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 (The third trailhead appears to take you along a segment of trail that is no longer maintained, according to the Siuslaw Forest web site.)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.
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.
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.
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!