Elk Lake Creek Trail

Sunday, August 26, 2018

While staying at Gold Butte Lookout, Greg and I had wanted to hike up Battle Ax Mountain. But it was far too cloudy, so we opted for a forest hike instead. We drove to Elk Lake and set off down the Elk Lake Creek Trail into the Bull of the Woods Wilderness. I’ve never seen such a plain wilderness boundary sign before:

Elk Lake Creek Trail

It had rained the night before:

Elk Lake Creek Trail

We were pleasantly surprised to discover we had hit peak huckleberry ripeness. There were THOUSANDS of them:

Elk Lake Creek Trail

Elk Lake Creek Trail

We were hiking through a nice old forest with big tall trees. Love it!

Elk Lake Creek Trail

Elk Lake Creek Trail

Elk Lake Creek Trail

Elk Lake Creek Trail

There were a number of downed trees we had to detour around, under, over:

Elk Lake Creek Trail

Elk Lake Creek Trail

Elk Lake Creek Trail

At the point where we crossed a section boundary we saw this old sign on a tree:

Elk Lake Creek Trail

Still in the trees:

Elk Lake Creek Trail

Old withered candy stick:

Elk Lake Creek Trail

The trail started losing elevation as it descended towards creek level:

Elk Lake Creek Trail

Crossed an old bridge:

Elk Lake Creek Trail

I don’t think this boardwalk has been maintained in a LONG time:

Elk Lake Creek Trail

And then we arrived at the junction with the Mother Lode Trail. This is a big open area that is clearly very popular with backpackers:

Elk Lake Creek Trail

Elk Lake Creek Trail

Elk Lake Creek Trail

The Battle Creek Shelter once stood here somewhere, but collapsed from heavy snow several decades ago. In 100 Oregon Hiking Trails (1969) it says “The three-sided shelter is well-preserved and has a concrete fire pit and a steel grate.” I could find absolutely no sign of the old shelter. No bits of lumber and no remnants of the concrete fire pit. It is thoroughly gone.

We sat and enjoyed a snack and listened to the sound of nearby Elk Lake Creek:

Elk Lake Creek Trail

Elk Lake Creek Trail

The trail keeps going to another trailhead on Road 6380 but we weren’t going that far. We headed back and on the way I spotted an old phone line insulator up in a tree. Lookouts and guard stations were connected by phone line in the pre-radio days. These insulators were put in trees and the phone line strung between them:

Elk Lake Creek Trail

It was 8.5 miles when we were all done. It was cold and cloudy at Elk Lake when we got back. Time to return to our warm lookout!

Elk Lake

Bull of the Woods Lookout

On Sunday I hiked up to Bull of the Woods Lookout via Pansy Lake.

There were about a dozen cars at the trailhead. When I got out of my car, ACK! Mosquitoes! Swarming me! I scrambled for my long-sleeved shirt and headnet, which of course were buried in my pack. Mosquitoes swarmed into my car. I hoped that the car would warm up as the day progressed and that the heat would kill the little bastards. (It didn’t.)

I marched through the forest at a steady pace, which was the only way to escape the mosquitoes. There were lots of rhododendrons but only a few were blooming. Snapped a quick picture and kept on hiking.

Took the side trip down to Pansy Lake, which is really more of a marsh. To my surprise the bugs weren’t that bad here. I took the opportunity to switch out long sleeves for sunscreen and bug spray due to the weather warming up.

The Pansy Lake Trail climbs up away from the lake and you get views of Pansy Mountain towering to the west.

I picked up Mother Lode Trail #558 and continued climbing. There were occasional views.

There was a nice little rock garden area at one spot where wildflowers were blooming.

Saw quite a few bleeding heart in the forest.

There are huckleberries EVERYWHERE. This would be a great hike in August. Actually, this would be a very slow hike in August, nom, nom, nom.

This must have been a great hike last year during the banner beargrass bloom. I saw hundreds of dried up beargrass stalks from last summer along the trail and at the summit. Note to self: come back and hike this again next time we have a good beargrass year.

I got to a spot where there was a wide view to the south and southeast. Not knowing which direction I’d have views at the summit I took a panorama photo here. (Turns out you CAN see this direction from the summit.) The snowy peaks on the left are the Three Sisters and the big bump on the right is Battle Ax Mountain.

I saw a really weird phenomenon that looked like a reverse rainbow. Later at the summit I saw that it actually encircled the whole sun. Is this a sundog?

After 2,000 feet of climbing I finally got a glimpse of the lookout.

Yay, I made it! And there are no mosquitoes up here…thanks, breeze!

The lookout is getting pretty run down. You can walk around on the catwalk but the lookout has a steel cable wrapped around it to keep the shutters closed and door barricaded.

Here it is in better days:

Part of one shutter was missing and I could see through the window that there was a bunch of junk inside, including a new-looking metal ladder. I thought that the lookout was considered officially abandoned, but judging by the stuff inside I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t know what, if any, plans the Forest Service has for this place. I know that the Wilderness Manager for the Mt. Hood National Forest is dead set against having any structures inside wilderness and won’t allow maintenance on existing structures (which is why the Upper Sandy Guard Station is falling to pieces). On the other hand, they did take the trouble to wrap the lookout in fire protection during a 2010 wildfire, so who knows.

Bull of the Woods wrapped

Anyway, from the catwalk there are views. So many views! Everywhere! Looking east:

Looking north (that’s Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood in the picture but I could also see Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier):

Looking south:

Big Slide Mountain and WAY down below is Big Slide Lake:

The little white speck in the center is Gold Butte Lookout, where Greg and I stayed on a rainy weekend last September:

Sisi Butte and its lookout tower:

The views of Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters were especially nice.

I like to compare lookout views of today to the old panorama photos, if they exist. Here’s how the views looked in 1934. Southwest:



Saw a woodpecker. Cool to see him up-close!

This lookout hasn’t been staffed in many decades so I was shocked to see the old outhouse still standing!

I wasn’t alone up there; people came and went, but it was never crowded. I lounged around on the summit for a few hours, just soaking up the views and (finally) the sunshine, once the high level of clouds burned off. This weird little cloud looked like a doodle across the sky.

Finally with a parting shot I tore myself away and hiked down the Bull of the Woods Trail to finish my loop back to the car.

I picked up the Dickey Lake Trail and headed downhill. This trail has A LOT of downed trees on it. Some of them are situated in such a way that the only way to get past is to get down on your hands and knees and crawl under.

And then I saw a grouse chick! I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and saw a mama grouse, and then I got just a glimpse of a fuzzy chick disappearing down the trail ahead of me. Mama was acting very protective and making all sorts of noises. She seemed like she might act aggressively towards me if I tried to pass (she was just off trail in the forest). I stepped back and gave her a few moments, thinking she’d follow her chick (and, presumably, its siblings), but I later realized she wouldn’t do that, drawing attention to her babies. I eventually hiked past very quickly and although she flapped around and got upset, she didn’t attack me. I didn’t see any more of the chick.

I took the little side trip to brushy Dickey Lake, then kept moving to escape the mosquitoes.

Back at the car I dumped my gear in, did some very quick stretches so I wouldn’t be limping today (all the while flapping and flailing at the mosquitoes) then jumped in the car and drove away. I didn’t even take the time to change from boots to crocs.

There are only seven lookouts still standing in the Mt. Hood National Forest and after today the only one left I haven’t visited is Sisi Butte. (Well, Hickman Butte, too, but I’ll never get to visit that one since it is in the Bull Run Watershed.) This was a totally GREAT hike for a clear summer day.

By the way, there must have been at least 100 people backpacking in the Bull of the Woods Wilderness this weekend. I saw plenty of backpackers just in the little corner of the wilderness I hiked through. I’m sure that there were lots more in other areas.

Backpacking to Big Slide Lake

On Sunday, my sister and I did a short one-nighter in the Bull of the Woods Wilderness. It was my first time there. I’ve never done any hiking in that particular wilderness, although I have been to the Opal Creek Wilderness next door. We hiked the Dickey Creek trail to Big Slide Lake, which is 5.5 miles in. (Some pictures below, but the whole set is here.)

At the beginning of the hike, the trail descends steeply for 500 feet. It would have been better if they’d built switchbacks, but instead the trail just plunges straight down the hill. Since the trail was covered with loose dirt and pebbles, I was afraid I’d slip and fall, even though I had my hiking poles, but I managed to stay upright.

After that, the trail passes through some lovely old growth. The forest is quite pleasant to walk through, and even though it’s too late for wildflowers and too early for fall color, we DID have our pick of yummy huckleberries. They were EVERYWHERE. Mostly the red ones, but some of the blue ones too. We picked as we hiked, sometimes stopping altogether for a particularly full bush.


After 2.9 pleasant miles, the trail crosses Dickey Creek, which is a charming body of water. There is a little campsite here, and it would be a fine place to camp, especially on a hot day. The creek crossing was not a problem. Not only was the water level low enough for rock-hopping (my method of choice), but there is also a big log that traverses two-thirds of the water. The view below is from the log crossing.

Dickey Creek

It is another 2.6 miles and 1,300 feet from the creek crossing to the lake. The trail climbs up and up and up, well-graded in most parts, but still going relentlessly up. The huckleberries kept us going. Finally we reached the first of two rock slides below Big Slide Mountain. The first one is obviously older, with quite a lot of trees and vegetation growing in it. A short while later is the second (newer) rock slide which is huge. It’s bigger than this picture conveys.

The big rock slide

It was here that we saw the first fall color on this hike. There was a lot of vine maple growing in the rock slides, and those are always the first to turn. A note here: this whole trail will be spectacular in a few weeks. There is an unusually high amount of vine maple along the whole route. Except for at the rock slides, it’s still green at this point. I kept thinking as we walked by it all, “this will be so beautiful soon!”


Shortly after leaving the second rock slide, there is an unmarked side trail plunging steeply down the hill on the right. This trail leads to the campsites on the west side of Big Slide Lake. Being a Sunday night, we had the place to ourselves, so we staked the tent and set about making dinner. The campsites here are pleasant. We took the one nearest the lake, but there were several others scattered in the trees on the slope above the lake. There are also at least two nicely-constructed fire rings.

Cozy campsite

It got down to about 35 that night, but we still managed to stay pretty warm in our tent. The morning was clear and sunny, although the sun never reached the lake before we left, thanks to the high ridges surrounding the lake. You can hike up to those ridges, actually. And the trails up there connect with other trails in the wilderness. We had considered undertaking the 2.2 mile 1,300-foot climb to the fire lookout on Bull of the Woods Mountain, but we decided to hike out and go to Bagby Hot Springs instead.

It's going to be a sunny day

This is a really pleasant little lake for a one-nighter, and although it takes nearly two hours to get to the trailhead from Portland, the trail is short enough that it doesn’t require a whole day. I get the impression that this lake doesn’t get as many visitors as some of the other lakes in the wilderness, but according to the trail register at the trailhead, about 20 groups have hiked in here this month. Oh, I should mention that Big Slide Lake would be perfect for swimming on a warmer day. There is a cute little island that you could probably wade to, and the water in the lake is surprisingly warm. All in all, this is a nice little hike. I’d like to do it again later in the fall to see the autumn display!