We jumped on a favorable forecast and headed for Eugene for our February outing. On our itinerary was a trio of stops that would allow us to check two more of Sullivan’s featured hikes off our to-do list. The three stops were short enough that even with doing them all the total mileage would remain under 10 miles.
We chose to start off with Spencer Butte (Hike #74 in the 5th edition of “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Central Oregon Cascades”). We started here in hopes to avoid crowds as we’d read that this was a popular hike. We started at the Spencer Butte Trailhead which provides the shortest routes up to the viewpoint atop Spencer Butte.
Other trailheads and longer hikes are possible using Eugene’s Ridgeline Trail System but we stuck to Sullivan’s described hike this time.
At a fork at the top of some stairs leading uphill from the trailhead we veered left following a sign for the “West (Difficult) Route to Spencer Butte Summit”.
This route gained nearly 800′ in less than 3/4 of a mile climbing steeply over exposed rocks and mud. There was a fair amount of fog in the forest which was helping to keep things nice and damp which made the rocks a little slick.
As we neared the summit we began to break out of the thicker fog and gain some views. A mass of clouds covered the lowlands to the West.
The trail left the trees a little below the summit and a confusion of trails headed up into the rocks. To fine the recommended route keep left on the main trail to a big switchback in the trees. We turned up a bit early on one of the other, steeper trails which eventually joined the better route above the switchback.
A word of warning for this hike (in addition to it being steep) is that there is a fair amount of poison oak in the exposed grassy areas and the butte is home to some rattlesnakes. It was way too cold to be worried about any snakes on this visit but apparently in warmer weather they could be about.
At an elevation just over 2000′ the summit was above most of the clouds although there was some thin fog lifting from the thicker clouds below impacting the views a bit.
Spencer Butte’s summit high point.
View north from the high point towards Mary’s Peak (post) which was above the clouds.
There is said to be a nice view of the Three Sisters from the summit, but by avoiding the crowds (we hadn’t seen another hiker yet) we were staring directly at the rising Sun which effectively stymied any hopes of a mountain view.
The lack of a view was partially mitigated by a really good “glory” or Brocken spectre which is the magnified shadow of an observer cast upon clouds opposite the Sun’s direction surrounded by a rainbow-like halo.
After a short rest we started getting chilly so we began our descent. We headed down a path on the east side of the butte.
This longer route was a little less steep and definitely an easier descent than trying to go down the West Route would have been. After a series of stone steps the trail reentered the foggy forest.
A little over 3/4 of a mile from the summit we came to a junction with the Spencer Butte Tie Trail which connects the loop to the Ridgeline Trail.
We stayed right here to complete the loop back to the trailhead passing a grassy picnic area near the end.
We passed quite a few more hikers on the way back to the trailhead. Given that we were back at the car by 8:35am we could only imagine how crowded the summit would be later, so even though the view could have been better we were happy with our choice to start here.
Our next stop was at the Shotgun Creek Recreation Site. There is a $3 fee listed on the BLM website but that appears to only be enforced during busier months although be prepared to pay the fee at any time. We began the hike from the Shotgun Creek Trailhead and immediately started up a trail next to the signboard with a pointer for the Tiki Trail.
Not far up this trail we spotted our first wildflower of the year, some little snow queen.
We also quickly realized that we were going the wrong way (at least for the hike Sullivan describes in Hike #76 of the 5th edition. We had only gone about a tenth of a mile so we turned around and returned to the trailhead where we crossed the parking lot and took a paved path past the recreation sites amenities.
We followed paved paths to Shotgun Creek and then along the creek to the signed Upper Shotgun Trail.
This trail followed along the creek for a mile before turning into the forest to loop back toward the recreation site.
We spotted our second variety of wildflower as we began to loop back around, a lone skunk cabbage near a small seasonal stream.
After a little over 2 miles on the Upper Shotgun Trail we came to a 4-way junction.
The trails straight ahead and to the right were labeled for the Tiki Trail with the right hand trail being the one that we had started out on earlier which would have allowed for a short loop of approximately 2.5 miles. Sullivan’s description of the hike would have had us go straight here on the Tiki Trail loop resulting in a nearly 3.5 mile loop. This time we decided not to stick to Sullivan’s hike and instead turned left past a pointer for the Drury Trail.
This route was the suggested route in the Oregonhikers.org Field Guide. This trail climbed nearly 500′ over the next mile as it passed through the forest. The climb provided no views but simply began dropping back down after reaching its high point near a BLM road. The second mile of the trail approached a clear cut where there were views out of the forest but the view consisted of clear cut scars which are frankly just depressing to look at. That being said along the 2 mile Drury Trail there were a few nice sights include some older trees and our first yellow violet of the year bringing our wildflower variety county up to three.
An older tree along the trail.
Mushrooms on a trunk near the clear cut view.
When we arrived back at the Tiki Trail we turned left.
Initially we were headed back toward the clear cuts but then the trail did a 180 degree turn heading back toward the trailhead. Shortly before arriving back at the recreation site we again had a look at Shotgun Creek.
The loop that we did came in at 5 miles. We were just under 7 miles for the day with one stop to go, Horse Rock Ridge. The Horse Rock Ridge Trailhead was only about 6 miles away but 1400′ higher in elevation than Shotgun Creek. We followed the windy narrow paved roads to find that while we’d seen no other hikers at Shotgun Creek that was not going to be the case here. There were a number of cars here so we parked on the side of the road at a pullout and walked up to the start of the trail behind some boulders and a wire fence.
The first part of the trail follows an old roadbed which is banned to OHVs and other motorized vehicles. The boulders, fence, and logs laying across the old road are unfortunately necessary because despite having miles of OHV friendly roads and trails in the area some of those folks just can’t respect the fragile habitats set aside for preservation such as Horse Rock Ridge.
After .7 miles the trail entered the first of a series of meadows along the ridge where a reportedly impressive display of late Spring wildflowers occurs in May and June. Being February we were treated to frost :).
Steam rose from the wet hillsides as we followed the trail through the meadows past exposed basalt formations.
About halfway through the meadows the trail passed to the north of a large rock outcrop. It had to drop beneath the rocks which proved to be the trickiest part of this hike because the outcrop shielded the north facing side from the Sun leaving the rocks icy and slick.
I picked on the OHV folks earlier but they aren’t the only ones that can cause damage. Despite signs at the trailhead to remain on the trail to not damage the vegetation it was obvious many “hikers” had been walking on the grass and other vegetation, especially along this section. In a case like this if the condition of the trail is such that you feel it is not safe or possible to use it then it probably should be your turn around point. We took an inventory of the trail and decided that there were enough exposed footholds that we could carefully navigate the icy conditions and continued.
Heather emerging from behind the outcrop.
More sunny meadows awaited (as did another little climb) and we passed a small pool of water and the only wildflowers we would see here today on some manzanita.
Near the top of the meadows the trail approached a basalt dike which we are taking to be Horse Rock although we couldn’t confirm that.
From this area the view extended to the snowy Cascade Mountains although the clouds that had been covering the valleys from Spencer Butte had lifted and moved east enough to now be interfering a bit with those views. We still managed to get nice looks at Mt. Jefferson and North & Middle Sister.
Three Fingered Jack was also somewhat visible above the clouds.
At the end of the dike was a rock overhang.
The trail continued on into the trees ending near some towers. We went ahead and followed it finding a reminder that despite the sunny green hillsides it was still Winter for a bit longer.
We returned the way we’d come ending this hike just under 3 miles giving us 9.8 total miles for the day. While there were quite a few hikers on Horse Rock Ridge it didn’t seem like as many as the cars at the trailhead suggested. All three of the hikes were relatively short but Spencer Butte was not an “easy” hike. The slick rocks on Horse Rock Ridge made that a little tricky although we saw a child around six and another hiker that was easily in their 80’s on the other side of that tricky section. For kids though the Shotgun Creek Recreation Area would probably be the best with the creek and other amenities. We will probably look at getting to Horse Rock Ridge during wildflower season somewhere down the line, but for now it’s another hike checked off our to-do list and we couldn’t have really asked for a much nicer day. Happy Trails!