmile Creek. In summer look for large whitish-pink Cascade lilies, a showy flower that grows profusely down in this canyon. Above you ancient ponderosas reign supreme. Before you begin your ascent in earnest, pass several large black Cottonwood trees in a cedar grove along Fifteenmile Creek. Shortly after, begin your ascent. You may have competition for the trail from a few descending mountain bikers but they are few and far between. The climb uphill is mostly gradual with a few switchbacks and a relatively easy grade. 2.5 miles from the junction at the bottom of the canyon, reach an open meadow where you can look across the canyon while large Ponderosa pines beg to be photographed. Keen eyes may spot the Cedar Creek Trail on the ridge across the canyon. From this point on the climbing becomes even more gradual while the many wildflowers make you grab for your camera; look for scarlet gilia (also known as skyrocket), paintbrush, yellow balsamroot, stonecrop and many more. Pass by a road to your right (keep on the trail) and re-enter the forest. From here you’ll eventually turn left on the remains of an old road and continue uphill, always climbing gradually. At about 3.8 miles from the trail junction (or about 1.5 miles downhill from the campground) you reach a scenic rock outcrop known as Pat’s Point. There is an excellent view across Fifteenmile Creek’s canyon. Listen for the roar of the creek and what I assume is a waterfall in the canyon below. If you’ve still got some energy, the many and varied rock formations here invite exploration. Once past Pat’s Point, the Fifteenmile trail then returns to the forest and gradually climbs another mile to a reunion with the Cedar Creek Trail on the left. Continue straight another 0.5 mile to the campground and your vehicle.