Weekend Backpacker: Portland
Mount Jefferson is western Oregon's other mountain. It rises 10,487 feet from deep in the Oregon forest. No roads lead to its shoulders. No espresso stands adorn its slopes. Its wildness is its siren's call.
The Mount Jefferson Wilderness covers 99,600 acres across three national forests. Over 160 miles of trail wind across the area, including a healthy stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail. And while Mount Jefferson itself is extinct, the area is still volcanically vital. A number of cinder cones and fairly recent lava flows pepper the area.
One of the most compelling sites in the area is Jefferson Park. A broad meadow just below Mount Jefferson, the park is studded with four named lakes and a number of good-size puddles.
Such hospitable (and delicate) land so close to the mountain sees a lot of traffic, though. In an effort to preserve the area, the ranger district limits camping to designated sites. Group size restrictions are also strictly enforced.
Jefferson Park via South Breitenbush Trail
Day 1: From the trailhead on Forest Road 4685, head east on South Breitenbush Trail #3375. The trail climbs slowly up along the South Breitenbush watershed, crossing a number of running streams. At 2.0 miles pass a steep spur trail that leads up (two more miles) to Bear Point (elev. 6,043 feet). The trail now heads southeast, climbing steadily until about the four-mile mark, where it dips down to Jefferson Park.
Set up camp at a designated site. Daylight and weather permitting, you are now in prime position to explore the lower slopes of the old volcano. Pack a fanny pack and take a look around. Stay within your ability range and remember: no ice ax, no glacier travel.
Day 2: Pack up and head southeast on the Pacific Crest Trail, past Scout and Bays Lakes. At 1.7 miles from the South Breitenbush Trail junction, turn right (west) on Whitewater Creek Trail (#3429).
The Whitewater Trail runs beneath the ridge of the Sentinel Hills; from here on out it's almost entirely downhill. At the day's 4.2-mile mark you'll come to the junction with Triangulation Peak Trail (#3373). Follow this to the right, taking in views northwest to Breitenbush and south to Whitewater Lake.
At 5.9 miles turn right on Crag Trail #3364. The Crag Trail completes the steady descent down to the South Fork of the Breitenbush. On reaching the basin, cross both Crag Creek and the South Fork. Depending on the snowmelt, these crossings can be rough. Contact the ranger district to find out about conditions.
Once the South Fork is crossed, climb up to the road and hike a very short stretch east to the parking area.
Permit Information: Wilderness permit required. For details contact the Detroit ranger district in the Willamette National Forest.
Mount Jefferson Wilderness Map by Al Cardwell. Clear contours, good mile markings, shows climbing routes. Contact Geo-Graphics, 970 Muirfield Court, Beaverton, OR 97006.
Exploring Oregon's Wild Areas by William L. Sullivan (Mountaineers). Doesn't cover this particular route but provides a good overview of the area.
Take I-5 south to Salem. Take exit 253 and head east on the North Santiam Highway (Oregon 22). At Detroit Lake, follow the north shore,then cross into Detroit. Turn left on Forest Road 46. Pass the road for Breitenbush Hot Springs and turn right on NFD 4685. Follow this several miles to the South Breitenbush trailhead and parking area (where road makes strong reversal in direction).
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication