Eastern Oregon Trail Updates

100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon, 3rd edition (c) 2021, 2018, 2015.

(Next edition with updates: April 2022.)

Be the first to report a trail update, and win a prize! Send updates to sullivan@efn.org.

-- #1 Cottonwood Canyon -- Recent improvements to this new state park include free showers, 4 rentable cabins, campground trees large enough for shade, and an education/conference building. The Palisades Trail also has a new loop. After hiking 1.4 miles, at the large walnut "Tree" noted on the map, there are now half-mile trails that tour to the right along the river or left along a low rise. The Lower Walnut Trail and the Lower Walnut Trail reconnect to the main Palisades Trail half a mile downstream.

-- #4 Macks Canyon -- The trail on the abandoned railroad grade is fine for the first 2.3 miles of the suggested hike, but 0.3 mile before the recommended lunch spot at Sixteen Canyon a rancher has built an illegal barbed wire fence across the public right of way. He's obviously trying to keep his cows in line, but also trying to claim public land as his own. Hello, Bundys! There are no signs, but until this illegal fence can be removed, hikers on the railroad trail may find it difficult to continue the final 0.3 mile to Sixteen Canyon.

-- #7 Gray Butte -- The long mountain bike loop to Smith Rock described in earlier editions of the book (and still shown on the map) is no longer possible. The bridge across the canal from Lambert Ave. to the Burma Road has been gated closed to the public.

-- #15 Mill Creek and Twin Pillars -- All is well until you leave Mill Creek and start uphill toward Twin Pillars. This portion of the trail is a hot uphill climb with no shade (due to past fires). The sign marking Twin Pillars is burnt and unreadable, and the side trail to the viewpoint at the pillars' base is gone; bushwhacking to that viewpoint is possible, but rough.

-- #20 Sutton Mountain -- When driving to the trailhead, note that the marker for Milepost 15 has been (intentionally?) turned backwards, so it's easy to miss the trailhead driveway 100 feet beyond the marker. Don't panic. If you reach the junction with Girds Creek Road you've gone exactly 0.3 mile too far. Turn around and you'll see the milepost 15 marker and the driveway, which is really well obscured by willow brush.

-- #23-27 -- Trailheads on the south side of Strawberry Mountain are accessed by a turnoff from Highway 395, south of John Day 10 (or 9.7) miles. This turnoff is no longer marked by a "Wickiup CG" sign, but rather a generic brown recreation/trailhead pointer, and the road does begin as Road 65, but then changes to Road 15.

-- #23 East Fork Canyon Creek -- A 2015 wildfire burned the access road, the trailhead, and the first 3 miles of the trail for this hike, leaving no shade. Although the start of the hike is now less attractive, the upper country above Brookling Creek remains nice. As of 2018, the trail within a quarter mile of Brookling Creek has been rerouted to the south side of Canyon Creek. Also, the loop around Indian Creek Butte is difficult because fire damage and low maintenance have left the trails in that area sketchy, with brush and fallen logs. Occasional cairns and ribbons help with route finding.

-- #28 Canyon Mountain -- A 2015 wildfire burned the trailhead and the first 3.3 miles of the trail for this hike, as far as Dog Creek. A patch of green trees at Little Pine Creek survived, offering welcome shade.

-- #40 and 41 North Fork Umatilla River and Ninemile Ridge -- A flood on February 6, 2020 washed out the access Road 32 at the North Fork Umatilla Trailhead. Although the washout was repaired in October 2020, the road was not reopened, and remains (permanently) closed by a locked gate at a new parking area 0.8 before the old trailhead. Park here and walk up the closed road 0.4 mile to a new connector trail on the left, marked "Lick Creek Trail." This path climbs 0.2 mile to a T-shaped junction. To the left, the Lick Creek Trail climbs 4 miles steeply up to a trailhead near Tollgate. To the right, a connector trail traverses 0.4 mile to the old North Fork Umatilla Trail near its old trailhead. From there you can hike upstream 0.4 mile to the source of the washout, a side canyon rockslide that briefly dammed the river, launching a devastating flood. Upstream beyond this point, the N Fk Umatilla Trail is unchanged, well maintained and undamaged. At the original trailhead, the old the Beaver Marsh Loop is entirely gone. If you plan to hike to Ninemile Ridge you will need to walk up the severed section of road upstream another half mile to that trailhead. The North Fork Umatilla Campground was not damaged by the flood, but is now accessible only on foot or horseback.

-- #44 Lower Wenaha River -- The footbridge over Crooked Creek washed out in the winter of 2015/2016. It is quite practicable to ford the creek here in summer, but not in winter. A replacement bridge is being considered by the Forest Service.

-- #45 Zumwalt Prairie -- The Nature Conservancy has marked the 2.3-mile Patti's Trail loop with blue-topped posts and signs suggesting that you should hike the loop counter-clockwise, and not clockwise as described in the book. Plantings and a tall fence at Dragonfly Pond have turned this former stock pond into a grove of willow brush and quaking aspen trees. The visitor information center at Duckett Barn consists of an unstaffed outdoor kiosk with maps and flyers. The barn itself is unlocked and interesting to tour.

-- #58 Wallowa Lake -- The entire Chief Joseph Mountain Trail has been cleared and reopened, making possible another excellent but difficult viewpoint hike from Wallowa Lake. The Forest Service built a railed one-log bridge across BC Creek at BC Falls in October 2020, so that crossing is easy for hikers and impassable for horses. The shortcut loop trail back from BC Falls to the Boy Scout camp has been closed to the public by the local power company, with signs that read, "No Access to Falls; 24-Hour Video Surveillance." Meanwhile, the steep 0.9-mile shortcut loop trail from the state park's marina/campground up to the Chief Joseph Mountain Trail has been made official. Cleared of brush but still extremely steep, it now has a wilderness permit kiosk at the bottom, but it still has no trail sign at the upper junction with the Chief Joseph Mountain Trail. This can cause confusion for hikers making a loop via BC Falls because there is another unmarked side trail half a mile to the south, nearer to BC Falls. That rough scramble path descends steeply to the Boy Scout camp, and is not open to the public.

-- #62-65 Lostine River Trailheads -- The road has worsened between the town of Lostine and the Lostine Guard Station. If you are driving to the trailheads for these four hikes, expect only the first 7 miles to be a paved, two-lane road. The next 5.2 miles to the Guard Station are washboard gravel.

-- #76 Pine Lakes -- The footbridge across Pine Creek at the one-mile mark of the trail was damaged by a flood in 2019. The bridge now tilts 45 degrees and only has a handrail on the upper side, so some hikers turn back. The bridge is expected to be repaired.

-- #77 Fort Rock -- The Oregon State Parks Dept. is now offering guided tours of Fort Rock Cave for $10 on Thursdays or Fridays from late May through July. To sign up, check https://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=170https://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=170.

-- #78 Fort Rock Valley -- At Crack In The Ground, the first 0.2 mile through the slot is still easy to hike. Beyond Sandy Gap there no longer is a ladder, so you have to use your hands to scramble and squeeze through for the next 0.1 mile to the Second Gap. At the Sand Dunes, the BLM has improved and graveled the access road, so it is now drivable by any car as far as the Sign Board at a T-shaped junction. The entire area near that junction is now a dispersed camping area for RVs and motorhomes, so it is not attractive for hikers. For a less noisy place to explore the Sand Dunes, don't drive the gravel access road all the way to the T-shaped junction at the Sign Board. Instead drive the gravel road only 0.9 mile beyond a well-marked "Helipad" and turn right on a dirt road marked with a brown post (that faintly reads "East Meadow Camp"). The dirt road also has a small "Open Road" sign. If you have a high-clearance vehicle, you may drive this rutted dirt road straight for 0.4 mile to a grassy camping field with a blank plywood message board (GPS location 43.3492 -120.4014). Camping is allowed here. OHV trails lead 0.1 mile south to the Sand Dunes, where you can hike as far as you like.

-- #79 Hager Mountain -- All the driving directions are correct except for a small change in the route to the gated road which is the shortest possible route to the lookout tower. You will drive on Road 036 for just 1.9 miles (not 3.9 miles) before turning left on Road 497 for 2.6 miles to the locked gate.

-- #80 Summer Lake -- Parking permits for the wildlife refuge are now $10 per day or $30 per year.

-- #81 Winter Ridge -- Trail maintenance greatly improved the Fremont Trail in 2019 and rerouted a small section. North of Mud Spring the trail no longer climbs along the rim to the Landslide Viewpoint, but rather traverses NW across the plateau, shortening the trail by half a mile. Bushwhacking to the Landslide Viewpoint is still possible, although brush makes this increasingly difficult. Five miles of the Fremont Trail to the south of Government Harvey Pass burned in 2018, but the trail is open.

-- #82 Geahart Mountain -- All of this trail and the trailhead burned in a 2021 wildfire. The trail is likely to remain closed until 2023.

-- #85 Modoc Lava Beds -- The entry fee has been raised to $15 per car.

-- #86 Crroked Creek -- The lower trailhead now has a nice footbridge at the start of the trail. At the 2.6-mile mark a new 0.3-mile section of trail avoids the old trailhead's washed-out culvert. The new trail segment is not longer, but means you don't have to cross the creek or walk on the old road there.

-- #89 Petroglyph and Flook Lakes -- The rough dirt road to Petroglyph Lake is now permanently closed by a locked gate, so you have to hike 1.7 miles to reach the lake. At Flook Lake, off-road vehicles have created an illegal spur road from the dry reservoir 0.7 mile almost to the mouth of Antelope Spring's canyon. Do not attempt to drive this illegal track. Instead, walk it.

-- #90 Steens Summit -- The route to Little Wildhorse Lake is not an official trail, so it is a bit rough to follow. In places the route is braided and confusing along the rocky ridgecrest, and you may have to use your hands to scramble through, but adventurous hikers should have no trouble.

-- #91 Little Blitzen River -- The trailhead for Little Blitzen Gorge has been moved half a mile to the west. You now park at a trailhead lot on the south side of the Steens Loop Road between the entrance to the South Steens Campground and the Equestrian Campground. There is a restroom here. The trail itself begins on the opposite side of the road. The old "shortcut" trail no longer exists. This change adds a mile round-trip to the hike. Also, do not expect a log at any creek crossing; expect to wade. At the RIDDLE RANCH, note that the access road has been upgraded and graveled, so it is accessible by any car. The gate 1.3 miles before the ranch parking area is open 9am-5pm Thursday through Sunday from the start of June to the end of September. Mapboards at the ranch (and BLM brochures) show several new trails to the north of the Fred Riddle Ranch House -- the Desert Meadows Loop and the Fred Riddle Trail. These are faint and rocky old cattle-driving roads, without actual signage on the ground. As of 2020 they would be easiest to follow on horseback, but would still require route-finding skills.

-- #92A NEW TRAILHEAD -- The BLM opened a new trailhead in September 2019 to the otherwise hard-to-access southwest segment of the Steens Mountain Wilderness. The Threemile Trailhead is on the paved Frenchglen-Fields Road, 25 miles south of Frenchglen and 25 miles north of Fields. A mapboard at the new, well-marked trailhead shows a trail going up Threemile Creek's canyon (1.3 miles were complete as of June 2020, but the route is flagged further), and the Huffman Trail, a spur that climbs out of the canyon to the plateau to the north, gaining 1200 feet of elevation in 1.6 miles on a steepish old cattle-driving road route. Eventually the two trails will be connected to create a 7-mile loop.

-- #93 Pike Creek -- Part of the trailhead and camping area at Pike Creek is now being managed by the Alvord Ranch. If you insist on parking or camping at the old trailhead by the house-sized boulder, you must first drive 2.2 miles south to Alvord Hot Springs, where you can buy a parking permit for $10 or a camping permit for $40. However, it is recommended that you do not encourage this attempt to privatize what is in fact a public easement to public land. Instead park at a free public parking area created by the BLM along the East Steens Road next to the cattle guard for the old Pike Creek spur road. The BLM has installed an explanatory signboard here. Then walk up the old dirt road (which is so rutted that it's hardly drivable anyway) for 0.6 mile to the house-sized boulder and hop across Pike Creek to the old trailhead. As a result the round-trip hike to the second creek crossing will be 3.4 miles with 700 feet of elevation gain, and the round-trip hike to the forks of Pike Creek will be 6.6 miles with 1700 feet of elevation gain.

At Alvord Hot Springs itself, the fee is now $12/person and is good for use all day, from 9am to 8pm. Shadeless campsites here are $30/night, but include use of the hot springs.

-- #97 Leslie Gulch -- When driving north from Jordan Valley to this hike, take Highway 95 north for 17 miles (not 27 miles!) before turning left at a sign for Succor Creek.

-- #100 Three Forks -- The start of the hike as described in the book has changed because of changes in the river. From the boat launch site at Three Forks it is no longer possible to wade across the North Fork Owyhee River (which is now a deep pool), nor to climb up the steep bank on the far side (now overgrown with brush). For your hike to the hot springs, you have three choices. You can wade the main stem of the Owyhee River and follow the Military Grade roadbed up and over the canyon slope to the northwest. Or you could drive south from Three Forks half a mile, cross the road bridge over the North Fork Owyhee River, park your car, and walk downstream half a mile to the wagon road described in the book (this route follows cattle trails through sagebrush). Or you could leave your car at Three Forks and walk the rough dirt road 3 miles to the hot springs. In this case you would walk south half a mile, cross the North Fork Owyhee on the road bridge, and continue driving 2.5 horrible miles on the road over a hill to the hot springs. Is the trip still worth it? Yes. Is it an easy hike? No. Also note that the correct GPS location for the parking area at Three Forks is 42.5463, -117.1688.

-- #104 Boyd Lava Cave -- The driving directions to this popular short lava tube hike have changed due to a new divider in the middle of Highway 97. Drive Hwy 97 south of Bend 2 miles to Baker Rd/Knott Rd Exit #143, turn east on Knott Road for 1.2 miles, turn right on paved China Hat Road 18 for 9 miles, and turn left onto rough dirt Road 242 for 0.2 mile to the parking turnaround at road's end.

-- #118 (120) Joaquin Miller Trail -- A 2015 wildfire burned most of the first 4 miles of this trail. Surprisingly, the trailhead itself and the first 0.2 mile of the hike remain shady, in a patch of green trees that survived.

-- #183-186 Blue Lake, Campbell Lake, Deadhorse Lake -- This entire area burned in 2021, including all of the Gearhart Mountain Wilderness and the region to the east for 10 miles. The campgrounds and trails at Campbell and Deadhorse Lakes were already suffering from a 2012 fire, and are likely to remain closed until 2024, if not permanently.

More Hikes -- The Klamath Ridge View Trail runs parallel above Lakeshore Drive in Klamath Falls, with views of Upper Klamath Lake and the Cascades. Start at Moore Park.

More Hikes -- The Spence Mountain Trail, west of Klamath Falls off Highway 140, has 30 miles of finished trail and more miles planned, open to mountain bikes, horses, and skiers in winter. The trail network will eventually extend with a loop to Howard's Bay. For more information, contact Dennis Taugher at the Klamath Trails Alliance, dennistaugher@me.com. Spence Mountain is also featured as Hike #140 in the 4th edition of "100 Hikes: Southern Oregon".