Mt. Hebo and Munson Falls

Mt. Hebo was another hike on our list of do-overs. Our previous visit had been on May 30, 2011 which normally would be a good time for a visit to the meadows that dot the top of the mountain. 2011 was not a normal year though and our visit that day turned out to be a cold and foggy trek past patches of lingering snow to a view-less summit. We decided this was the year for the re-hike and we were even able to do it on the same day as before May 30, 2015. This time we threw in a second short stop at Munson Falls State Park to check out 266′ Munson Falls. Both of these hikes are located near Tillamook, OR.

We started the morning at Hebo Lake Camp Ground at the Pioneer Indian Trail trailhead. When we arrived we were having a bit of deja-vu as fog filled the forest much like our first visit. We knew there would be no snow this year, but would we get any views. The trail starts near the far end of the lake and heads into the forest.


Not too far along the trail we came to an unsigned junction that neither of us recalled from our first visit. It wasn’t marked on the map in our field guide either and we at first turned left which is incorrect. Luckily Heather spotted a “Trail ->” sign pointing back the way we’d come which caused me to double check with our GPS (which I should have done at the junction anyway) and we realized we needed to go back and take the right had fork.
Unsigned jct.

As we continued along the sun began to burn through the clouds which was a welcome sight.


The trail passes several interpretive signs before reaching a plantation of trees which had been planted by the forest service in the early 1900s. The contrast between the two sections of forest is really interesting.
Forest before the plantation.

Some of the plantation trees.

The trail crosses a gravel road then at the 2.9 mile mark after a good climb crosses paved road 14. I had taken a photo at this crossing on our first visit allowing for a good comparison of just how different things were this time around.


After crossing the road the trail follows an old road bed which is where we had encountered the first of the snow in 2011. This time around we encountered flowers instead.





Just over a mile from the road 14 crossing the trail enters the first meadow. Here again we found a vastly different scene than on our previous visit.


There was a wide variety of flowers dotting the meadow and the view was much improved. We still could not see the ocean or any of the cascade peaks but much of the coast range was visible above the clouds.



Wild Iris





The trail passes through the first meadow then a short section with some trees before emerging in a much larger meadow.



We had turned around in this meadow after being blasted by a cold wet wind in 2011 but on this beautiful day we continued on recrossing road 14 and reentering the forest.

There were new flowers to discover on this section of the trail including bunchberry, anenome, and camas which we were really surprised to see.



We also crossed a little stream coming from a marshy wetland area. As we took a quick look we noticed some frogs hopping into several pools and a number of birds in the area. We didn’t get any pictures of wildlife on the first pass but on our way back by we were luckier.

Western Tanager

Band-tailed Pigeon



This little area would have made a good turnaround point but we continued on a bit further looking for a viewpoint that was shown in our guide book. We passed a couple of smaller meadows filled with camas and found some nice penstemon in bloom but not a particularly nice viewpoint before the trail began to descend toward North Lake.




We weren’t interested in having to climb back up from the little lake so we turned around and headed back to the meadows. The clouds to the west had really retreated when we arrived back at the meadows revealing more of the coastal foothills.


As we were passing back through the forest along the lower portion of the trail Heather spotted a really good sized Pacific-Tree Frog.


After finishing the Mt. Hebo hike we headed north on Highway 101 toward Tillamook to Munson Falls State Park. Here a quarter-mile path leads to a view of the tallest water fall in the Coast Range. Unfortunately it is virtually impossible to get a clear view of the entire 266′ cascade due to a narrow canyon full of downed logs and thick brush. Still the waterfall was one of the more impressive we’ve seen and well worth the visit.




After our brief visit to the falls we took a little detour on the way home through Pacific City in order to stop at the Pelican Pub & Brewery which has become on of our favorite post hike places to grab a meal. Happy Trails!

flickr 2011 visit:


Bonanza Trail – Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness

We were looking for a hike that would avoid the crowds of Memorial Day weekend and landed on the Bonanza Trail. The Bonanza Trail starts at the edge of Welches, OR near the Salmon River where it climbs 3000′ through the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness to a junction with the Plaza Trail #783 on Huckleberry Mountain. The forest service lists usage as light for this trail which is exactly what we were looking for.

The trailhead consists of a small pullout (room for 2 cars maximum) along E. Grove Rd in Welches marked by a cable, a no hunting sign, and a small trail sign.
Bonanza Trail Trailhead

The trail begins on an old grassy road climbing up over a ridge before dropping down the other side to a crossing of Little Cheney Creek.
Bonanza Trail


Shortly after crossing the creek the trail enters the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness at what has to be the most pathetic wilderness sign we’ve seen yet (note the slug attached to it).

The trail then went up and down along Cheeney Creek still following an old roadbed. I am still trying to figure out why Little Cheney Creek has one “e” and Cheeney Creek is spelled with two. In places the trail was rather overgrown with salmon berry bushes and scouler’s corydalis, a rather interesting flower.


Scouler’s corydalis


The trail leaves the creek shortly after arriving at a possible campsite near a small waterfall.
Small fall on Cheeney Creek

We had gained a little over 300′ of elevation up to the point of the campsite and then the real climbing began. One of the reasons that the Bonanza Trail is not heavily used is the 3000′ of cumulative elevation gain to reach the summit of Huckleberry Mountain. The trail only has a handful of switchbacks which means that the trail is fairly steep in some sections and even on sunny days lacks viewpoints. We had not chosen a sunny day though and so we climbed up through a forest filled with fog.

It may as well have been raining as the mist in the clouds gathered on the plants and trees falling as drops of rain.

Despite the lack of views there was plenty to see along the way. Flowers, wildlife, and the abandoned Bonanza mine gave us plenty of things to look for and explore.


Bonanza Mine



Rhododendron in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness

As we climbed the forest and flowers we were seeing changed.





When we reached the trail junction we were a bit surprised to find a newer looking sign announcing the Boulder Ridge Trail. According to the Forest Service the Boulder Ridge Trail ends at the Plaza Trail on the same ridge further to the NW on the opposite side of the summit of Huckleberry Mountain.

We turned right on the Plaza/Boulder Ridge Trail and headed for the summit of Huckleberry Mountain. We knew we wouldn’t be getting any views on this day but we wanted to bag the summit before turning around. The trail traveled up and down along the ridge entering a nice meadow after .3 miles where we spotted a number of different flowers.




Phlox and violets

Beyond the meadow the path reentered the forest which was a stark contrast to the open saddle we had just left.
Forest along the Boulder Trail on Huckleberry Mountain

In another .2 miles the trail once again emerged from the forest in a meadow at the summit of Huckleberry Mountain.
Meadow on Huckleberry Mountain


There were more flowers here, some of which we hadn’t seen on the hike until this meadows.



Yellow violets

We sat on the rocky summit where at least four cascade peaks would have been visible on a clear day and took a short rest. Missing out on the view just meant we’d need to come back some other day, possibly via the Boulder Ridge Trail, and try again. As we were leaving the meadow Heather noticed an ant pile that was quite active.


Our descent was pretty uneventful as we made our way back down the mountain. We finally saw other people at the small waterfall, a family of four exploring the creek. The Bonanza Trail lived up to the light usage label, but despite the fact that it hadn’t been maintained by the Forest Service since 2013 it was in surprisingly good shape. Perfect for a good bit of exercise and solitude.
Happy Trails!


French Pete Creek

This is the third straight year we’ve had French Pete Creek on our schedule. Each of the previous years it has wound up getting bumped for one reason or another. This year was different although it had been pushed back several weeks due to the early wildflower bloom in the Columbia Gorge. A cloudy forecast made for a good day to take a hike through an old growth forest along a wilderness stream. With that in mind we headed to the French Pete trail 3311 in the Three Sisters Wilderness. Our goal was a 5 mile marker mentioned in William L. Sullivans “100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades”. The trail starts at the French Pete Trailhead which is located across from the French Pete Campground a mile beyond Cougar Reservoir on Road 19. Road 19 or Aufderheide Rd runs between the McKenzie Hwy 126 and Hwy 58 near Oakridge.
French Pete Creek Trailhead

The trail promptly enters the Three Sisters Wilderness passing through nice old growth and several access points to the creek.
Entering the Three Sisters Wilderness



Pool along French Pete Creek


After 1.8 miles of some up and down trail we arrived at the first of two creek crossings. There had been a bridge here years ago but now if you want to continue on you either ford the creek or attempt to cross on a log jam just downstream. We inspected the log jam but given the wet weather the logs were rather slick and we decided that it wasn’t going to be the best option on this day.

There was a possible third option to the ford or log jam, a rough 1.2 mile scramble trail along the north side of the creek. Where the trail turned down toward the creek there was a faint trail leading further along the creek so we decided to try that option versus the ford.

This path is not mentioned in the most recent edition of Sullivans book and we soon discovered why. We do not recommend attempting this route. The tread was very narrow with some blowdown and a few sketchy spots then after about .4 miles we came to the spot of a slide about 15′ above the creek. The path (and I use that term lightly) dove down the slide to the creek bank. I made it down but when I turned around I could tell Heather was not going to be able to do the same. I managed to get back up to where she had gotten stuck and helped her do a controlled slide in the dirt/mud down to a log where she was able to brace her self and continue on down to the bank. We knew we wouldn’t be going back that way so we sallied forth to the next big obstacle – a slanted rock shelf traverse.
Bedrock along French Pete Creek

The rock was wet and slick, but we managed to find enough footholds to not slip into the creek which was quite deep in sections. A bit further along the creek we were stymied again by another big slide. While I was attempting to find a way around this new obstacle Heather realized that she had lost her phone. We backtracked recrossing the rock shelf to the spot of her slide where I found the phone wedged against the log covered in dirt. Luckily it was inside its case and undamaged. When we turned back to find the phone we had only covered about half the distance needed to rejoin the official trail and neither of us wanted to tempt fate with a third go at the rock shelf. From where we were we could tell by the GPS that the trail was just on the other side of the creek so we decided it was time to ford the creek.

From the far side we had a pretty good look at the slide area that had started all the trouble.


We came up from the creek and only had to walk about 10′ to find the trail. The trail in this section was a bit overgrown but in pretty good shape given most hikers turn back at the first crossing.

We made it to the second creek crossing where a nice cedar log serves as a suitable bridge.
Cedar log crossing of French Pete Creek

We had another 1.8 miles to go after the second crossing to reach the 5 mile marker. This section of trail was also fairly overgrown and narrow but there were no major obstacles along the way. The trail climbed up above the creek at times passing through a grassy meadow and past some nice rock formations.




It also provided some of the best views of French Pete Creek.


After reaching the marker we stuck to the official trail on the way back.

One of many little creeks flowing into French Pete Creek

We only ran into three other groups of hikers, all on the way back between the trailhead and first crossing making for a nice quiet hike. Happy Trails!


Kentucky Falls

We had originally planned to visit Kentucky Falls a couple of years ago but winter storms damaged the North Fork Smith River Trail causing us to postpone the hike. Much of the trail has since been repaired and we decided that it was finally time for that trip. The North Fork Smith River Trail extends for over 8.5 miles between two trailheads in the Siuslaw National Forest west of Eugene, OR. We chose the Kentucky Falls Trailhead located on National Forest Road 919 as our starting point for a couple of reasons. First of all the three large waterfalls along the trail are closer to this trailhead and secondly the storms that damaged the trail had also damaged the 1 1/2 mile bridge (Named for its distance from the North Fork Smith Trailhead on forest road 23.) making it unsafe to cross and leaving a river ford as the only way to continue past on the trail.

From the Kentucky Falls Trailhead the path gradually descends through the forest to a view above Upper Kentucky Falls.

The trail then begins a steeper descent as it switchbacks down to Kentucky Creek below the falls.


The trail again descends gradually crossing the creek on a footbridge before a second set of swtichbacks brings you to a trail junction at a sharp switchback.

Sharp switchback

The switchback is the continuation of the North Fork Smith River Trail and the route for a longer hike. A short path leading straight from the switchback junction leads a short distance to two more large falls. Lower Kentucky Falls and North Fork Falls.

Lower Kentucky Falls

North Fork Falls

Turning back here would have made the hike approximately 4.5 miles, but we were planning on a longer trek so when we returned to the switchback junction we continued along the North Fork Smith River Trail. Under a mile from the junction we came to Swimming Pool Falls. A much smaller waterfall than the three upstream but scenic none the less.

The trail after Swimming Pool Falls began to show signs of little use. The tread became narrower with some small plants and moss growing on the path.

We had to watch our step but not because of the trail condition, we had to watch out for the numerous snails, slugs, millipedes, and other critters that we saw all along the trail.



Our map showed that it was approximately 2.7miles from Swimming Pool Falls to the 3 mile bridge. This is the second bridge over the North Fork Smith River coming from the North Fork Smith Trailhead. We were on the lookout for a couple of markers along the way though, a small drippy waterfall and an 11′ Douglas fir. We spotted the drippy waterfall just fine which looked like it would have been very pretty with a higher volume of water.

Not far after drippy falls there was a large tree trunk across the trail which made for a decent obstacle.

Then we came to an unsigned trail junction at a switchback. This junction was not on any forest service map of the area we had seen and it wasn’t marked on the map in our field guide. The right hand fork led down a ridge while the left fork switched back along the canyon wall.

This picture is taken from the left hand fork looking back up at the unsigned junction.

We decided to take the right hand fork to see if led down to the 11′ tree or possibly a campsite out on the ridge. We did pass an old campsite but the trail continued on down toward the river growing a little fainter as it went. We were following a side creek down the hillside which the maps showed the trail doing as it arrives at the 3 mile bridge so we kept going wondering if we had missed the 11′ tree and already arrived at the bridge. The trail crossed the little stream and arrived at another junction. This one had signs. A Kentucky Falls sign pointed right toward a very faint path while a North Fork Smith Trail sign pointed back up the way we’d come. The sign for the left hand fork said Swinging Bridge.

We were headed for a bridge but it was odd that Sullivan had not mentioned the “Swinging” aspect of the bridge in his book. That is the kind of detail that he does include in his descriptions. Not far from the junction we arrived at the bridge though.

It was a nice suspension bridge which was something else that didn’t fit the field guide description. We ventured out on the bridge and at the far end was a small sign that simply said. “3.5 miles to gated road 4880”. The path leading away from the bridge was an old roadbed that was overgrown with grass. We were able to deduce that the bridge must connect the trail system to some private land on which was shown on the map in our field guide on the opposite side of the river. So back up the hill we went to the unsigned junction to the path we hadn’t taken. This portion of trail had not been maintained for some time, probably since the storms that damaged the bridges, leaving a couple of wash outs that had to be navigated.


When the trail began to descend a ridge toward the river we realized that we must have missed the big tree and would have to look for it on our return trip. In the meantime we were busy trying not to miss the trail as it became increasingly overgrown the closer we got to the river.

We passed as small former campsite near a small stream with a very small fall into a little pool.

Then we arrived on the bank of the river. Here the trail was almost completely overgrown, but Heather did an excellent job following it through the undergrowth.


We struggled through the brush for a couple hundred yards at least before finally popping out at the river with a view of the 3 mile bridge.

The next obstacle was figuring out the best way to reach the bridge which had been cut off by a new channel of the river after the storms. While we looked for the best route we noticed several little fish in the water.

In the end we decided to go around to the right of the pool in front of us which worked out well and we were soon across the bridge. The trail then followed the river through a less overgrown wood. Here the sun was shinning and flowers lined the path.


Several neat moss covered trees also added to the character of this section.



The scenery changed again when the trail left the more woodsy forest behind and entered a different feeling area where there was very less undergrowth and giant stumps told of a past forest fire.

We finally arrived at what remains of the 1 1/2 mile bridge.

There were visible cracks in the middle of the log and clearly not something anyone should attempt to cross. Determined hikers could look for a place to ford the river and there was a rope that was tied on a log near the bridge to assist in climbing up the embankment, but this may not be an option in high water.

We turned around and began our return trip having decided to stop at a sandy beach we had passed earlier near a 2 1/2 mile post.

We sat by the creek and cooled our feet off in the cold (really cold) water.

An ouzel was busy hunting for insects in the water just downstream.


After resting for a bit we resumed our return hike focused on spotting the 11′ Douglas fir this time. We spotted it this time and also noticed a sign along the trail apparently identifying the tree. What the sign actually said we couldn’t tell but the tree was certainly larger than any of the other trees around.

We also spotted a salamander in one of the little streams along the trail. I tried to identify the exact type of salamander this was, as it was the first we’d seen of this type, but all I was able to find out for sure is that it was indeed a salamander.

When we arrived at the spur trail to Lower Kentucky and North Fork Falls we took it again wanting to see how the change in the suns position affected the appearance of the falls. They had been impressive in the morning, but now the sun was shining on the cascades and they were even prettier.



We found the same thing at Upper Kentucky Falls.

We finally arrive back at our car around 5pm after over 9 hours of hiking. The GPS put us at 17.4 miles and our feet agreed, but it had been a great hike full of plenty of surprises and adventure. According to a sign at the trailhead the Forest Service plans to replace the bridges in 2016, but until then the North Fork Smith River Trail should remain a bit on the wilder side. Happy Trails!


Beacon Rock State Park – The Return to Hamilton Mountain

Almost two years ago we traveled to Beacon Rock State Park to hike the Hamilton Mountain Trail. It was and still is the worst weather that we have ever encountered during a hike. Well enough time had passed and it was time for us to give this hike a second chance. We double checked the weather forecast before heading out which showed some morning clouds clearing up by mid-morning with little to no chance of rain and calm winds. That was good enough for us to give it a go so we got in the car and headed up to the Columbia Gorge once more. For most of the drive we were under a solid mass of clouds but as we headed east along Highway 14 toward Beacon Rock State Park rays of sunlight were shining down on the Columbia River in the distance. The edge of the clouds was just a bit further east than Hamilton Mountain so we decided to warm up on another trail in park, the .8mi Beacon Rock Trail, hoping to give the clouds more time to lift.

Parking for this trail is right along the highway and requires a Discovery Pass which can be purchased at the trailhead (currently $10/a day per vehicle). The trail begins almost directly below Beacon Rock itself.
Beacon Rock Trailhead

After a very short walk through woods the trail begins to switchback up Beacon Rock.


In fact the trail switchbacks 52 times on its way up to the top of the rock. (I lost count but that is the number that was on one of the signs at the trailhead.)
Beacon Rock Trail


When we reached the summit the edge of the clouds was still to the east above Bonneville Dam.


We could also see that Hamilton Mountain still had a cloudy top making us wonder what the conditions would be by the time we got up there.

On the way back down we watched a number of Turkey Vultures circling above the river as well as a lone Bald Eagle.


After completing our warm-up we hopped back in the car and crossed the Highway following a campground sign to the trailhead parking area. The trail sets off at a signboard behind the restrooms.
Hamilton Mountian Trailhead

After a gradual .5 mile climb through forest the trail emerges to views of Hamilton Mountain from under some power lines.

The summit was still in the clouds but they did seem to be breaking up and we still had over 2.5 more miles to climb before reaching the top. After another half-mile a sign announces a viewpoint for Hardy Falls. A narrow path leads down a ridge to a platform that has no view of Hardy Falls at all. The only views are along the ridge prior to reaching the platform, and they are not great.

The disappointing viewpoint of Hardy Falls is quickly forgotten after just another tenth of a mile on the trail. Here another sign points up to Pool of the Winds.

This short path leads to another railed viewpoint, but this time there is really something to see. The upper portion of Rodney Falls splashes into a rock enclosed splash pool. The force of the water falling into the pool combined with the narrow opening in the rocks causes wind to funnel out giving the pool its name.
Pool of the Winds


The view down is also nice as the trail crosses the creek on a footbridge below Rodney Falls.

After spending some time enjoying the pool we continued on the trail passing below the falls. Rodney Falls is one of the more complicated falls we have seen. With the Pool of the Winds at the top followed by several smaller sections and then fanning out at the bottom it just has a lot going on. It also changes directions a couple of times which makes it difficult to capture it all well in a photo.

Just over a quarter mile from Rodney Falls the trail splits allowing for a loop over Hamilton Mountain.

We headed right which is the shorter but steeper way to the summit. We tend to prefer to go up rather than down steeper trails because it’s easier on our knees. Heading up the right fork the trail passes an increasing number of meadows where we were met with views and wildflowers. In 2013 the views consisted almost entirely of clouds so much of this we were seeing for the first time.

Beacon Rock from the trail.


Chocolate Lily

Indian Paintbrush


A side trail to the right leads to a rocky outcrop with even more views.

Then the trail passes behind a knoll where more trees await.

Larkspur along the Hamilton Mountain Trail

After making its way around the knoll the trail crosses a ridge between the knoll and Hamilton Mountains summit which looms ahead.
Hamilton Mountain

The view of the Columbia River along this ridge is very nice.

The trail then begins its final ascent switchbacking up through open meadows of flowers. Larkspur and Chocolate Lilies were the predominate flowers blooming at this time of the year.
Chocolate Lilies



As we continued to climb the clouds continued to burn off and Mt. Hood suddenly appeared across the river.


To reach the actual summit take a side path to the right near the top of the mountain. Here the view was vastly different from our previous visit.


Mt. Hood from the summit of Hamilton Mountain

There were only a few bands of clouds left when we arrived at the summit and in addition to the view of Mt. Hood to the south Table Mountain and some of Mt. Adams were visible to the east.
Table Mountain and Mt. Adams from the summit of Hamilton Mountain

Mt. Adams

We took a short break and watched the clouds as they passed by. A few hikers and some other critters kept us company.

We continued on the loop looking forward to reaching an exposed ridge that was the site of my infamous poncho battle in 2013. Wind and rain were whipping up and over the ridge on that visit but this time it was just sunshine and flowers.


At the far end of the ridge we looked back to soak in the view that we missed the first time.


Hamilton Mountain trail

Several paths lead off from the far end of the ridge, but we simply took a sharp left and headed down an old road toward Hardy Creek.

The road leads downhill for a mile to Hardy Creek.


Signs at Hardy Creek point to the 1.1 mile hiker-only trail that completes the loop .3 miles from Rodney Falls. By the time we arrived back at the falls a steady stream of people were coming up from the trailhead. We were once again glad we’d gotten an early start and made our way past a traffic jam at the footbridge. With the number of hikers and dogs coming up the trail we were surprised when Heather spotted a garter snake on the path. It took cover in a stump but then came out to take a closer look at us.


We were really happy with the way this hike turned out. We had gotten the views we’d missed out on during our previous visit and the Beacon Rock warm-up was entirely new. Another great day in the Pacific Northwest. Happy Trails!