Our latest outing took us to the Bald Hill Natural area and the McDonald Dunn Forest. (Hike #48 in William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Oregon Coast & Coast Range” 4th edition.) This pair of hikes near Corvallis, OR was a recent substitution in our hiking schedule. We were looking for a hike closer to home for the day after attending the homecoming game at my alma mater – Western Oregon University (It was Western Oregon State College back in my day) with my college roommate and his family. My roommate Tim and his wife Erin had already been dating when Heather and I began seeing each other so the four of us had spent quite a bit of time together in those days. We spent all day Saturday reminiscing starting with an alumni breakfast and ending with dinner at Mendi’s Pizza.
We were able to sleep in a little on the day of the hike since the drive was just under an hour and it hadn’t been getting light out until almost 7:30am. We took Highway 99W to Corvallis then turned right (west) onto NW Walnut Blvd for 4.3 miles to NW Oak Creek Drive where we once again turned right. Both of the days trailheads were located along this road and we hadn’t yet decided which we were going to start with. We had been waiting to see what the weather was like. It had been extremely foggy the prior morning and we didn’t want to head up Bald Hill (the shorter of the two hikes) if there was no visibility because the guidebook indicated that it had the better views. The forecast for the day called for patchy morning fog and a 20% chance of showers before 11am, but as we neared the Bald Hill Natural Area .8 miles along NW Oak Creek Dr. there was no fog just some higher clouds so we pulled into the already busy parking lot.
The majority of cars seemed to belong to runners and the rest dog owners. The area offers numerous trails, some paved and some not, as well as an off leash dog area. It reminded us a bit of Minto-Brown Island Park in Salem except there were hills instead of a river.
We set off from the parking area crossing Oak Creek on a footbridge and heading straight out a wide paved path.
As the path began to curve through the wetlands Bald Hill came into view.
The route suggested by Sullivan turns right off the paved path after a half mile passing an old barn on the right. We wound up turning right one path too soon though and found ourselves passing through a field with the barn up on a hill to our left.
We followed a faint path up through the field to the barn where we picked up the correct trail.
With the aid of trail maps at junctions we were able to stay on Sullivan’s route climbing .8 miles to the summit of Bald Hill.
For a cloudy day the view was very nice. The first of two benches on the hill overlooked the southern end of Corvallis where trees blazed with fall colors amid the houses.
Various fruit trees lined the trail at the summit drawing birds to the area.
The second bench looked to the SW towards Mary’s Peak which was mostly hidden by clouds.
The loop was 3.3 miles which was a nice warm up for our next stop which was to be a 9.5 mile loop in the McDonald Dunn Forest with a stop atop 2154′ McCulloch Peak. From the Bald Hill parking lot we continued west on NW Oak Creek Drive following it to the right at a fork after 1.1 miles and continuing to a parking area at the roads
gated end. The McDonald-Dunn Research Forest consists of approximately 11,250 acres largely used by Oregon State University for instruction and research. Various trails and roads are open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians although occasional closures do occur due to forestry activities. Despite having checked the forest website the night before we noticed a sign at the trailhead stating that our planned return route (Road 770) was currently closed due to a timber harvest. The route up to McCulloch Peak was open though and there appeared to be a couple of other ways to return using different roads and/or trails so we sallied forth.
We followed Patterson Road from the gate just over half a mile to a junction with road 6020.
Near the junction was the beginning of the Extendo Trail.
The Extendo Trail is open to Bikes, horses, and hikers from April through October and then to hikers only from November through March. We followed this trail across Oak Creek and then uphill for almost 1.5 miles. Fall was on full display in the forest along the trial with colorful leaves and plenty of mushrooms to be seen.
Some of that fall color was attributable to poison oak which we were keeping a close eye out for.
The Extendo Trail ended at a 4-way junction. To the left was the Uproute Trail which headed back downhill to Road 6020. An unofficial (illegal) path continued straight uphill and to the right was gravel Road 680 and a pointer for McCulloch Peak.
We followed road 680 uphill to a clearcut saddle with an interpretive sign and a bit of a view to the NW.
Beyond the saddle Road 680 came to an end at Road 700 where we followed another pointer for McCulloch Peak.
Just before reaching the junction with Road 770 we got a clear look at our destination, McCulloch Peak.
We passed closed road 770 1.1 miles from the Extendo Trail.
We passed several roads sticking to Road 700 until we reached Road 790 which was also signed Marvin L. Rowley Road (named after the former Forest Manager).
We reached the summit a little over a mile from Road 770 where a small bench awaited.
Although it wasn’t wide, the view was nice enough.
After a brief break we headed back downhill. Since our planned return route was closed we decided to look at the map and see what other options we had. First we turned left when we got back to Road 700 following it for a quarter mile to Road 740 which looped around a small knoll before rejoining Road 700 after another quarter mile. Near the end of Road 740 we passed a stump covered with Chicken of the Woods mushrooms.
We then retraced our path down Road 700 to Road 680. At the clearcut viewpoint on Road 680 we spotted a faint Mt. Jefferson against the clouds.
We had a choice when we reached the junction with the Extendo and Uproute Trails. We could return on either of those trails or stay on Road 680 and follow it down to Patterson Road. We decided on following the road which swung out to the west for .6 miles to Patterson Road just over a mile from where we had turned off it earlier to take to Extendo Trail uphill. It was a pleasant walk through the woods back to the trailhead.
The hike wound up being a little over 9 miles giving us a total of 12.4 miles for the day. The trails (and roads) in both of the areas were in excellent shape and the number of options and year round accessibility makes them nice options anytime of the year. They will be on our list of nearby alternatives when we want to get outside but don’t want (or can’t get) too far from home.