This was a 3-day experience into Central Oregon’s Outback to learn more about early human habitation and the area’s geology. Our route included the archaeological site of Fort Rock Cave, the 2-mile long volcanic fissure known as Crack in the Ground, and plans to visit the Fossil Lake area.
Trip Report: Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: May 2019 | Duration: 3 days | Participants: 8 | Type: hiking & camping
On our first day, one member discovered she didn’t have the right key to the car carrier which held her sleeping bag. Our caravan stopped at a hardware store in Oakridge where the employee emerged with the largest pair of bolt cutters ever seen. He quickly removed the troublesome lock. For lunch, we stopped at Salt Creek Fall for a break and later at an info kiosk on Hwy 31 before continuing to Fort Rock. At Fort Rock, we hiked to “the notch” along the western tuff ring where the wind was really strong. We made our own trail back down the rough side to more level ground. Afterward, we visited the Homestead Museum to learn more about homesteading was like in earlier years. At a nearby private campground, we set up our tents and enjoyed a fire for an hour or so when we noticed a mist in the distance. Within a minute or two it started to rain. We called it an early evening.
On the second day, in the early morning, the sunrise was beautiful and a coyote was heard yelping in the distance. One participant had green shower shoes and after a miscommunication about where they were to be delivered, gave everyone a good laugh. At 9 am we drove to Fort Rock for our interpretive tour of the Fork Rock Cave where 10,000-year-old shoes had previously been found. The Oregon State Park Ranger had driven from La Pine and was delayed a few minutes because of traffic. Our group and two others joined him in a state park van and we drove ten minutes close to the site. Then we walked about half a mile to the cave. He shared 3 prevailing theories about how humans arrived in the Americas and included a traditional story about how Fort Rock had been formed. We were asked that the story remains in the cave. As we walked back to the van one participant was keenly interested in the bleached bones of a dead cow. Back at Fort Rock we ate lunch and watch some of the birds on the cliff face.
We then drove half an hour to Christmas Valley then to Crack in the Ground. We hiked several sections that we could scamper through and also hiked along the top of the fissure. Several participants disturbed a prairie falcon who was not happy to see them. The falcon made a lot of noise, and as they moved away it acted as though it wanted to nose dive them. Storm clouds were approaching; we left about 3 pm and drove to an isolated ranch. The directions were a bit off and we took several wrong turns before arriving. We were greeted by two rambunctious dogs, a golden colored and bear-sized dog and a smaller ten-month-old border collie. As we were unloading our cars the collie jumped in the back of the trip leader’s car when a door was open and pee’d on the back seat. Just as we completed setting up our tents a 20-30 mile-an-hour wind blew past and dark clouds rolled in. The rain started at about 6:30 pm and everyone quickly disappeared into their tents to eat. We didn’t see anyone again until the next morning. The rain poured throughout the night.
The morning of the last day we were happy to hear that everyone pretty much stayed dry during the rain. We decided that traveling on muddy back roads might be problematic so we canceled the last portion of our trip to Fossil Lake. Just as we packed the last of our gear the two dogs reappeared but now they covered in mud – quickly we departed. We stopped in Fort Rock at a convenience store for gasoline and a break, then another break at Fort Rock, then again Salt Creek Falls before returning home.
The High Cascades in Oregon is beautiful. While much of this chiseled landscape can be viewed at a distance by zipping around in a car, it is best experienced moving at the speed of human – on foot. By hiking, you can appreciate this terrain using all your senses and see it not as entertainment, but as a necessity. Below is an eight-day account of a 100-mile northbound section hike on the PCT from the dry Santiam Pass to the windswept Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. This hike was powered by a whole-food plant-based (vegan) diet.
Day 1: Santiam Pass to Wasco Lake (10 Miles)
A view of the Santiam Pass trailhead, mile number 2006.9 on the PCT. As my wife and I gathered our gear, we met two sixty-something ladies that started at Crater Lake for a section hike several weeks earlier. These women had already hiked about 175 miles.
The weather was beautiful – if a bit warm – that morning. We were joined by two friends, Jack and Cindy, who drove us to the trailhead and then hiked with us for the first five miles of our journey.
A view of the north side of Three Fingered Jack, a jagged and rugged mountain in the High Cascades that has banded stripes. A PCT thru-hiker stands in the foreground. He was one of about 25 who passed us that day; the oldest being somewhere in her 60s, the youngest about 18, and about half of the thru-hikers were female.
Near the end of our first day, we took a steep side-trail from Minto Pass to Wasco Lake and set up camp. As dusk fell, the sky was pink from a far-away fire. That night elk, frogs, and ducks made noises around our campsite.
Day 2: Wasco Lake to Shale Lake (12 Miles)
A view of Wasco Lake the following morning at about 7 am.
We enjoyed a mid-morning break on the shores of Rockpile Lake. Several thru-hikers can be seen on the trail at the left. The two women we met a day earlier enjoyed their lunch and a quick swim on the opposite side of the lake.
Much of our day was spent walking through woods that had been burned several years earlier and were now recovering. In the distance, the peak of Mount Jefferson made frequent and teasing appearances.
That evening we camped at Shale Lake and enjoyed an amazing view of the south side of Mount Jefferson. We ate our dinner and watched the evening light blanket the slopes of this iconic High Cascades peak.
Day 3: Shale Lake to Jefferson Park (12 Miles)
Looking upon a picturesque view of Pamelia Lake from the PCT. This area is a limited entry zone requiring a permit to camp. Our hike that morning was in the forest where we encountered some sizeable old growth trees, and at one point we rounded a corner and surprised a grouse.
Milk Creek has cut a 100-foot deep gorge into the slopes of Mount Jefferson. Several backpackers are seen crossing the creek below us.
Overgrown and green, this is what the trail looked like for the rest of the afternoon. It was also humid and hot, making our progress slower than expected. Occasionally, we would see glimpses of Mount Jefferson through the trees.
Russell Creek pours off the mountainside where it meets a “flat” area for about 100 feet before dropping into a deep gorge; this more level area is where the trail crosses. Earlier in the season, the flow can be very strong and this can be a dangerous crossing. Today, though, it just brought about some wet shoes. In this image, a hiker approaches the crossing area. We spoke with her later to find out that she was 18 and was hiking 250 miles of the PCT by herself.
In 2016, the Forest Service implemented a new permit system to camp in the stunningly beautiful Jefferson Park area. We did not have a permit and spent a good two hours looking for a walk-up site. The foresters had done an efficient job of decommissioning non-reserved sites; eventually, we found a single site near Russell Lake just as the sun was setting. We were asleep at 9 pm, which is considered “hiker’s midnight.”
Day 4: Jefferson Park to Ollalie Lake (12 Miles)
We enjoyed breakfast under this stunning skyline.
The next morning we climbed 1,200 feet out of Jefferson Park. The views were magnificent: wildflowers were in bloom along the trail, and at times it was hard to hear because of the abundance of buzzing coming off nearby flowers.
We reached the trail’s summit and could see Mount Hood in the distance. Descending the slope, we passed several snowfields. For several hours our progress was slow going because of the loose rocks, though the trail soon became forested and we passed a number of beautiful mountain lakes.
Late in the afternoon, we reached Ollalie Lake. Here is a view looking south across the area we just hiked, and in the distance is Mount Jefferson. About two dozen thru-hikers were staying at Ollalie Lake to rest.
We met some new friends at Ollalie Lake:
Darren and Sandy had hiked continuously for 4 months. They were also world travelers that raised geography education awareness by sharing information with students about the places they visit. Their travels can be seen at their site: trekkingtheplanet.net.
Franziska and her family had hiked for 2+ weeks and 100 miles on the PCT, the youngest of her group being her eight-year-old brother! Franziska is the founder of hikeoregon.net.
Ollalie Lake has a small store where my wife and I eagerly purchased a bag of sea salt and vinegar potato chips and promptly devoured the entire bag. At one point there were a whopping total of eight stinky hikers in that little store – ah, the aroma of humanity!
Day 5: Ollalie Lake to the Warm Springs Area (14 Miles)
The trail on day five was mostly flat and in the shade of tall trees, making trekking much easier. The forest was drier in this region and water was less abundant than before. When the opportunity presented itself, we filled up our bottles at a small, tranquil trailside spring. The temperature that day was especially warm.
We arrived at Trooper Springs near the Lemiti Marsh area. This was our last water for about twelve miles. The spring was a welcome site although a small and precarious platform needed repair. We were attacked by horseflies; they were numerous, aggressive, and very persistent. Needless to say, we did not stay long.
Taking care of some much-needed laundry at the spring using the “Ziplock spin cycle” washing method.
Walking through a clearcut was a stark contrast to the lush forest we had seen all day. Near this area, we found the strangest price of trash on the trip: a Howard Johnson’s hotel key card lying next to the trail. We picked it up.
We located a bare spot at the edge of the trail and camped for the night. Trailside camping can look messy, but everything goes back into the pack and we always leave the site cleaner than we found it.
Day 6: Warm Springs Area to Timothy Lake (18 Miles)
We were up early that morning to hike six miles to the next water at the Warm Springs River.
Shown is an old style PCT trail marker that we found, one of the few older versions that we saw on the entire trip.
Crossing the Warm Springs River. It was more a small creek at this point, but the water the clean and cold – a welcome site.
As I took off my shoes I realized just how dusty the trail was that day.
That evening we stealth camped near the trail close to Timothy Lake. During the night we unzipped the tent for a “nature break” – only to be scolded by an owl that repeatedly whooo’d at us until we went back to bed.
Day 7: Timothy Lake to Frog Lake (11 Miles)
The next morning was slow; we woke up late, and it seemed to take forever to get moving. We found a quiet site on the shoreline of Timothy Lake to we rest, take care of some laundry, and enjoy the sun for a couple of hours before continuing.
Several miles down the trail was Crater Creek, a beautiful riparian area with some astonishingly cold water: a welcome find on a hot day. We soaked our feet, took a twenty-second dip (the water was that frigid), then soaked our shirts and put them on as a natural air-conditioner. We made a stop at Little Crater Lake, the source of the creek. Little Crater Lake is astonishingly blue like it’s larger cousin, but this was not volcanic in origin. Rather, this was a large artesian well. Continuing down the trail, we passed a gravel forest service road and found a bag hanging on PCT post. Inside were some small apples or Asian pears – some unexpected trail magic in the middle of nowhere.
This was our first view of Mount Hood after about 40 miles of hiking – what a fantastic sight.
We took a side trail to Frog Lake for some water where there was a hand pump that drew water from a well. As we entered the campground we were momentary celebrities answering questions like: “Where did you hike from?” “How many days have you been out?” “Tell me about your gear?” etc. It was an odd but welcome feeling. That night, we camped just outside the campground on a forest road.
Day 8: Frog Lake to Timberline Lodge (11 Miles)
The next morning, we stopped back in at the campground for some water and said goodbye to our new fans. A girl pulled up on her bike. “Good luck!” she exclaimed, and even a “Thanks for being so inspiring” from an adult. It felt good to hear, but the truly inspirational folks were the PCT thru-hikers who had hiked 2,663 miles and spent six months on the trail.
We made good time that day ascending Mount Hood: 5.5 miles in two hours with a significant elevation gain; we were getting our hiking legs.
Finally, the green of the trees turned to open space and vistas as we passed the timberline. It was windy with twenty to thirty mile an hour gusts that kicked up sand and dust. We wore our sunglasses to keep volcanic grit out of our eyes.
There was an abundance of mountain flowers on the trail.
Close to the Timberline Lodge, the views were fantastic! We could see much of the route that we had spent the past week traversing.
We arrived at the Timberline Lodge, mile 2107.3 on the PCT, and 100 miles from our starting point at Santiam Pass. Inside the lodge, scores of thru-hikers had taken refuge in the common areas. There was access to food and good company, with couches for sleeping and a warm fire to enjoy in the evening. We met some new friends here: Shepherd, Snow, Lonestar, and Patch, all thru-hikers who started at the Mexican border and were resting before their final push into Washington State and Canada.
Looking through the door at the Timberline Lodge onto the Roosevelt Terrace: in the distance Jefferson Peak, and behind it, Three Fingered Jack and Santiam Pass. From the lodge, we were able to take public transit back home.
Locate on Oregon’s southern coast is a massive 130-square mile chunk of land that is basically unknown to the larger public. The area is known as the Elliot State Forest Lands or “Elliott” for short. It is located near Reedsport. I wanted to know more about this place so I joined a group of curious folks for a weekend visit. What I found is a land that is ground zero for contentious issues surrounding aerial spraying, clearcutting, and conservation efforts.
Our group camped at a BLM campground on the northern shore of Loon Lake (shown with the red dot). The lake is 7 miles south of Hwy 38. We made day trips into the Elliott.
This Google map shows the 1.5-mile long Loon Lake (the campground location is also displayed with a red dot) and the general region where we explored. The patches of dark green, light green, and tan shades are sections of forests, tree plantations, and clearcuts.
To visit, it’s helpful to have a local navigate the spaghetti-works of logging roads, accessible parcels, and trails that crisscross the region. Our guides were from the Coast Range Forest Watch, a grassroots group concerned about the health of forests and watersheds in the Pacific Northwest.
We made a caravan into the forest on the Elliott’s extensive and well-maintained system of roads; we drove over ridges, into valleys, through deep forests, and along barren mountainsides.
After a 45-minute drive, we parked near a creek and unpacked ourselves from our cars. I was stunned by the crispness of the air in the forest. Looking up, the trees were long and straight – up to 180-feet tall – like giant infantry pikes lancing the sky.
We visited a Grandmother Tree, an immense giant with a width at breast height of 7-feet. The tree was well over 200-feet tall! The naturalist in the group thought it was between 300-400 years old. Seen another way, this tree is 15-20 human generations old!
Around the Grandmother tree the air was moist, the ground spongy, and the forest floor vibrant with moss and plants. There were signs of elk and bear scat nearby. The temperature was a cool 65 degrees. Sadly though, even this far into the woods, there were signs of discarded beer cans hidden in the bushes.
We visited a large clearcut that had been harvested about 5-6 years earlier. Here the open mountainside was dry, the temperature was in the low-80’s and the ground was hard. It was not a pleasant place.
Here is a panoramic view of the clearcut, Robin from Cascadia Wildlands is shown.
The Elliott is being turned into a giant patchwork of tree plantations, where sections of forest are clearcut, replanted, and then harvested again roughly 40 years later. After harvest, the forest industry wants to protect desired tree species and prevent other species from growing. To do this a toxic cocktail of insecticides and herbicides are sprayed. This happens generally with a helicopter. The mixture is so potent that often only several applications are needed. Current state law states that a 60-foot buffer is maintained, but the law is vague and spraying has been attributed to water quality issues downstream, degradation of salmon habitat, and human health issues.
The left photo shows the composition of the forest floor near the old growth Grandmother Tree; while the right shows the composition of the ground in a clearcut.
Sometimes we had to bushwhack and cross ravines.
I was glad to return to Loon Lake where the air was cool, moist, and the forest was vibrant. Also, there was lots of food! The image shows part of our campsite.
We had visited Loon Lake at the end of the season and the campground was still very full. I talked to a ranger who said the area is very busy during the summer, which underscores a point – a lot of people like to visit this region, but only a small percentage of land is targeted for recreation. Recreation could be really big as a revenue generator, but are people open to the idea?
I had an opportunity to measure this during one of the outings. Coming down the path were 2 camouflaged men, they had been bow hunting and looked like they just stepped out of a Cabelas advertisement. Everyone said hello as people do when they see someone on the trail. The hunters were returning empty-handed and they were a bit perplexed by our presence. Our guide quickly explained that he wants to keep the lands in the public domain so that he and the hunters could keep returning. The men raised an eyebrow when “public” was mentioned; however, they wanted to keep the Elliott a place where they could also visit, hunt, and spend time with their families. The encounter was an interesting exchange and hinted at a grand relationship that might just keep this land protected in such a way that allows multiple parties to profit, not just one industry.
Why is the Elliott a hot zone for so many interests? It’s complicated. Back in the early 1970s, Oregon passed the “Oregon Forest Practices Act,” a law that provided protection for soil, air, water, fish, wildlife and forest resources. The law has changed little in 40 years, yet the scientific understanding and economics of timber have evolved. Surrounding states have enacted laws that provide for a longer-term vision of forests, the idea being that forests should provide jobs, resources, and recreation for today, and for our children. In the meantime, Oregon’s private companies have fought hard to prevent any changes to this outdated law, including working hard to affect public perceptions about logging. Further complicating matters are taxation dollars, received from timber harvests, which are tied to the general education fund.
Timber businesses in the Elliott (and their investors) see clearcuts as an effective method to maximize the return on a business model. They don’t want government interference because it can be slow, costly, and a headache – I get that. But, timber companies are not being their Brother’s Keeper. When neighbors are unable to make a living because of water pollution, when salmon habitat that supports the local fishing industry is significantly diminished by sediment runoff, and when communities are impacted because of spraying, something is wrong.
The issue in the Elliott is not about harvesting trees; our society needs trees to build homes and schools, and to use in trade. The issue is not about loggers; loggers are hard-working people putting food on the table for their families. It’s not just about hunters who hunt on the land or anglers that fish in the streams, or those who want to conserve old growth and this amazing ecosystem. On the contrary, it’s about all of these things working together. The Elliott is a vibrant location with a rich natural heritage that should be honored with protection while allowing businesses with a long-term vision to both profit and support local communities.
As someone who advocates for the outdoors, I would love to revisit the Elliott for camping, hiking, even backpacking. The Elliott is home to some giant-sized trees, some much larger than the Grandmother tree shown in this article. I would love to see those trees and would be happy to spend my recreation dollars in this region.
Find Out More:
If you’re interested in visiting the Elliott with your group or want additional information, contact the Coast Range Forest Watch for more information.
City Club of Eugene. “What Fate For The Elliott State Forest” (1 hour)
Background on the Issue:
Pacific Rivers. “Behind the Emerald Curtain”
See what’s happening on Oregon’s private timberlands, and how it’s harming our rivers, water, air, and communities.
An Oregon Wild map showing the old-growth forests in the Elliott:
Aerial spraying issues-
The Oregonian. “How average Oregonians challenged the timber industry – and lost”
Different viewpoints on aerial spraying-
Walking in a forest with 500-year-old trees is always a delight. Finding such places – a rare treasure. Fortunately, the Lookout Creek Old-Growth Trail is such a gem, and for the price of a moderate drive from Eugene, Oregon, hikers can enjoy this richness.
The trail is located within the Willamette National Forest, more specifically the research area is known as the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest. The experimental forest exists so scientists can conduct long-term studies of the Pacific Northwest’s complex forest and stream ecosystems.
A trail brochure states the Lookout Creek Old-Growth Trail is 2.6 miles long, though a sign at the upper trailhead states the trail is approximately 3.5 miles in length – both of these are incorrect. I believe Bill Sullivan’s book, “100 Hikes in Central Oregon Cascades” that states the trail was 6.3 miles with a 1400 elevation gain. Expect the hike (one-way uphill) to take 3 hours with breaks; the return hike down the service road to the lower trailhead adds 1 more hour, so plan for a minimum 4 hours to complete the round trip.
The route is rugged with steep inclines, downed trees, log scampers and a couple of creek jumps that are not shown on the map. The beginning and end of the trail provide footbridges for crossing Lookout Creek, the remaining trail is in the deep forest with lots of big and really old trees.
Help the forest; always bring a trash bag. My family did not find any trash on the trail, but on the service road, we found spent shotgun shells, beer cans, soda cans, and other trash.
The nearest populated area is the town of Blue River. Driving to the trail takes about an hour-and-a-half from Eugene. The last seven miles of driving will be on packed dirt roads.
These pictures were taken in late January. This entire area should be covered in snow, but an unusually warm winter with temperatures in the mid-forties offered the chance to see the majesty of old-growth forest at an usual time of year.
Oregon’s Diamond Peak Wilderness is frequently overlooked for more picturesque settings like the Three Sisters, but this wild place is no less a treasured gem; the Wilderness includes the 8,629-foot Diamond Peak, 14-miles of the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), one of the high points on the PCT in Oregon, and over 50,000 acres to explore!
A glorious view from Diamond View Lake. The clouds at the left of the image produced some amazing lightning and thunder that afternoon.
The trail got a little hard to follow at one point and we had to bushwhack.
A little lake where we stopped for a rest, only to stay for the night. Water was scarce in the area and the lake provided a great location for watching wildlife and hearing even more wildlife during the nighttime.
A very dusty path. This trail was well worn because of the number of PCT hikers that we met, many had been side-tracked to a lower elevation because of the lack of water on the main PCT.
Wow! You find lots of cool things on the trail.
Standing at the outflow of Yoran Lake looking south to Diamond Peak. After a break, we bushwhacked about half a mile to the PCT to loopback.
A small island on Yoran Lake.
Enjoying some lunch while scouting out a great campsite.
Imagine a child’s crayon drawing. The picture is populated with waterfalls, the iconic kind; horizontal on top, descending from great heights and sleek. The crayon water pours into white and blue rounded pools. The water streams from the pool to waterfall from pool to waterfall, repeating over and over again. Between the falls exists an immense green forest. Lines of color that streak in multiple directions as though a hand rapidly drew across the paper filling in all the blank areas. Woven around the falls and through the forest is a tan zig-zag trail. Here a stick-figure human explores the colorful world created for it. Now, imagine the young artist pointing to the stick figure, and with a toothy grin exclaiming, “That’s me by the waterfalls!”
If you thought such a world only existed within the mind of a child, look no further than the Trail of Ten Falls at Oregon’s Silver Falls State Park. Within a five-hour hike, your inner child can see ten fantastic and majestic waterfalls in under a 9-mile loop.
The most popular waterfall is South Falls. It begins as a gentle stream then suddenly plummets 177 feet into a misty pool. The scene is dramatic. Visitors can easily walk a loop trail behind the falls or enjoy views from a footbridge.
Located about a mile downstream is the Lower South Falls. Here the trail descends abruptly – by more than 180 steps – then sneaks behind the roaring 93-foot torrent allowing the visitor to see the world from behind a shimmering curtain of water.
The trail turns up Silver Creek revealing dozens of tiny waterfalls gushing from the side of the hill. In some areas, a hand gently placed on a moss-lined wall of green carpet disgorges water like a sponge when squeezed.
The 30-foot Lower North Falls gush into an azure basin. A nearby trail spur guides visitors to see Double Falls, a double drop, with a combined height of 178 feet, the tallest in the park.
A short distance upstream is Drake Falls. This is the smallest in the park, but at 27 feet they this grand cascade is a beauty. The falls were named after June Drake, whose early photographic work brought attention to the area and ultimately helped with the areas protection.
The North Middle Falls roar as water drops 106 feet over the top then crashes onto rocks underneath. Visitors can take a short side trail that allows them to walk behind this liquid veil – the water rumbles past just a few feet away.
Next, we take a side trail to the graceful looking Winter Falls. Standing at the base a visitor looks up 134 feet to the top. As the name implies Winter Falls is best viewed during the winter and spring seasons.
Twin Falls, at 31 feet, received its name from rocks in the streambed that splits the water forming two cascades.
The North Falls is powerful and thunderous. The water channels through a notch in the creek bed then is jetted into a canyon 136 feet below. Behind the waterfall is an impressive cavernous cutout that is almost like entering a different realm; water drips over the upper canyon wall forming a curtain of water across the path. Inside the cavernous area, ferns grow upside down on the ceiling. But, what really grabs you is the thunderous sound of water, which is a loud as a freight train when it passes frightfully close.
A short distance upstream is the Upper North Falls, a beautiful 65-foot cascade that plunges into a picturesque and deep pool. Often overlooked by visitors these falls are not to be missed.
The trail returns through the forest to the parking area near South Falls. Winter is a great time to visit; the park is less crowded, the falls are at maximum flow, and everything in the forest is green.
Silver Falls State Park is located less than an hours drive east of Salem, Oregon.
Subway Cave in northern California is an easy, affordable and fun way to discover the area’s volcanic past.
Subway Cave is a lava tube that lies just under the rough surface of Lassen National Forest. Visitors can easily park and walk a short distance to the cave’s opening where stairs descend about twenty-five feet down into the darkness.
The cave walk is only 1,300 feet in distance but is otherworldly compared to the bright surface and hot summertime temperatures. The visibility inside the lava tube quickly becomes zero, so flashlights are required. Also, bring a light jacket, as the temperature inside the cave is an autumn-like 46 degrees. The cave has several chambers to explore and signs are marked to help guide you to the exit.
At the exit notice the large ‘hills’ that rise several hundred feet to the east, these are the edges of ancient lava flows. Also, look for the magnificent Lassen Peak to the south. The walk back to the car is about ten minutes. Subway Cave can easily be explored by family members of all ages.
If you have the opportunity to explore Silver Falls State Park in Oregon it is well worth the visit.
During a trip to the Beaver State, a short drive off Interstate 5 led me through farm fields and green pastures to the lower elevations of the Cascade Mountains. As the elevation increased Douglas Fir and cedar trees carpeted the countryside until I was in a forest of green.
Inside the park, I stopped at the small parking area called the North Falls trailhead. From here it was a ten-minute walk along an easy path to the Upper North Falls. Ferns and moss carpeted the sides of trails and the cool moist air was invigorating. The falls were impressive – falling 65 feet (20m) into a deep emerald colored pool. The roar from the water would have made speaking a little difficult to hear, but there was no need to talk.
In the opposite direction, past the parking area, was a short walk to the North Falls. Bordering the trail the North Fork of Silver Creek cascaded over boulders and rocks, then the water vanished from sight – and was replaced with an audible roar. A few more steps brought me to a good vantage point – the view was literally jaw-dropping.
The stream was in free fall over a 136 feet (41 m) cliff. The water appeared to hang in mid-air for a moment then in slow motion fell onto car-sized boulders and into a deep blue-green colored pool at the base. Behind the waterfall was a dark overhang, cave-like, colored with green moss and plants. The shape of the valley was reminiscent of the old wrap around Cinemascope movie theaters. Across the valley, some hikers had walked along the Canyon Trail near the base of the falls. They appeared to be mesmerized by the sight of the falling water and stood transfixed for several minutes in awe of the performance. After some time we continued on our way to the next area.
Driving down the road we made a stop at the North Falls Viewpoint. It was a fantastic perspective of the falls we had just visited. We were roughly a quarter of a mile distant; the falls appeared to our front and center in a perfect photograph framed with green forest.
At the main area of the park, we walked along a cobbled path and along the South Fork of Silver Creek. Here the stream is graceful and gently flows through a green and tranquil area; then there is an absence of the ground; the water of the entire stream dramatically plunges 177 feet (54 m) over South Falls into a pool below. The mouth of the pool is at the base of a giant horseshoe-shaped depression for the water to pour into. Gray rocks line the overhanging cliff and green moisture-loving plants accentuated the entire scene – it was a gift to see.
Below the falls was a trail known as the ‘Trail of Ten Falls.’ This 8.7-mile footpath takes day trip explorers to see ten beautiful falls; including the ones we just saw. I will be returning to visit this trail and see more of the park. My short trip that day was only an enticement to see more!
The day use fee at the park was $5 – and well worth it. We had to use an ‘Iron Ranger’ to pay our fee, so bring some smaller bills to place in the envelope as making a change might be difficult. Our visit was before the busy season and the water fountains were turned off making filling up our water containers difficult. The folks in the Nature Store offered us some water from their sink – which we gladly accepted – and we offered a few dollars to their donation jar in good faith. If you come before or after the summer months bring some extra water or filtering device so you will not be thirsty. Based on the size of several parking lots and distance (about 30 miles from Salem) this park receives some high visitation during weekend and summer months. If you want fewer crowds visit during mid-week or during off times.
To explore more visit the park online:
Winter can be a wonderful time to visit Big Basin Redwoods State Park in California.
We arrived at 10 a.m. (December 29th) and parked across from the old log building known as Big Basin Headquarters. The temperature outside was 44 degrees and the damp air was crisp. The morning clouds had dissipated and sunlight streaked through the forest canopy onto the ground below.
Surrounding the headquarters were goliaths – redwood trees that were 4, 5, and 6 feet across. One tree appeared to be 8 or 9 feet at the base. Even though I have visited here many times I am always impressed by the size and grandeur of these magnificent trees. But, today my family was here to see other sights – three magnificent waterfalls: Berry Creek Falls, Silver Falls, and Golden Cascade.
We made sure our water bottles were full before crossing over Waddell Creek and onto the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail that would lead us to the waterfalls. The winter rains had made the forest green with color. The forest was quiet, peaceful and restorative.
After an hour or so of walking through the redwoods, the sounds of rushing water could be heard. The creek next to us, Kelly Creek, was alive with water and small cascades. Everything around was green and moist. The redwoods towered above us. The only sounds we heard were our breathing and our footsteps on the ground made gentle gushing noises as we walked on the damp trail. The cleanliness of the air was a joy to breathe! Something small at the side of the trail moved ahead of us, it was a newt that was slowly traversing the fallen logs and fern fronds.
At the Timms Creek trail junction, a fallen redwood had created a natural bridge (shown). We rested and played here for a few minutes then continued on. Soon, a rock overlook along the trail let us peer down onto Kelly Creek – a myriad of small white cascades dotted the creek, large brown boulders sat among ferns and broad-leafed plants and a color chart of green moss dotted the sides of trees.
The trail descended and crossed over a small footbridge. In a few minutes, we rounded a corner – ahead of us were the Berry Creek Falls.
These 65-foot falls drop vertically – plunging abruptly into a valley of redwoods and moss. To say this is ‘picturesque’ is an understatement.
We enjoyed the view then continued to a viewing platform about three-quarters the height of the falls for a direct look (shown is the view from the platform). For ten minutes we had this view all to ourselves. Then several other hikers arrived, they deserved the same tranquility we just enjoyed, so we moved on.
The trail continued upstream for about twenty minutes. Small cascades danced in the creek and gurgles of water made curious sounds as pools emptied over steep rocks. Here we saw a huge, bright yellow, banana slug about seven inches in length next to the trail. We had seen several banana slugs on the trail but this was by far the largest. The sound of falling water was coming from just up the trail.
Silver Falls began to appear through the redwoods. These falls were slightly hidden by the mass of trees, but it was easy to see the white and frothy ‘silvery’ water as it poured over the top and dropped a wonderful 60 feet or so into a pool below. A series of stairs on the trail wound up the side of the valley to the top of the falls. At the top was a single cable handrail (shown in the photo). The trail was a little slick so we proceeded with caution.
In just seconds we were at the Golden Cascade. These were actually two cascades; at the base was a vertical fall of about 15 feet, just above it was a much more impressive drop. I am not sure about the height, but for perspective notice the person in the photo (top right, wearing a red vest).
We enjoyed a well-deserved snack in this tranquil place then continued on our hike back to the car. Although it was an hour before sunset it was close to dark when we arrived at the parking area. These are some deep valleys and the trees are very, very tall. It can become dark quickly in the redwood forest.
I like to visit between rainstorms when the weather grants a two to three-day rest between showers allowing the trails to harden up a little. Seeing these waterfalls in the winter (and spring) are spectacular. The summer is a great time to visit too, but the streams have less water and sometimes can become just a trickle of water as fall approaches.
On our wintertime day hike, we passed only 14 people on the trail! The loop took us about 6 hours to complete and required roughly 11 miles of hiking – it is strenuous. This is a hike for families with older kids.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park was established in 1902 and was California’s first state park.
Big Basin is located a one hour drive from Saratoga, California and roughly half an hour from the town of Boulder Creek. The entrance fee is $10.
To continue your own explorations of Big Basin Redwoods State Park visit:
Buck Rock a great day trip for those visiting the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park and the Lodgepole area of Sequoia National Park.
A visit to the Buck Rock fire lookout in Sequoia National Forest is a combination of adventure and play. Just getting there from the main road is exciting: you drive up a dirt road through forest lands, then climb a rugged staircase up to the side of a granite wall to a fire lookout on top of a massive rock dome.
Most people who see Buck Rock will view it from Kings Canyon Overlook along the General’s Highway. The General’s Highway is the primary road between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. From this often crowded car turnout folks who look east will see a small, and remote looking fire lookout about 2 miles in the distance.
We wanted to go exploring and take a closer look.
Our trip started from the General’s Highway at the Big Meadows Road turnoff. We drove east on this paved road for about 3 miles through beautiful forest service lands to a Horse Camp. Here we turned north onto a dirt road and continued for roughly another 2 miles. The dirt road became a little rocky in some areas and was a little intimidating. We were glad to have a car with some higher clearance. [Note: later that day we did notice a mini-van and a small sedan that had made the drive.]
The parking area was essentially a pull-over along the side of the dirt road. A sign directed us to walk the last quarter-mile. As we rounded a bend in the trail and saw the impressive looking Buck Rock (shown); a chain of stairs rose from the base of great stone and directed people to the fire lookout at the top.
At the bottom of the stairs were several friendly volunteers from the Buck Rock Foundation, the nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the tradition of fire lookouts and other historic facilities. The volunteers gladly answered questions and told us more about the history of the fire lookout.
We started our ascent on some very rugged and sturdy looking stairs with equally solid side-rails. The wind was a little strong so we tightened down our hats and continued on. The stairs included 172 steps – each with a breathtaking view. Finally, we reached the top of Buck Rock (shown) and entered the 14 x 14 foot, well-maintained fire lookout staffed by Ranger Kathryn. She is on duty 5 days a week during the fire season. Volunteers and other staff help maintain the station during her days off. This tiny station, located at 8,500 feet in elevation, commands some fantastic views!
In the corner of this tiny space was a small, but comfortable looking bed. In another corner was a tiny refrigerator and cooking stove, next to it was a miniature wood stove. All of the food, water, and firewood must be carried up the same 172 steps. One wall included a desk and work area. In the middle of the lookout was an Osborne Fire Finder device, an instrument that allows Rangers to sight a fire and determine the directional bearing (shown). The Ranger demonstrated how it worked by using two sighting apertures on the side of a large circular map. A fire was actually burning in the distance and from this high vantage point, we could easily sight it. The fire was burning 8 miles away! The sides of the lookout had large and roomy windows that made this small space feel spacious. I was surprised at how organized, comfortable and non-claustrophobic this tiny place was.
Outside, the building had a small walkway around the perimeter of the structure. Looking over the edge you felt as though you were suspended over open air. On the roof, hanging from one corner was a Hummingbird Feeder. During our visit, several times a Hummingbird (Anna’s or Rufus) zipped up and drank from the feeder.
We thanked everybody for a great visit and slowly walked back down the 172 stairs enjoying amazing views with each step.
For her adventurous spirit and climbing Buck Rock our youngest family member (age 9) earned an “I Climbed the 172 Steps to the Top of Buck Rock Fire Lookout” certificate. All kids who make the ascent can earn this certificate.
Hidden in the northern Mojave Desert and within the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, near Ridgecrest California, is a half-mile wash with over 20,000 images. It is considered the largest known concentration of petroglyphs in the western hemisphere. More information about visiting this remote area can be found at maturango.org.