400 feet elevation gain
Open mid-July through October
Use: hikers, horses
Map: Mt. Jefferson (Geo-Graphics)
Moderate (to viewpoint)
1400 feet elevation gain
Open August through October
Left: Canyon Creek Meadows
One of the easiest routes to the High Cascades’ wildflower meadows, this short loop is ideal for children and amblers. More energetic hikers can continue up a steep glacial moraine to an ice-filled cirque lake and a breathtaking viewpoint beneath Three Fingered Jack’s summit pinnacles. For solitude, however, skip summer weekends when this trail attracts hundreds of visitors a day and the parking area fills by mid-morning.
Turn off Highway 20 east of Santiam Pass 8 miles at the “Wilderness Trailheads” sign near milepost 88 (1 mile east of Suttle Lake or 12 miles west of Sisters). Drive north 4.4 miles on paved Jack Lake Road 12, turn left on one-lane Road 1230 for 1.6 miles to the end of pavement, and then fork left onto gravel Road 1234, climbing 6 miles of washboard gravel to the trailhead at Jack Lake.
Start hiking on the trail to the right, skirting Jack Lake’s shore through woods burned by a 2003 fire. This path climbs to the Wilderness boundary and a well-marked fork at the 0.3-mile point: the start of the loop.
To reduce the number of people you meet, the Forest Service suggests that you hike the loop clockwise. So bear left at this junction, climb gradually amid lodgepole pine snags, pass two ponds atop a small ridge, and descend through unburned woods to the lower meadow. Here the view of Three Fingered Jack’s snow-clad crags emerges and the wildflower displays begin in earnest. Peak season for the masses of blue lupine and red paintbrush is the end of July—a trade-off, because mosquitoes are still a nuisance and snowdrifts usually still block the trail to the upper meadow until August. At any season, do not trample these delicate alpine gardens. Stay on the main trail and choose a picnic spot amid trees. Backpackers must camp at least 100 feet from trails or water (please, not atop fragile meadow vegetation).
If you still have plenty of energy, continue 0.7 mile up an unofficial trail to the rim of the rock-strewn upper meadow-actually a glacial outwash plain. From here the 0.8-mile route to the 6500-foot-elevation viewpoint becomes less distinct. Climb south up a steep, rocky moraine to a notch overlooking a stunning, green cirque lake at the foot of Three Fingered Jack’s glacier. Next the scramble path follows the somewhat precarious crest of the moraine, scrambling steeply up to a windy saddle, where the view stretches from Mt. Jefferson to the Three Sisters. Sharp eyes can often spot climbers on the spires of Three Fingered Jack.
To return via the loop, hike back to the bottom of the lower meadow and turn left. This path follows Canyon Creek past a beaver marsh of willow brush at the edge of the 2003 burn.
Half a mile beyond the marsh you’ll join the trail from Wasco Lake. Just after turning right to return to the car, look left below the trail to spot the first of Canyon Creek Falls’ two lovely, 12-foot cascades.
For an easy side trip, leave the loop hike at Canyon Creek Falls, hop across the creek, and walk a nearly level 0.7-mile path north to deep, clear blue Wasco Lake. The forest along this route burned intensely in 2003, but hemlocks are reseeding naturally.
This chapter is an excerpt from 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Central Oregon Cascades.