Harris Ranch Trail (Drift Creek Wilderness)

Greg and I went hiking in the Drift Creek Wilderness on Wednesday in the hopes of seeing some good fall color. The color wasn’t as we had hoped, but it was still cool to explore this area that until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know existed.

There are three trailheads to get into the wilderness, two on the southern end, and one at the northern end. The Horse Creek trailhead on the northern side is really the best option because it doesn’t require a fording of the creek. There’s a one-mile segment of trail along the creek itself, but it’s on the northern shore, so if you hike in from the north, you’re set. If you hike in from the south, you have to ford the creek to get to that creekside trail, and from what I’ve read, the creek is too deep and swift for fording except for the driest months of the year. Due to time constraints, we weren’t able to do the northern trail, so we started from the south at the Harris Ranch Trailhead. (The third trailhead appears to take you along a segment of trail that is no longer maintained, according to the Siuslaw Forest web site.)

You drive Highway 34 west from Corvallis (and man, what a beautiful drive it was! Fantastic fall colors!), and then turn north Risley Creek Road for 4.2 miles, then fork left onto Road 346 for 0.3 to the road’s end at the trailhead. We saw a variety of wildlife on the drive back in there: two quail, a group of four domestic sheep, and two seperate deer. Cool! (The only fauna we saw during the hike itself were slugs, although this area is a spotted-owl habitat and the largest concentration of spotted owls in the Coast Range is in this wilderness.)

The day started off foggy, with just a slight mist in the air. It was actually pretty cool, and certainly better than rain! The first 0.8 mile is along a closed portion of the access road to the old trailhead. According to Sullivan, they closed this part of the road and moved the trailhead to its current location because of washed-out culverts that occurred in the late 90s (probably those infamous 1996 storms). However, I didn’t see anything that looked that bad, not like the approach to Table Rock, where there really are some HUGE washouts along the old road. I get the impression that this wilderness isn’t high on the priority list for the Forest Service.

Foggy walk

After entering the forest at the old trailhead, the trail began to drop and drop and drop. Huge doug firs and cedars towered above us, as well as some maples. It was a very cool forest! After awhile we started to see some lovely vine maple too. If there was any precipitation, we were pretty protected from it by all the big trees. The trail was slick in some spots though, both from mud and from wet leaves. I only slipped and fell once!

After descending 1,300 feet over 3 miles, we found ourselves at Drift Creek. There’s supposed to be a meadow there with a chimney and remains of the pre-WWII Harris Ranch homestead, but what we walked through wasn’t really a meadow, exactly. There was also supposed to be trail heading off to the right in that meadow, which goes 0.3 mile upstream to the ford. Didn’t see that either, and didn’t take the time to poke around and find it.

In any case, we explored up and down the south side of the creek and took pictures.

Drift Creek

Fallen leaves

To our disappointment, the bigleaf maples were pretty much naked. This was surprising, since the creek is less than 200 feet in elevation. It must have been that damn wind we had last week. I heard the coast really got slammed, and even though this creek is down here in a canyon, the winds must have found their way here.

Naked maples

We were out of time, so we packed up and began the long hard 3-mile climb back out of the canyon. By this time, it was raining, and I was soaked before we were even halfway back to the car. I was cold and wet by the time we got back, and glad for a change of clothes and a warm car ride along the very scenic highway back to Corvallis.

I’d like to explore here more. The forest here is really lovely; I love big trees! Next time I’d like to come down from the north on the Horse Creek trail. I don’t think this area sees much use. I had never even heard of it until Greg told me about it. One deterrent for many hikers who might come here, I think, is the fact that you gain elevation on the way out instead of the way in, which is never fun, but sometimes necessary!

See all the pictures from this hike here.

Oh yeah, and I made it back to Portland just in time for the pink sunset. Beautiful!

Post-hike sunset

Fall color at Fall Creek

If you’re looking for someplace to see beautiful fall color this weekend, the Fall Creek area would not be a bad choice. Greg and I headed out here on Wednesday to take pictures of the foliage, and we were not disappointed. (Incidentally, this trail was mentioned as part of the blurb for the Willamette National Forest in the Fall’s Best Forests picks on the GORP web site.)

It’s about a half hour east of Eugene. Take exit 188A and take the highway east for 14 miles, turning left at the covered bridge. Follow Jasper-Lowell Road 2.8 miles through Lowell, following the signs for Fall Creek. At a four-way stop by another covered bridge, turn right on Big Fall Creek Road, going about 10 miles. You’ll see the trailhead on the right just before a bridge at the Dolly Varden Campground.

The fall color here here is really gorgeous, with some vine maples and lots of big leaf maples overhanging the creek.

Maples at Fall Creek

Many maples

Pretty early on, you cross a bridge over a really cool side creek that slides into Fall Creek over an area of smooth rock. You can’t see it very well from this side of the creek, but you could probably get a good view of it from the other side.

Slide right in

The road parallels the creek over there on the opposite bank. We could hear the occasional car or log truck, but traffic was pretty light. There were some spots we could see on that side that would have definite good access points for getting good views of the creek. The trick, of course, would be to find them once you’re driving along over there!

The trail follows the creek upstream for many miles, but we were pressed for time and only went 2.5 miles up, then turned around and came back. I think we stopped just short of Timber Creek. This was the last spot we took pictures from, a big mossy rock peninsula where the creek curved.

Leaves, moss, and a creek

Even though we only went a few miles, we saw LOTS of beautiful fall foliage and got lots of good pictures. (See all of them here.) It was a chilly day (we read 45 degrees in the car on the way in), and it drizzled off and on, but we had a few short sun breaks too. Driving back up Interstate 5, we drove through the blackest of black rain storms as well as sunshine and blue sky. WEIRD weather day. But this one is worth braving the weather for!

Spectacular fall color on Mt. Hood and at Tamanawas Falls

I didn’t have to work until evening on Tuesday, so I headed up to Mt. Hood to check out the fall color. GO NOW! It is spectacular! The drive up Highway 26 is really pretty with vine maple and various trees whose leaves turn yellow. I continued down 26 over Blue Box Pass, and all the vine maple along there is on fire. I went down the road to Timothy Lake a short distance, along which is MORE brilliant vine maple.

Burning bush

Tuesday was pretty overcast, but the clouds were high, so I could see Mt. Hood in its entirety, nearly completely white with snow.

The mountain we love

I stopped at Umbrella Falls at Mt. Hood meadows, which is looking lovely. There is some muted fall color there, and the air is filled with the pungent smell of decaying vegetation. Lots of wildflowers grow there in the summer, and the area is now one big pile of rotting plant matter.

Umbrella Falls

I continued down Highway 35 and stopped to hike to Tamanawas Falls. What a gorgeous hike this time of year! There is a whole bunch of vine maple along the trail and it is all bright yellow right now. Throw in a beautiful little creek and pleasant surroundings, and you have yourself a fantastic fall hike.

Leaves over the creek

And because of all the precipitation up there lately, the waterfall is looking pretty decent. I didn’t have time to do the longer loop back, unfortunately.

Tamanwas Falls

It looks like a big rockslide took out part of the trail a short ways down from the waterfall at some point and they’ve recently re-routed it across the slide. Was that from this past winter? I also saw a footbridge in the creek at the bottom of that slide, but where the heck did it come from? The trail doesn’t cross the creek upstream from that point, so where would a footbridge have washed down from?

Mysterious bridge

I drove home via Hood River, taking Highway 35 down to Interstate 84. 35 is absolutely AMAZING right now: vine maples, big leaf maples, poplars, and others are all at their peak of color. It is truly a spectacular drive right now. When I got to Hood River I wanted to turn around and drive it again, or else get out of my car, turn around to face the mountain, and shout “BRAVO!” It really felt like I was driving through Mother Nature’s own personal color show.

Here are more photos.

Fall color in the Table Rock Wilderness

Last year on October 14, my sister and I went hiking in the Table Rock Wilderness and stumbled on some fantastic fall color. There’s a fair amount of vine maple along this hike, especially in the rock slide areas, and it was all quite colorful. Plus, it was a clear enough day that we were able to see the nearest peaks (Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson) and we could barely make out Washington’s peaks. Pictures here.

Hoping to see some of that same fall color, Greg Lief and I headed out to Table Rock this Sunday (10/7). It was a week earlier than when I went last year, but the color seems a little early this year anyway, and similar sites with the same elevation are seeing color already, so we decided to go for it. Jarhead already covered the specifics of this hike pretty well in his trip report, so I’ll try not to repeat.

The day was pretty cloudy. At times the clouds were quite low, including when we bushwhacked from the trail to the bottom of the first rock slide. The tops of the trees above us were faint through the fog. But the vine maple on that rock slide was pretty, and worth the effort of hacking through alder and devil’s club to get there.


Back on the trail, we passed vine maple that last year had been bright yellow, but on Sunday was just barely starting to turn. Darn it! We continued on to the summit, or rather, the small rocky area just below the summit, where we had a hope of not being blown off the mountain by some pretty fierce winds. It was too cloudy to see even Mt. Jefferson, and sometimes we were totally socked in, not even able to see Rooster Rock or the surrounding valleys and hills. But with the wind and clouds swirling around, we ended up witnessing what I call “cloud dancing” and it was pretty cool. Wisps and swirls and towers of clouds moving about in the valleys below and over the nearby ridge tops. Often, we could see the Willamette Valley to the west beneath a gap in the clouds, which was pretty strange. Sometimes we could see the base of Mt. Hood and the lower parts of the Cascades.

Cloudy day view

After about 20-30 minutes of watching the dance of the clouds, we headed back down, catching some more rock slide vine maple on that one really big slide that the trail crosses. It had been socked in on our way up. We also heard the delightful “meep!” of pikas, but never saw any of them.

Oranges and yellows

One thing I noticed on this hike that I failed to notice last year is the HUGE abundance of bear grass and rhododendron. So this is a place I definitely want to return to next summer on a clear day, for wildflower goodness and volcano views.

Oh yeah, the drive in to the trailhead is pretty awesome right now, driving up the Molalla River. The big leaf maple along there is truly gorgeous! We stopped once for pictures, even as the light rapidly faded in the shadow of a tremendous rain storm that started dumping about 45 minutes later. We never got rained on while hiking, though!

The makings of a beautiful drive

All pictures here.

So if you’re looking for some fall color, it’ll probably start looking really vivid there this weekend and into the final weeks of October!