Baker Beach and Rock Creek Wilderness

Since 2013 our first hike of the year has been somewhere along the Oregon Coast.  Often the weather at the coast during January is nicer than other parts of the State making it a great time to visit.  This was certainly the case this year as the first part of January saw near record snows and freezing temperatures over much of the State.  The coast had not escaped the weather entirely but by the time we headed out for our first hike of the year, things were much nicer there than at home in the Willamette Valley.

Our destination was Baker Beach Camp just north of Florence, OR. This was a change (already) to our plans for 2017 but the forecast for the area was just too good to pass up. Mostly sunny skies and a high of 48 degrees was what was being called for so we left 23 degree Salem early in the morning and headed down to Eugene then west to Florence on Highway 126.

Baker Beach Camp is located at the end of Baker Beach Road, 7 miles north of Florence along Highway 101.  The only signage along the highway was a small green street sign which I noticed just as we passed by it. After quickly turning around we turned onto the gravel road and followed it .5 miles to the camps parking area.

Baker Beach Camp

Baker Beach Camp sign

To start our hike we walked a short distance back along the road and turned left at a trail sign for the Lily Lake Loop.

Start of the Lily Lake Loop

A short sandy climb brought us to a trail junction at the top of a sandy ridge.

Pacific Ocean from the Lily Lake Loop Trail in the morning

The Pacific Ocean was visible beyond Baker Beach and the sand dunes.

Trail signs along the Lily Lake Loop

The Berry Creek Loop would have kept us up on the sandy ridge while the Lily Lake Loop dropped down and passed near Lily Lake before climbing back up to the ridge top and rejoining the Berry Creek Loop Trail. We wanted to see the lake so we followed the Lily Lake pointer passing through a salal filled forest before things opened up along the lake.

Lily Lake Loop Trail

Trail along Lily Lake

We stayed on the paths closest to the lake thinking that one would bring us right to it but instead the lake remained mostly hidden behind first a row of trees then by a reed filled marsh near it’s outlet.

Lily Lake

We could see that there was quite a bit of activity on the lake with several types of ducks and some Canada geese floating on the water, but it was hard to get any clear photos with the vegetation in the way.

Canada geese on Lily Lake

Bufflehead

Bufflehead on Lily Lake

From the lake we climbed back up to the top of the Sandy Ridge which overlooked a small pond and Berry Creek flowing out toward the Pacific.

Moon over the Pacific Ocean

Berry Creek flowing toward the Pacific

There was no sign here and we could have followed the sandy ridge back to the junction we’d been at earlier, but instead we followed a path down to the base of the ridge which led us back to the start of the Baker Beach Trail at Baker Beach Camp. This little loop was just under 1.5 miles.

Baker Beach Trail

Here we turned right following the pointer for Baker Beach. (The Lily Lake/Berry Creek Loop continued from this junction creating an additional 1.7 mile loop to the north of the camp.)

The trail passes through a deflation plain behind the beaches foredune for .4 miles.

Foredune at Baker Beach

Looking north along the Baker Beach Trail

The deflation plain is the result of the dunes no longer expanding due to the loss of additional sand being blown from the beach. European bunchgrass which was introduced in the early 1900’s to help stabilize jetties but spread along the beaches and began stopping the blowing sand from leaving the beach which created the foredunes denying the dunes further inland any additional sand.

Baker Beach

Pacific Ocean from the foredune at Baker Beach

Cape Mountain from the foredune at Baker Beach

When we reached the beach we turned south heading toward Sutton Creek which was 3 miles away. Aside from a few birds we had the beach to ourselves.

Sanderlings on Baker Beach

Seagull and sanderlings

After about 3/4 of a mile along the beach we climbed back up the foredune to get a look at Sutton Creek which we had visited the previous February.

Sutton Creek behind the foredune

Ducks on Sutton Creek

We traveled along the foredune for a bit before dropping back down to the beach.

Patterns in the sand

Baker Beach

We had been considering crossing Sutton Creek and continuing south along Heceta Beach another 2.5 miles to the Siuslaw River but the creek was wide and it wasn’t that warm out.

Sutton Creek

Sutton Creek

After watching several large chunks of sand fall into the creek we headed back with the Heceta Head Lighthouse blinking in the distance to the north.

Heceta Head Lighthouse from Baker Beach

As we were recrossing the deflation plain we spotted a doe amid the grass and pines.

Heading back toward Baker Beach Camp

Doe

Doe

Since we’d cut our hike short (8.2 miles instead of the 13.2 planned) we had time to do another. We could have hiked Heceta Beach like we had planned by driving back to Florence and parking at the end of South Jetty Road, but we had noticed that that beach was already busy when we were at Sutton Creek earlier. We preferred something a little less crowded which led us to the Rock Creek Wilderness.

This was one of the wilderness areas that we had yet to visit and it was just another 8 miles north on Highway 101 from Baker Beach Road. We hopped in our car and drove to the gated entrance to the Rock Creek Campground.

Rock Creek Campground sign along Highway 101

The campground was closed for the season so we had to walk along the paved entrance road for approximately .4 miles.

Road to Rock Creek Campground

There had been one other vehicle parked at the gate and we passed it’s owner on his way back up from the campground area. The little campground was located right along Rock Creek.

Rock Creek

Rock Creek

The 7,486 Rock Creek Wilderness was designated as such in 1984 and has no Forest Service developed or maintained trials. That being said there is a use trail leading from the end of the Rock Creek Campground that can be followed into the wilderness.

Use trail leading from the Campground into the Rock Creek Wilderness

The path was brushy and narrow but passable as it followed along the creek.

Use trail in the Rock Creek Wilderness

Rock Creek Wilderness

Rock Creek

Occasional flagging was present but really unnecessary as the brush was so thick that we had to follow the path in order to keep moving forward. The only real obstacle to speak of was a large downed tree that had fallen over the best path, but game trails led around the root ball.

BIg tree down in the Rock Creek Wilderness

Without an official trail there were no signs to mark the beginning of the wilderness area so we just followed the path as long as we could. After awhile the path led into a frosty meadow where the canyon widened.

Frosty meadow in the Rock Creek Wilderness

It was a muddy in spots but enough of the ground was still frozen to make it passable. Elk and deer sign were everywhere. It was a beautiful spot with the white frost contrasted against the green of a coastal forest while rays of sunlight attempted to penetrate the canopy.

Frosty meadow in the Rock Creek Wilderness

Sunlight through the trees in the Rock Creek Wilderness

The sound of water flowing on every side only added to the ambiance. There was more flagging at the far end of the meadow and some on the far side of Rock Creek but again this wasn’t a day for fording creeks so we declared victory here and turned around.

Our turn around point (too cold to ford the creek today)

When we got home I wanted to make sure we’d actually made it into the wilderness so I pulled up the interactive map on Wilderness.net. The actual wilderness boundary bows away from the Rock Creek Campground making it further up along the creek than I had thought, but comparing our GPS track to that map showed we had managed to get about .4 miles into the Rock Creek Wilderness.

The Wilderness.net map

Rock Creek Wilderness

Our GPS track

Rock Creek Wilderness Track

On a warmer day when you don’t mind spending some time in the creek it’s possible to get further into the wilderness as this trip report indicates.a href=”http://www.cascadiahiking.com/2012/08/rock-creek-wilderness-no-trail-no.html” target=”_blank”>Cascadia Hiking

Our adventure was only 2.2 miles round trip including the road walk to and from the campground but the solitude and remote feeling of the Rock Creek Wilderness made it seem much more removed from civilization.

With that our 2017 hiking year is officially under way. We checked off our 27th Oregon Wilderness Area and still have 18 to go, 4 more of which are planned this year. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157679106715756

The Hikes of 2016 – A Look Back

It’s hard to believe that it’s already time to recap our 2016 hiking year, and what a great year for hiking it turned out to be! I spent our off-season (Nov-Apr) putting together a 7 year plan (yes I have an issue) to help us achieve two of the goals we’ve set for ourselves. One is to hike each of the featured hikes in each of William L. Sullivan’s five “100 Hikes/Travel Guide” books and the second is to visit each of Oregon’s 45 designated wilderness areas. (There are 47 but the Oregon Islands and Three Arch Rocks Wilderness Areas are off-limits.) In previous years I had only put together a schedule for the upcoming year, but by looking further ahead I was able to make sure we weren’t going to miss any hikes and they were scheduled at what should be good times to visit. We also now had a handy list of options, laid out by the best times to visit, to pick from if we needed to change plans for any reason. The schedule remains a work in process but as it stands today we will finish visiting all the wilderness areas with Grassy Knob in 2022 and 460 of the 500 featured hikes in Sullivan’s books by the end of 2023. The remaining 40 hikes are too far away for day trips so they are incorporated into vacations that will need to happen further down the road.

The first draft of our 2016 hikes was completed on 12/18/15 and consisted of 57 days worth of hikes totaling 624.4 miles. History had shown that those numbers (and the hikes themselves) would change as the year played out, but it was a solid starting point. That again proved to be the case as 10 of the original hikes were swapped out for others and 4 additional hikes were added, and the total mileage rose by over 150 miles to end at 792.8. We visited 8 wilderness areas for the first time knocking 7 more off the Oregon list. They were the Oregon Badlands, Kalmiopsis, Menagerie, Eagle Cap, Mountain Lakes, Sky Lakes, and Lower White River Wildernesses in Oregon and the Marble Mountain Wilderness in California. In addition to the new areas we hiked in the Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Three Sisters, Mt. Washington, and Mark O. Hatfield Wildernesses as well as the the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and the Mt. St. Helens Volcanic National Monument.

Our travels took us on hikes further to the west (Cape Sebastian State Park), east (West Fork Wallowa Trail – Eagle Cap Wilderness), and south (Cliff Lake – Marble Mountain Wilderness) than ever before. Our trips to the Marble Mountain and Eagle Cap Wilderness areas were our first 5 day/4 night backpacking trips which proved to be just about the limit on how long we can stay out given our current gear.

The weather was exceptional for nearly all of our hikes. Early winter storms left a more normal snow pack which helped make 2016 a pretty good wildflower year and we only ran into two weather related issues. The first was a slight chance of rain for our vacation week in May during which we’d planned on visiting the desert in SE Oregon. Any precipitation in that area would have made it impossible to reach our planned trailheads so we put that vacation off and headed to the Southern Oregon Coast instead which wound up being a great plan B. The second was a July hike on Scar Ridge in the Old Cascades which was swapped for Fifteenmile Creek on the east side of the Mt. Hood National Forest due to probable thunderstorms.

Although the weather conditions were almost always great the same couldn’t be said for the condition of a few of the trails. During our May vacation we encountered a host of ticks along the Illinois River Trail. Later in the year it was blowdown that proved to be the biggest obstacle. In the Sky Lakes Wilderness a section of the Badger Lake Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail was a mess.
Blowdown over the Badger Lake Trail

This was also the case along much of the Bowerman Lake Trail in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.
Bowerman Lake Trail

As well as the Hand Lake Trail in the Mt. Washington Wilderness.
More blowdown over the Hand Lake Trail

The one consistent regardless of the location, weather, or trail conditions was the beauty and diversity that makes the Pacific Northwest so special. From west to east starting with the Oregon Coast:
Tillamook Head to the South of the Fort-To-Sea Trail
Tillamook Head from the Fort-to-Sea Trail

Lone Ranch Beach from Cape Ferrelo
Lone Ranch Beach from Cape Ferrelo

View from the Oregon Coast Trail near Secret Beach
View from the Oregon Coast Trail in Samuel H. Boardman State Park

Past the Klamath Mountains in Southern Oregon and Northern California:
Little Vulcan and Vulcan Lake below Vulcan Peak
Little Vulcan and Vulcan Lake below Vulcan Peak

Kalmiopsis Wilderness
Kalmiopsis Wilderness

Black Marble Mountain
Marble Mountain Wilderness

and the Coast Range to the north:
Old Growth Ridge Trail
Old Growth Ridge Trail in the Siuslaw National Forest

Sweet Creek Falls
Sweet Creek Falls

across the Willamette Valley:Trail in Minto-Brown Island Park
Minto-Brown Island Park

Bald Hill
Bald Hill

into the Old Cascade Mountains:
Coffin Mountain
Coffin Mountain from Bachelor Mountain

Rooster Rock
Rooster Rock in the Menagerie Wilderness

over the Cascade Mountains:
Mt. McLoughlin
Mt. McLoughlin

Diamond Peak from the Pacific Crest Trail
Diamond Peak

The Three Sisters from a meaow along the Rebel Rock Trail
The Three Sisters

Mt. Washington
Mt. Washington

Three Fingered Jack beyond the Eight Lakes Basin
Three Fingered Jack

Mt. Jefferson from Jefferson Park
Mt. Jefferson

Mt. Hood and the Eliot Glacier
Mt. Hood

Coldwater Peak and Snow Lake
Coldwater Peak and Snow Lake – Mt. Margaret Backcountry, Mt. St. Helens Volcanic National Monument

into the High Desert of Central Oregon:
Badlands Rock
Badlands Rock – Oregon Badlands Wilderness

Deschutes River
Deschutes River

Painted HIlls
Painted Hills – John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

NE to the Wallowa Mountains:
Ice Lake
Ice Lake and the Matterhorn

Glacier Lake
Glacier Peak and Eagle Cap from Glacier Lake

Eagle Cap Wilderness
Eagle Cap Wilderness

Here is a look at the locations of our hikes. The hiker symbols are the trailheads and the yellow house icon denotes the approximate location of our campsites.
2016 Hikes
An interactive version can been accessed here and includes all of our previous hikes.

In addition to the spectacular views the areas provided a wonderful variety of wildlife and vegetation.

Elk
Elk

Nutria
Nutria

Bald eagle
Bald Eagle

Chukars
Chukar

Coyote
Coyote

Pronghorn
Pronghorn

Deer
Deer

Rabbits
Rabbit

Snowshoe hare

Mountain Goats
Mountain goat along the Lakes Trail

Mountain goat along the Boundary Trail

Bear
Black bear in a wildflower meadow

Grouse
Sooty grouse

Sooty Grouse

Grouse

Dragonflies
Dragonfly

Dragon Fly

Dragon fly

We encountered a number of flowers for the first time this year.
Sea fig
Sea fig

Cows clover
Cows clover

Bigelow's sneezeweed
Bigelow’s Sneezeweed

Cut-leaf anemone
Cut-leaf anemone

Western blue clematis
Western blue clematis

Yellow Columbine
Yellow Columbine

Pretty Face
Pretty Face

Farewell-to-Spring
Farewell-to-Spring

Mountain coyote mint
Mountain coyote mint

Yellow coralroot
Yellow coralroot

Sea fig
Sea fig

California Lady Slippers
California Lady Slippers

California Yerba Santa
California Yerba Santa

Grass widows
Grass widows

sticky monkey-flower
sticky monkey-flower

Catchfly
Some sort of catchfly

Sea thrift
Sea thrift

beach morning-glory
beach morning-glory

Yellow sand-verbena
Yellow sand-verbena

California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica)
California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica)

Scarlet pimpernel
Scarlet pimpernel

Dutchman's breech
Dutchman’s breech

Hedgehog cactus
Hedgehog cactus

Golden Bee Plant
Golden Bee Plant

White mariposa lily
White mariposa lily

Siskiyou lewisia
Siskiyou lewisia

kalmiopsis leachiana
kalmiopsis leachiana

Muhlenberg's centaury
Muhlenberg’s centaury

Bridges' brodiaea
Bridge’s brodiaea

There were just too many sights to fit into a year end wrap up so to see a sample from each of our hikes this album contains a few photos from each hike which attempt to show the beauty of each trail. There are a lot of photos (793 – One for each mile hiked) but then again there is a lot of beauty in God’s creation.

Happy Trails in 2017 and beyond!