Boulder Lake Loop

After a cold but dry night at Fifteenmile Campground Saturday night, Greg and I headed over to the Boulder Lake Trailhead yesterday morning for a loop hike.

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There were three other cars at the trailhead, which has a nice big gravel parking area.

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On the short bit of trail between the TH and Boulder Lake we noticed these red marks and arrows painted on the trees. My best guess is someone (not the Forest Service) marking this trail for winter travel.

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Spinning Lake, just a shallow little pond:

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We soon reached Boulder Lake, which was quiet and peaceful. Based on the NUMEROUS fire rings and campsites we saw at the lake, I’m betting this is not a quiet place to be on a Saturday night.

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A little ways down the trail is Little Boulder Lake:

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Just after that lake you pop out onto Road 123 for a bit of road hiking. But it’s less than a mile and it’s not bad at all. We saw footprints, bicycle tracks, and vehicle tracks in the road dust, but had the entire route to ourselves.

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After picking up the trail again we passed through several recovering clearcuts. Every single one showed evidence of a spectacular beargrass bloom earlier this summer. That must have been a sight to see!

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This stretch also had huckleberries. Millions of them. I kid you not. We thought we’d seen a lot of huckleberries on the Fret Creek Trail the day before, but the berries were even more profuse on this trail. It was crazy!

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We reached a nice viewpoint looking out to Grasshopper Point and down on Little Boulder Lake. We sat here and had a snack, taking layers off and on as the warm sun repeatedly came out from behind the clouds and then disappeared again, leaving us shivering.

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We could also see down the canyon into the dry territory of central Oregon.

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Further down the trail is Echo Point, where we had a nice view of Gunsight Butte (dead center), Lookout Mountain (a little more to the right), and Badger Peak (in the foreground on the right).

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We could also see a bit of Boulder Lake from Echo Point.

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The trail dropped down to dried-out Bonney Meadows.

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After popping into the campground to use the toilet, we descended down, down, down back to Boulder Lake. This section is steep in places. It’s definitely better to do this loop clockwise like we did. Towards the bottom we passed beneath the HUGE rockslides made up of the HUGE boulders from which the lake gets its name.

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And then we were back at Boulder Lake, with it’s lovely aquamarine water.

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We saw this old CCC-era picnic table missing its table top and one of the benches. No doubt it was hacked up for firewood long ago. What a shame.

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A short jaunt down the trail and we were back at the car. We were pleasantly surprised by this lovely loop. We expected to find signs of this trail being neglected and forgotten but that turned out to be far from reality. We saw numerous instances of recent trail maintenance.

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And there were lots of signs!

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There must be a pro-recreation pro-sign employee working for the Barlow Ranger District. Thank you, whoever you are!

If you’re interested in doing this loop yourself, you’ll find a very detailed hike description in the Oregon Hikers Field Guide.

Palisade Point

Our weekend plans went through several changes in just a matter of days. We had planned on going camping or backpacking with friends, but sadly they had to cancel for want of a dog-sitter. Then Greg and I decided to do a one-night backpack to Santiam Lake, until we got a look at the forecast and decided that was a bad idea. The forecast worsened, but I was desperate for nature time and staying home was not an option, so finally on Friday night we decided we’d go to the east side of Mt. Hood and hope that we’d at least stay dry, which we mostly did.

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This forecast, by the way, is a real-life embodiment of that classic Oregon joke: What do you call two days of rain in Oregon? A weekend.

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Let me translate what the weather guys are trying to say here: “We have NO idea what will happen.”

Yesterday we hiked the Fret Creek Trail up to Palisade Point. Almost immediately our progress slowed to a crawl due to the huge amounts of huckleberries all around us. There were SO MANY. YUM YUM.

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Crossing Fret Creek:

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It was very windy and the trees creaked and groaned around us. Sort of eerie. Just before reaching the Divide Trail we passed Oval Lake, which is more like a pond. We could see Palisade Point high above us.

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Signage! You never know when or if you’ll see signs at trail junctions, especially in the Mt. Hood Forest.

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Lots of this tiny sedum by the trail just before reaching the viewpoint.

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We reached Palisade Point and got a good look at the sky above us. “Partly sunny.” Yeah. Right. We climbed up on the rock.

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The views were very limited. Flag Point to the east:

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The lookout was so tiny, even with the camera zoom!

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That’s Lookout Mountain on the right, hiding in the clouds:

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We climbed part of the way up that rock in the picture above. From there we could see down on Oval Lake.

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Greg looking out over the Badger Creek Wilderness. The first rock we climbed is beyond, with Flag Point on the right.

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It was CRAZY windy up on those rocks, and consequently quite cold. On a warmer clearer day we would have lingered a lot longer enjoying the views and sunshine. But on this chilly day we retreated into the protection of the trees and headed back down. We had considered adding Flag Point or Lookout Mountain onto our hike, but with the low clouds and lack of views we didn’t see the point.

On the way back down this little bird near the trail seemed to be posing for me. Held still while I got a few photos!

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We were camped at little Fifteenmile Campground just down the road, so we dumped our packs, grabbed some sandwich bags, and went back for some more huckleberries. When we got home this evening we enjoyed them over Tillamook vanilla bean ice cream. DELICIOUS!

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Mt. Rainier Weekend

Greg and I had originally planned to go to Mt. Rainier for a three-day weekend in August. But this crazy dry year we’re having meant the wildflowers started blooming there about five weeks early. So we quickly changed our plans and went up there the weekend of July 10-12. Unfortunately for us, Mother Nature was a bit of an asshole about the weather.

Camping in and around Mt. Rainier is challenging. When we pulled into the Ohanepecosh Campground around 10pm on Thursday there were no signs saying the campground was full, even though it was. After slowly making that discovery in the dark, we went down to La Wis Wis, which is a Forest Service campground run by a concessionaire. We managed to snag a spot (the first-come first-serve spots are hard to find in the dark), set up the tent, and fall into our sleeping bags exhausted. (More on our experience at this campground at the end of the post.)

Friday: Looking for wildflowers in Berkeley Park

We were driving in a cloud for much of the way to Sunrise and it was very damp. We got to Sunrise Point and got out to look around. We had gotten above many of the clouds by that point, so we had some views, although we probably only saw about half of what was out of there.

Below the viewpoint on the north side was a nice-looking lake and meadow. So we decided to hike down there. When we were almost to the lake we encountered the first of two grumpy photographers on this hike. The guy had a long lens so I asked if he had seen any wildlife. “Yep,” he said, without looking at me. “Deer, elk….?” I asked, just trying to be friendly. “Lots of elk tracks” he said, without looking at me. Okay then. I’ll be on my way.

Sunrise Lake was quite lovely, and amazingly enough we had the place practically to ourselves!

A few little side trails from the lake go up to the edge of the meadow, but no further. Lots of great lupine there.

On the way back up to the car we passed grumpy photographer #2, except this guy was more than just grumpy. He gave us the most vicious and menacing glare as he hiked past us. Wanting to say something to Greg, I looked back to see if the guy was out of earshot and he had stopped on the trail to turn and stare at us. He gave off major creepy vibes and I was glad I wasn’t alone.

On to Sunrise and the hike to Berkeley Park. This hike starts in the alpine and stays in the alpine, which is a fun experience since there are almost no hikes in Oregon that do that.

Then there was this guy. Talking on his cell phone. While hiking. 🙄 🙄 🙄 🙄

Stopped at the Frozen Lake viewpoint for a snack and a rest. Lots of fat ground squirrels around here, no doubt getting plenty of handouts despite signs warning visitors not to do so. Greg got this nice up-close shot:

Continuing onward to Berkeley Park.

The best of Berkeley Park’s flowers were over, but there were still some blooming.

Marmot! (as photographed by Greg)

After circling the bowl, the trail bends toward the center of the park. Right at that bend is an unnamed snowmelt creek which was utterly delightful. Lupine, monkey flower, valerian, paintbrush, aster, and this yellow flower (can’t remember it’s name) were blooming all over. It reminded me of that creek that goes through Elk Cove on Mt. Hood.

Greg got a very nice shot of a butterfly here:

On the hike out we saw another marmot:

The clouds had lifted a bit to reveal the near mountains, although there was more in the distance we still couldn’t see.

Back at Sunrise:

Saturday: In which we hike in a cloud

We really wanted to do the hike to Summerland. It’s HUGELY popular because of it’s combination of views and wildflowers. The weather forecast for Saturday was almost identical to the day before. Since the clouds had lifted for partial views on Friday, we anticipated that happening again on Saturday. Mother Nature had other ideas.

There is very little parking at the Summerland trailhead considering how popular it is, so we got up very early, had a quick breakfast, and managed to snag a parking spot by 7:20. Then set off for three miles of hiking in a forest in a cloud.

After three miles we crossed Fryingpan Creek. We’re still in a cloud. This is not looking good.

We passed a nice patch of fireweed, which turned out to be the best patch of wildflowers we would see all day.

After climbing up, up, up from Fryingpan Creek…

…we arrived in Summerland and saw – wait for it – the inside of a cloud!

Except for the lousewort the flowers were past peak.

It was cold and damp and unpleasant. The hike isn’t worth doing without the views and wildflowers, and we felt pretty crushed to not get either of those. If we had known the clouds weren’t going to lift, we never would have done this trail. It was a very disheartening and discouraging day.

On the way out we passed at least a hundred hikers heading in. We thought the meadow area had felt crowded at 10:30. I can only imagine how packed it must have been by early afternoon. We also saw a group with a dog. Off-leash. No dogs are allowed on national park trails, and I’m sure they later got a warning from one of the three park volunteers we had seen earlier. On the plus side we saw a WTA crew doing trail maintenance. Yay!

Sunday: The Skyline Trail

Washington gave us a nice send-off Sunday morning by raining just enough to make our tent wet and un-put-awayable. We shoved it in the car and headed for Paradise. Our plan was to hike the Skyline Trail, which is a loop that starts and ends at Paradise. This was the “view” of the mountain when we arrived.

We debated whether to even do the hike. We were fed up with the weather after the previous day, and not feeling the love from Washington (this was the second trip to that state in less than a year in which the weather went sour on us). But we decided to go for it.

Saw two deer just a few feet away from the Paradise Inn.

The “view” of the mountain.

Here’s how that scene looks on a nice day:

The wildflowers in those meadows near Edith Creek were DONE. But further along we found this patch still in bloom.

And the western pasque flower was still hanging around too

And then, gasp! The clouds cleared for a brief moment and the mountain came out! It lasted for only a few minutes, and we never saw the mountain again the rest of the day.

There is this delightful little stream where thousands of monkeyflowers were blooming. I’ve never seen this many in one place before!

Me walking through the flower craziness, as shot by Greg:

Up ahead we could see people crossing a snowfield. Surely our trail doesn’t go there, does it?

Guess it does, because that’s Panorama Point on the other side.

So off we go. We were fine with our poles, but I wouldn’t want to try this without them. There is a higher alternate route that probably bypasses this snowfield. We had seen a junction a little earlier, but hoards of people had been standing around in front of the signs and we had just continued straight. I bet one of those signs said something like “less dangerous route this way.”

From Panorama Point the clouds had lifted enough that we had views of the near mountains, but we couldn’t see anything beyond.

Of course the locals were out and about looking for handouts.

On the descent from the point we saw several good patches of wildflowers that were still going strong. Crazy that we had to hike to 7,000 feet in mid-July to see wildflowers still blooming!

We saw several marmots on this hike. One of them was gobbling up the lupine blossoms at a very high speed.

Greg has a 300mm zoom lens now and got this great shot:

There’s a mountain in there somewhere.

By the time we got back to the car we had encountered several hundred people on the trail. The upside to hiking in a national park is the fabulous signage and the customer-oriented attitude of the visitor centers (which are – GASP – open on weekends!). The downside is the HUGE crowds.

As for La Wis Wis Campground, I’m not entirely sure I’d ever say there again. It is the most poorly-managed Forest Service campground I have ever stayed at. The three main issues we experienced were: 1) The first-come first-serve sites are scattered around and hard to find in the dark. There is no list or map of these sites. 2) The post-10pm quiet time was not enforced, and boy was this a LOUD campground. 3) The bathroom in our loop deteriorated over the course of our stay, from being clean and stocked Thursday night to being out of TP and not clean by Sunday morning. I wrote a letter to the GP Forest and to Hoodoo about it and have actually heard back from both parties, to my surprise.

Paradise Park

Greg and I headed up to Paradise Park yesterday. We debated which trail to take. The Timberline Trail is much more interesting and it’s shorter, but it’s also more exposed (and it was a hot day) and it’s a lot more crowded. So we opted for the boring but shadier and quieter Paradise Park Trail.

The “campground” at the trailhead was pretty busy when we arrived. I pack at home but Greg likes to pack at the trailhead, so I left him to it and started out at 9:30. He caught up around 40 minutes later. I had forgotten my earbuds so I had to have my iPhone on “speaker phone” to listen to This American Life podcasts on the hike up. I would normally never do this, but that trail is six long miles of nothing and I had to have some mental stimulation.

After 3.5 tiresome miles we finally reached Paradise Park and I was crushed to see that we were WAY too late for the wildflower show. Most of the lupine had gone to seed. The other flowers were bedraggled and wilting. The meadows were starting to turn brown.

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August 11, 2013:

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July 18, 2015 (almost the exact same spot):

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We sat and hung out by Lost Creek for awhile. A few monkeyflowers and other stragglers were hanging on there, and the creek was a welcome relief on such a hot day.

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At 3:30 with Wall Street Pizza calling our names, we started heading down, finally getting back to the car at 6:15.

I think we’ve probably seen the last of the big wildflower shows for the summer, which is totally crazy. It looks like Paradise Park was at peak about two weeks ago, 5-6 weeks earlier than when we visited in 2013. On our way up we ran into a guy who was not from the area and he speculated that the best flowers were probably during the spring. No, we told him, even in a dry year like this there is still snow up there in spring. He was surprised to hear that in some years (such as the awful late snowmelt year of 2011), the flowers are going strong on Labor Day.

Chucksney Mountain

On the 4th of July I hiked up Chucksney Mountain. There is a 10.3-mile 2000′ EG loop trail that goes up to the summit and back down.

Since I was on my own I was able to get a nice early start and the hit the trail by 7:30. The trail climbs up and up and up through varying types of forest. There are actually some pretty big trees in here, which was nice.

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I started seeing some beargrass as I got closer to the top. Much of it was past peak, but not all of it. I can tell that it was a good beargrass year here:

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Also saw some tiger lilies:

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And scarlet gilia:

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And paintbrush:

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More flowers:

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I came to one patch that had clearly been burned in the not too distant past. It still smelt ashy. It wasn’t too widespread, though, so they must have spotted it and put it out quickly.

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There was one section of trail near the top that traversed a west-facing grassy slope. The trail was completely obscured. This is looking back along the section I just hiked.

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After all that climbing, finally the summit meadow:

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Apparently these meadows are known for good wildflower displays in summer. But the flowers were toast. I figure I was about 3-4 weeks too late for the bloom. The lupine had gone to seed and the beargrass were past peak. I don’t even know what other kinds of flowers there may have been, since I’m not good at identifying stuff just by leaves.

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Here is an iPhone panorama looking east. I have no idea where all these clouds came from since the forecast called for clear sunny weather.

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Closer look:

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Looking west (the second one is an iPhone pano):

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While I was sitting and snacking a butterfly came and posed on my pack. Thanks, beautiful!

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Not sure what kind of bird this is, but it too seemed in a posing mood:

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Once the trail re-entered the trees I saw the best beargrass I’d seen on the whole hike so far. It was as tall as me and only some of it was past peak. It was pretty abundant.

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To loop back down I hooked up with the Grasshopper Mountain Trail and began the LONG descent back to the car. Seemed to take a long time, or so my knees thought.

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So, quite a long hike, at least for me. 10 miles is about my limit for one day. Wish I hadn’t missed the peak of the bloom, but at least I got to see some beargrass and nice views. BTW, the name of this mountain is from a local Indian celebrity made his home in the valley of the Middle Fork Willamette River, according to Oregon Geographic Names.

I don’t think this trail sees many visitors, although I did see signs of trail maintenance. In the fourth edition of 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades this is a back-of-the-book hike, but if you have a third edition it’s hike #72.

Williams and Erma Bell Lake

I spent this past weekend camped at French Pete Campground and exploring the area with some day hikes. On Friday I headed for the Three Sisters Wilderness to hike the eight mile loop that goes past Erma Bell Lakes and Williams Lake.

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On the way to the trailhead I saw a doe and two fawns on the road ahead. That’s the second time in less than a week!

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The fawn on the right didn’t know what to do. Rather than follow mom, it ran to the right and hid in the bushes right by the side of the road. I snapped a quick picture through the window then moved on so the poor little guy could reunite with his family.

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The trail is FLAT. It’s also shady. Both of these qualities were perfect for another scorching hot day.

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A young grouse exploded out of the brush and flew up into a tree, scaring the crap out of me. A few seconds later a sibling did the same and headed for a different tree. And then a much bigger grouse, surely the mother, followed suit, and made annoyed noises at me from her tree. Here’s a picture of the first grouse.

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The lower of the three lakes. Sheesh, it was hot in the sun after being in the forest!

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In-between the lower and middle lakes is a lovely waterfall, which the Northwest Waterfall Survey calls Erma Bell Lake Falls. It’s right off the trail and the partial viewpoint from the top is easy enough to get to, although to get to the bottom requires a bit of scrambling on a steep booth path.

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If you look at the topo map, it looks like there are a number of waterfalls on this creek downstream of the lower lake. The creek takes a dive off the plateau on its way to the Middle Fork Willamette River. Steep terrain there.

The middle lake. Man that water is CLEAR!

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There were quite a few iridescent blue dragonflies at this lake.

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The upper lake:

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I get the sense that all three of these lakes are very popular backpacking destinations. There were signs everywhere about camping in designated campsites only. Unfortunately the Forest Service doesn’t provide any maps or guidance about finding these designated campsites. They don’t even tell you how many there are at each lake.

At last, Williams Lake! This is where I allowed myself a nice cool dip, although frankly the water was shockingly warm. There was none of that adrenaline rush you get dipping into a cold body of water, because it was not cold at all. Still felt refreshing though!

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Spotted a toad:

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After lingering at the lake for awhile, snacking and soaking, I continued on to finish the last part of the loop. After a long dry stretch through the woods, Otter Lake was the last lake on the loop:

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Considering it was a holiday weekend and considering the presence of so much swimming potential, I was surprised to see no other hikers on the trail. The only people I saw were some dads and sons who had already set up camp at the lower lake when I hiked by. There’s nothing spectacular and jaw-dropping about this hike, but it’s lovely all the same.

Blair Lake Trail to Spring Prairie

The last weekend of June Greg and I stayed at the Pickett Butte Lookout (see report), which was great. Unfortunately it was a HOT HOT HOT weekend, but we still had a great time.

On the drive down we made a pretty big detour to hike the Blair Lake Trail up to Mule Mountain. After seeing this report and the beargrass extravaganza, we decided we had to see it. So we left early on Thursday and headed towards Oakridge. Despite getting up at 5am, we didn’t hit the trail until 10:30. The car’s dashboard said it was 68 degrees outside, but it felt more like 80.

We started seeing beargrass pretty much right away:

Blair Meadows

Beargrass

Beargrass in Blair Meadows

You know it’s going to be a good beargrass display when it’s prolific even in the forest:

Beargrass in the forest

We took a short side trip to a viewpoint overlooking the lake where a geocache is hidden:

Found the geocache

Blair Lake Trail

Saw some rhododendrons in bloom:

Blair Lake Trail

As we emerged into the open meadows (some maps call this Beal Prairie) we got a view of Diamond Peak:

Blair Lake Trail

The meadows were AWESOME! There were millions of beargrass blooming there. It was crazy! Beargrass blooms in cycles. It’ll be good one year, then be mediocre for a few years. Here is what it looked like when I was here in 2013:

Beal Prairie

And this year:

Blair Lake Trail

Blair Lake Trail

Blair Lake Trail

Blair Lake Trail

Blair Lake Trail

Blair Lake Trail

Beargrass

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The trail tops out at Spring Prairie where, as I mentioned in my 2013 report, a fire lookout cabin was built here in 1930 before being moved one mile away in 1953. It shows up in this 1933 panorama photo:

Here is the foundation:

Blair Lake Trail

The views from here are pretty sweet. Three Sisters:

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Three Sisters

Diamond Peak:

Spring Prairie

Diamond Peak

Mt. Jefferson:

Mt. Jefferson

Mountains

We got back to the car at 3:30 with many miles ahead of us until reaching the lookout, which we finally reached at 8:30. The detour was WELL worth it, though!