Crabtree Lake

  • Easy
  • 4.6 miles round trip
  • 800 feet elevation loss
  • Open May to early November
  • Use: hikers, horses, bicycles

This remote Cascade vale north of Sweet Home has some of the state’s oldest and largest trees. The drive is almost entirely on paved roads, and although the hike itself is partly on abandoned roadbeds, it takes you to a rarely visited mountain lake surrounded by monstrous trees nine feet in diameter.

In the 1970s this valley was private timberland, destined for harvest. An intern at OSPIRG became so enamored of the giant trees here that he tried to convince Willamette Industries to trade the property to the Bureau of Land Management. To publicize the cause, he dubbed one of the oldest Douglas firs King Tut. When the BLM rejected the land swap in 1978, Willamette Industries began cutting trees.

Word spread to the Oregon Wilderness Coalition, a Eugene conservation group now known as Oregon Wild. They convinced the Oregon legislature to stop the cutting by offering to trade state forest land for the private valley. That land swap failed as well, but by then there was so much public interest in Crabtree Valley that the BLM decided to acquire the land after all. Willamette Industries transferred a square mile of land, including King Tut, to public ownership in 1985.

Although the valley is still not protected as wilderness, it has slept away the decades since then largely unchanged. A ring of cliffs, carved thousands of years ago by an Ice Age glacier, protects Crabtree Valley from wildfires and windstorms. Trees grow old here, and then grow older. No one knows how old the giant trees are because core samples have never been taken. Estimates range from 500 to 1000 years.

At first glance, a forest this old looks a little ragged. After so many centuries, most of the giant old trees have craggy tops, blasted by lightning or wind. When a behemoth tree falls, it can clear half an acre. The resulting gaps fill with a jungle of vine maple, yew, huckleberries, and young trees. Such diversity is one of the reasons biologists value old growth.

To drive here from Sweet Home . . .

This chapter is an excerpt from 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Central Oregon Cascades.