Due to an unusually wet winter, many campgrounds in the Pacific Northwest are having delayed openings as operators find water related damages and hazards. The Siuslaw National Forest is one of those areas with 5 campground closures as of June 22, 2017. Most of these closures are near the coastal camping areas thanks to swollen rivers encroaching on day use areas and access roads.
The following campgrounds and use areas are currently closed until further notice:
Update 6/16/17: The Forest Service has reversed its decision to close Cultus Lake Campground and it now appears that camping will proceed as normal.
In a move that is causing all sorts of inconveniences for campers and at least one business owner, the Deschutes National Forest has issued an immediate closure order on the Cultus Lake Campground, Day use Area, and Boat Ramp. Citing dangerous trees, the Forest Service has opted to close the majority of the lakeside resort area to summer campers in a last minute move that is sure to infuriate many whom had long standing vacation plans at the lake.
What is confusing about the whole situation, is that out of nowhere the Forest Service has suddenly identified “460” trees that pose a hazard to public safety. So between now and last September, 460 trees miraculously became a potential threat to visitors. And nevermind that fact that they have had over 8 months to create a plan to deal with these problematic trees.
So why not remove the trees? Please see Exhibit A: The Spotted Owl. No joke, you can’t make this stuff up. The Spotted Owl might use some of these trees as part of its breeding habitat so the Forest Service states that they must wait until the breeding season is over, which is conveniently at the very end of camping season in September.
Now we are all for protecting wildlife her at Muddy Camper, but this all smells a little fishy to us. The whole “Spotted Owl” argument is just lazy on the Forest Service’s part. If they want to close the area for safety concerns, just admit that they screwed up and campers have been camping under dangerous trees for years and they just now realized it. Admit that they lack the resources to remove these trees and don’t blame it on some breeding season of one of North America’s most elusive creatures.
The whole thing stinks. Makes you wonder if the owners of Cultus Lake Resort pissed off the wrong person somewhere along the line. Anyways, the main takeaway is that due to the incompetence on the Deschutes National Forest and a phantom bird, your summer vacation plans at Cultus Lake are now as non-existent as the Spotted Owl.
If you have ever hiked the 40 mile long Timberline Trail that circumnavigates Mt. Hood then you are familiar with the beautiful meadows of Elk Cove on the north side of the mountain. Elk Cove is tucked away in a remote area of Mt. Hood far from any roads, ski areas or cabins and it is this seclusion that gives it its charm. There are several ways to get to Elk Cove but for this hike we approached it from the Elk Cove trailhead near Laurence Lake just outside of Parkdale.
Finding the Elk Cove Trailhead
The Elk Cove Trailhead is located just a short drive from the Kinnikinnick Campground at Laurence Lake, roughly 40 minutes from the town of Hood River. If you are driving from Portland you can either go over Mt. Hood using HWY 26 to HWY 35 or you can take the quicker route through The Gorge using HWY 84. When you get to Laurence Lake you will want to enter the Kinnikinnick campground and look for a dirt road the heads off to the left just across from the main parking area. Follow this road up about 3-5 minutes until you can turn left into an immediate parking area for the trailhead. As always do not leave valuables in your vehicle and be sure to fill out a wilderness permit at the trailhead kiosk.
Elk Cove Trail Hike
The Elk Cove Trail hike is not a beginner hike. While it is a moderate hike coming in at roughly 10 miles round trip it has a significant elevation gain and lacks shade for most of the hike due to the recent Dollar Lake fire of 2012. The hike follows a ridge line for the majority of the time and because of this there is no water access after the trailhead until you are nearly at Elk Cove.
Starting from the Elk Cove Trailhead you will immediately cross a footbridge at Pinnacle Creek and then follow an old logging road for about a mile. The road does a long single switchback and soon runs into a log that has fallen across the road. At this point you will find the actual trail peeling off to the left and up the ridge.
The trail will soon cross into the burnt forest from the 2012 Dollar Lake fire and stays on the ridge line for about 3 miles. The climb is long and gradual and in the heat of the day, especially during the summer, it will start to take its toll. Soon, you will come to an excellent viewpoint call the Coe Overlook that will give you your first good glimpse of Mt. Hood and the canyon below. Take some photos here and if you can find shade take a short break.
After Coe Overlook you will finally get back into a more wooded area that did not fall victim to the Dollar Lake fire. The brush gets thick and at points you may have to climb downed trees. Keep your eyes out here for Huckleberries in late July and August. Eventually, you will come to your second creek crossing at Cove Creek. There is no foot bridge here however this crossing is fairly easy. If you aren’t ready for more water here that is OK as there is more opportunity to fill bottles at Elk Cove.
Keep on hiking up and soon you will start passing small campsites as you near the Timberline Trail. If you are going to spend the night in Elk Cove you will want to keep heading up the mountain rather than camp at these lower sites. Keep on hiking until you get to your very first trail junction at the Timberline trail. Taking a left will take you towards the famous Cloud Cap Inn however to get to Elk Cove you will want to go right. There are also signs at the trail junction indicating which direction is Elk Cove.
Not far from the junction – maybe 50 yards – you will cross cove creek again and see another campsite on right after crossing the creek. To really experience Elk Cove keep hiking a short distance past Cove Creek until the trail starts heading up toward the mountain. You will be greeted with a lush meadow and right before the trail starts to do switchbacks on its journey towards Dollar Lake you will want to follow a footpath that parallels Cove Creek up the meadow. Soon the path will dissipate and you will find your self in the middle of Elk Cove.
Overnight in Elk Cove
If you are looking to spend the night in Elk Cove it may be easiest to claim one of the campsites you see as you come into the area. The further up the meadow you travel the more difficult it becomes to find a flat place to pitch a tent. Keep in mind the terrain here is very sensitive and it would be wise to stick with an area that has already been designated as a campsite. During the summer months you can expect quite a few other campers here as the Timberline Trail passes right through the area.
Scrambling to Coe Glacier
If you are looking for a side trip from Elk Cove you can make your way up to the foot of Coe Glacier – roughly 1000 vertical ft climb. There is no trail up here and you can expect a hand over foot scramble across very loose rock. This is NOT an easy climb and there is quite a bit of exposure. If you do make it, though, the views of Coe Glaicer are well worth it.
Here is a GPS track of the descent from Coe Glacier to Elk Cove.
Tips and Suggestions
When I did this hike it was on a 90 degree day in August and I had my dog with me. BAD IDEA. The lack of shade and water on this hike makes it extremely difficult for our furry four legged little friends. I actually ended up carrying the dog out as she had completely over-heated and couldn’t continue. Bring lots of water, sunblock and energy bars for this hike. A water purifier or tablets is also suggested so you can refill your bottles up on the meadow.
The Willamette National Forest is considering fee increases for camping, cabin and day use areas starting in 2017. The fee increases are long due and the area has not seen an increase in over 8 years. What’s more, there has been a massive surge in outdoor recreation over the last few years which has put an increased strain on our parks systems in Oregon. Anyone who has gone camping during the summer months knows the challenge of finding a vacant campground on a Friday night without reservations. Simple supply and demand suggests the ranger districts and the BLM should raise their rates considerably.
The below graphic shows the proposed rate increases by the Willamette National Forest for specific locations.
Elk Meadows on the southeast side of Mt. Hood is one of the most quintessential hikes in the northwest region. It is relatively easy to get to, has moderate crowds and delivers almost everything the average hiker could want including mountain streams, flowery meadows and glacial views. The 6.5 mile hike is easy to do for even novice hikers and there are many different options for those more advanced hikers looking to add on a little something extra.
Getting to the Elk Meadows Trailhead
The Elk Meadows trailhead is located off highway 35 roughly 20 minutes east of Government Camp at the base of the Mt. Hood Meadows Hood River Meadows parking lot. As you pull off highway 35 you will want to stay to the left and drive up the Mt. Hood Meadows road roughly 300 yards until you notice a parking area on your right. This is the trailhead for Elk Meadows and it is important to note that you will need to either have a day pass or Northwest Forest pass to park here.
The Elk Meadows Hike
Once you get your bearings and find the beginning to the trail you will start hiking in a northeast direction through a nice forested area. This section is relatively flat and easy to get through and you will pass a few trails that head off toward your left. Be sure to stay on the main trail and you will soon come to the Clark Creek crossing.
At Clark Creek there is a kiosk where you will need to fill out a free wilderness permit which indicates the number of people in your party, destination, return date, etc. There should be pencils in the box and you will want to attach the permit to your backpack or somewhere else where it is easily visible. Cross the bridge at Clark Creek and keep working your way up the trail until you get to Newton Creek.
Newton Creek does not have a bridge and you will have to get creative in finding a place to cross over to the other side. As soon as the trail gets to Newton Creek you will want to stop for a minute and look directly across to the other side and try and find where the trail continues up the hill. This is pretty important as you could find yourself trekking a ways up or down the creek to try and find a safe place to cross and once you are on the other side it will be very hard to find where the trail picks up again. Look for stacked rocks indicating a trail marker. Once you find the trail make your way across the creek. If you are wearing a backpack it is ALWAYS good practice to unhook your chest straps when crossing water. If you fall in your pack can act as a weight and trap you in even shallow water and drown you. Being able to quickly remove your pack is critical and unhooking straps is a great habit to form.
Once you safely make it across Newton Creek you will begin the difficult section of the hike and begin an ascent which takes you up roughly 600 vertical ft. There are switch backs here and towards the top be sure to look across Newton Canyon over towards Mt. Hood Meadows ski area. For you skiers the cliffs you see are God’s Wall and Private Reserve.
Continue up the hill until the trail levels out. You are almost there. As you hike you will come across a few junctions which lead left up Gnarl Ridge and right towards Elk Mountain. If you have a map you can add more onto your hike here by looping up Gnarl Ridge or even looping up Elk Mountain and back down to Elk Meadows. To get to Elk Meadows just stay on the trail and head straight until you get to a Y junction with the option to cirlce around Elk Meadows to the left or right. Pick a direction and you will soon see Elk Meadows.
As you hike around the meadows you will see some trails leading into the actual meadow. Here you can find nice views of Mt. Hood and you will even stumble upon a old shelter. There are some campsites here however it is good to note that campfires are not allowed near the meadows. Enjoy the meadows and continue around the loop until you get back to the trail you came in one.
Elk Meadows Hiking Tips
The hike is pretty straightforward however it is always good to have a general map of the area you are going in case you get lost. Be sure to bring plenty of water, snacks and wear proper hiking shoes. Most of this hike is forested however you will still want to wear sunscreen as the elevation exposes you to stronger rays. The Newton Creek crossing can be tricky but if you see people heading out as you hike in stop them and ask where a good crossing is. This will save you time scrambling up and down the creek trying to find a way across.
The Pereseid Meteor Shower pays earth a visit every year and usually puts on a good show however this year is different. This year the Swift-Tuttle comet is expected to put on a show of double what it does on a normal year. A normal Perseid Meteor shower usually offers around 60 to 100 visible meteors per hour however this year viewers can expect to see up to 200 meteors an hour during peak times.
The ideal time to check out this incredible display of light is the night of August 11th (this Thursday) through August 12th. That doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy the meteor shower on another night though. It just means the best time for viewing is Thursday night. You may have already seen some meteors in the sky as the Perseid passes by earth from roughly July 17th to August 24th. So keep your eyes looking up at night and try and get away from those bright city lights!
Sahale Falls is a lesser known waterfall on the SE side of Mt. Hood that plunges over 60 feet on the East Fork of the Hood River. The waterfall is often hiked to as part of a loop hike in conjunction with the nearby Umbrella Falls. Both waterfalls are easy to access during the summer from the Mt. Hood Meadows parking lots and on days in which the gates are open you can even drive to Sahale Falls. If you are reading this though, you are probably not interested in driving to a waterfall.
When we hiked to Sahale Falls we started from the Elk Meadows Trailhead located just before the Mt. Hood Meadows Hood River Meadows (HRM) parking lot. If you head into the HRM parking lot you will not miss the trailhead parking area on the left hand side right before you enter the lot. Note that a Northwest Forest Pass or day fee is required to park here.
You can find the start of the trail to Sahala Falls on the opposite side of the road from the Elk Meadows Trailhead. You will see a wood sign that says it is a half mile to Sahale Falls however it is really more like 3/4 of a mile if you stay on the trail the whole time. As you start hiking you will cross a meadow which is really a cross country ski trail and then soon dip down to cross a small creek. Continue on the trail until you soon hit a paved road.
From the paved road you have two options. You can take the paved road all the way until you come to a bridge that crosses the East Fork Hood River and delivers nice views of Sahale Falls or you can cross the road and find the trail that picks up on the other side. Hint: look toward your right to find the trail. We chose to take the trail.
Keep hiking on the trail for awhile as you pass through the forest and gradually go uphill. After about a half mile keep your eyes peeled for a trail that heads left downhill towards Sahale Falls. There is another wood sign here indicating that this trail goes to the waterfall.
Here you will want to exercise EXTREME caution. The “trail” down to Sahale Falls is more like a steep and loose scramble above cliffs that uses exposed roots as hand holds. If you fall here you will almost certainly be injured and could probably die in extreme cases. So if you are not comfortable scrambling down loose rock do not proceed. You have been warned.
For those of you brave enough to scramble down the hill you will be rewarded with up close and personal views of Sahale Falls and access to a swimming hole. Take a seat and enjoy the cool breeze from the falls or risk hypothermia and take swim in the freshly melted snow runoff. Seriously, this water is cold. Our pup Sidney wasn’t deterred though and promptly jumped in to cool off.
To return to the trailhead we chose to make a sort of loop out of the trek and walk down to the road/bridge and take the road back. To this you will scramble back up the hill and then before you get back to the trail you came in on follow a footpath to the right towards the road. This is yet another scramble but not nearly as exposed as the trail to the falls. From the road enjoy another view of Sahale Falls then follow it back in the same direction you came until you meet up with the trail again on the right.
The Sahale Falls hike we describe here is very short and most people will probably want to do more of a hike when here. You can easily continue up the trail past Sahale Falls to visit Umbrella Falls and even make a loop of it.
An active fire burning in the Willamette National Forest near Blue Pool (Tamolitch Falls) has resulted in closures in the popular hiking and biking area. The McKenzie River trail will be closed between Ice Cap Creek Campground and Trail Bridge Campground. As stated this is the section of the trail the provides access to Blue Pool.
The Blue Top fire is currently more than 80% contained and no longer a threat, however damage from the fire poses a risk to public access areas and the McKenzie River trail will not be opened until deemed safe.
You can find out more on this closure and the Blue Top Fire here or by calling (541)822-3381.
Everyone has climbed South Sister. Or at least, in Bend is seems that way. But how many people have camped on South Sister? Not many. And, how many have camped on the actual summit of South Sister, 10, 358 feet above sea level and 6,735 feet above Bend? Even less.
A night on South Sister does not come easy. While the hike from the Devil’s Lake Trailhead is just five miles, the vertical rise is nearly 5,000 feet. The trail is well marked and well-trodden, with spectacular views in all directions. A Northwest Forest permit is required to park at the Devil’s Lake Trailhead. An option is to park on the Cascade Lakes Highway. Be warned – there are frequent break-ins of cars parked on the highway.
From the Devil’s Lake trailhead, the South Sister trail quickly crosses the Cascade Lakes Highway and enters a dense hemlock forest. Pick up your free Wilderness Permit here, making sure you specify your intent to spend the night on South Sister. If you did not bring full water bottles, fill up here at the year-round creek. The water is excellent. From here on, water is seasonal or a ways off the trail.
Climbing South Sister
As the trail ascends the canyon, it remains in thick forest, constantly climbing and zig-zagging up in switchbacks. One and a half miles later, you leave the canyon and step on the Moraine Lake Pumice Plateau. Finally, you can see your destination immediately ahead, dominating your view as it looms overhead.
Looking behind you and to the immediate south, Mount Bachelor rises before your eyes. It is easy to pick out your favorite ski runs on Northwest Express and Outback Express. Typically, there is snow on Bachelor well into August. Just over Mount Bachelor’s right shoulder, Diamond Peak is clearly visible. And beyond that, Mount Thielsen and Mount Scott can be seen. To the west, the Cascade foothills roll to the Coast range. Broken Top, South Sister’s nearest neighbor, provides a colorful scene to the east, displaying its multiple hues of lava like a rockbound rainbow.
After a mile across the plateau, the trail begins a relentless ascent towards the summit. The path varies from soft forest floor to scree to bouldering up steep slopes. Watch for the trail markers – dead trees or poles held vertically within large stone cairns. In spots, the trail offers several routes; don’t worry, all lead to the same place.
Soon, you will crest a moraine through an obvious saddle and be looking directly at the Lewis Glacier and its small cirque lake. The water is eerily emerald green due to glacial sediment. A short hike down a steep slope will take you to its frigid waters. The water is safe to drink once treated, but a little grainy. Water from lower snowfield melt streams is preferred, although scarce after mid-August.
Above this natural rest spot, the trail takes on a different character. The trail is now purely scree, the rocks vary from green to gray to yellow to red, and every step seems steeper. There are no trees for shady respite, and the summer sun may be very warm. All distances are, unfortunately, further than they look. Make sure you have full water bottles and take your time.
When you reach the final Red Traverse, you are very close to the summit plateau. Now, you will be surprised. The South Sister summit is actually a huge snow-covered plateau, over a quarter-mile across. The true summit (of course!) is on the far side. You may either cross straight over the summit snowfield, conditions allowing, or hike around counter-clockwise on the rocky ridge, which offers a somewhat smooth route.
Camping on the Summit
Summit views are worth the short hike. To the north, you look directly at Middle Sister and North Sister, Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Jefferson, Mount Hood, and Mount Adams. Casting your eyes downward, you look straight down the Prouty Glacier to the strangely green Carver Lake, sitting in a moon-like pumice desert.
As you look around the summit ridge, you will notice about a half dozen rock-walled structures encircling level camp sites. The wind shelters nearest the summit trail saddle are cruder and less level. The preferred site is the final shelter (going counter-clockwise). This shelter has a smooth floor, accepts tent stakes, and is the highest in elevation, allowing unobstructed sunset and sunrise views. On even a calm, warm day, there can be a stiff, cold wind on the summit, so be prepared to be chilled.
Usually, you will have the summit to yourself for the night, although there may be another small group. But the area is large enough that you will likely not hear or see them.
Normally, water can be obtained from melt water on the edges of the summit snowfield. In the event that the snowfield is still solid, a short hike to its lowest point will take you to the highest lake in Oregon, the Teardrop Pond. If it is cold, it may be necessary to break the top ice layer to reach water.
Night skies on South Sister are clearly amazing. With little ambient light, the Milky Way jumps out. Easy to find constellations can be obscured by the tremendous number of visible stars. On a full moon night, you can read a book without a flashlight. Temperatures will typically be below freezing nightly, so be prepared for cold, even in August.
The descent is easy. Make sure you begin the descent where you crossed onto the summit plateau. A common mistake is to start down too far west, and venture onto the cliffs above the Lewis Glacier. Make sure you begin your descent no later than 4:00 PM, as the lower forests can get very dark after 8:00 PM.
While the South Sister mileages are rather tame, the trail feels twice the distance, due to the steepness. Plan accordingly. A night on the summit will be worth the effort, with long memories of endless views, solitude, sparkling stars, and more solitude. Bring a bottle of Good Life Sweet As and enjoy the good life.
Tips for Camping on South Sister
Ascent can take from 3 ½ to 5 hours, descent from 2 ½ to 5 hours.
Bring more water than you think you will need and water purification system.
You will need a backpack, good sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent, and cold weather clothes.
No technical climbing experience or equipment is needed.
Pack out all trash, including used TP.
Cell phone service is available on the summit and portions of the trail.
Less than five miles from the Devil’s Lake Trailhead to Elk Lake Resort for great post-hike burgers.
Part of the mystique of the John Muir Trail (JMT) is the plethora of enduring myths. Some are partially false, most are fully false. But all are fun and garner the attention of hikers and prospective hikers. Let’s address these myths, in no particular order.
1. The JMT is only suitable for the young and strong
Wrong! My wife and I, ages 62 and 63, are living proof of that fallacy. While it may have taken us a bit longer, we cleared the passes and put in the miles with nothing but smiles. Now, don’t take this to mean you can arise from your La-z-Boy and cover all 211 miles with little effort. You need to be in reasonable physical shape with no serious health conditions. The JMT is strenuous and long.
2. There are bears! Everywhere!
Partially wrong. You may see a bear or two in the first two days of Yosemite, but they become a rare sight after that. A cooperative effort of Yosemite National Park, Sequoia / Kings Canyon national Park, and the US Forest Service has mandated the use of approved bear-proof food storage systems on the length of the JMT. Bears have learned that backpackers do not mean food, and backpacker-bear interactions are few and far between.
3. You need to be a mountain climber
Wrong! The JMT is a well-worn trail for its entire length. Ascending and descending mountain passes are on well-maintained trails. True, some trails offer exposure but all are wide and safe. For gosh sakes, horses can be found on any part of the JMT! Even the trail up Mount Whitney is wide, safe, and well-constructed.
4. Creek crossings are deadly
Partially wrong. The few non-bridge crossings are very safe. Only in early summer will there be problems. Only one stream crossing is “shoes off,” that being McClure Creek at the start of Evolution Valley. While this crossing may reach mid-thigh level in early summer, it is located in a meadow with a sandy bottom and swift, but not fast, water. That being said, the JMT parallels water for a good part of its length and potentially lethal off trail water hazards abound, ranging from cataracts to waterfalls.
5. The altitude is too high
Partially wrong. The JMT begins is Yosemite Valley at an elevation of about 4,000 feet, quickly ascending 1,900 feet to the top of Nevada Falls. From there it is a more gradual climb to Tuolumne Meadows at about 8,600 feet. As the JMT travels south, it gradually gains altitude, allowing your body time to acclimate. The JMT does cross high passes, but prudent trip planning will result in hiking high and sleeping low. While some people simply cannot adjust to the higher elevations, but the vast majority have no problem.
6. It is impossible to get a trail permit
False. There are several websites dedicated to strategies of securing a trail permit. You must be flexible on your start dates and trailheads entering the wilderness. It is easy, inexpensive, and quick.
7. Bear canisters are too big/too heavy/too expensive
False. The Bear Vault 500, which holds 7-10 days’ worth of food is rigid and forces you to pack around it, but it is relatively inexpensive and available at any REI. The Bearicade is very expensive, but lighter. Both can double as camp stools. There is a dynamic market on EBay for used bear canisters.
8. It is hard to get to the trailhead
Wrong. Yosemite Valley has public transit into the valley and shuttles to all major points. Upon exiting at Whitney Portal, it is common to hitch hike into Lone Pine. From there, East Sierra Transit Agency (ESTA) has scheduled buses north to Mammoth Lakes, where a Yosemite bus will return you to the valley. Alternatively, ESTA can take you directly to Reno International Airport.
9. Rangers will hassle you
Wrong. Backcountry rangers are there to assist you and they enjoy the company. Use these rangers as a resource for fire information, trail conditions, weather reports, etc. Residing in wilderness ranger stations, they summer in the most beautiful place in the world. How could they be anything other than pleasant?
10. This year was too snowy / too dry
Partially false. Even in dry years, the JMT is never far from water. The longest dry stretch on the trail is about five miles. In early summer, snowbanks may obscure north sides of the passes in heavy snow years. In snowy years, the snow melts quickly under the California sun.
11. Mosquitos will eat me alive
Partially false. Early season mosquitos have voracious appetites and attack in hordes of thousands. DEET will keep the pests away, and the use of a mesh head net during early season will allow you to retain some degree of sanity. From mid-August on, they mysteriously vanish.
12. The JMT is crowded
False. The only crowds you will see are Yosemite Valley, where the JMT begins, at Tuolumne Meadows store and campground, and at Red’s Meadow. Other than that, you will typically see 2 to 5 other backpackers a day.
13. I cannot afford it
Wrong. While the current trend is towards ultra-light equipment, which is typically ultra-expensive, the JMT can be done with relatively inexpensive equipment. Predictably mild weather eliminates the need to prepare for arctic conditions. Many backpackers do without a stove, subsisting on energy bars and GORP. Clothing does need to be high tech; just avoid anything cotton.
14. I am afraid of getting lost
False. The JMT is a well-trodden path, well signed, and a clear route. Even in its most obscure spot, on the south side of Muir Pass, the trail follows an obvious route.
15. It is all too complicated
False. There are numerous on-line resources for planning your trip, scheduling resupplies, and offering general advice. A minimal amount of planning will result in life long memories.
16. I cannot be away from Facebook and my Pokeman Go for that long
Possibly true. But, this is why you need to hike the JMT – to get a life!
17. I’ll do it next year
False. You will just be another year older and look for other phony excuses.
Have a question about the John Muir Trail? Ask us below in the comments and we will do our best to answer it!