As part of our continuing project to hike (even just a little) in all of Oregon’s 47 wilderness areas (less the two that are aquatic), we took a drive north to the Boulder Creek Wilderness on the North Fork of the Umpqua River. It’s one of the few official wilderness areas that’s snow-free in winter. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive for us but we did get to see Mount Thielsen with a full snow cover on our way to the trailhead.
We started at the Soda Springs Trailhead and then followed the Soda Springs Trail #1493 as it ducked below the penstock which feeds the small hydroelectric plant further down river.
The #1493 climbs up past the wilderness boundary,
past Soda Springs,
to a junction with the Bradley Trail #1491. We took the Bradley west toward Pine Bench, out into an area devastated by the 1996 Spring Fire (the 2008 Rattle Fire burned even more of this wilderness).
Our transit of this burned area was brief and we were soon entering the forest on Pine Bench that had been mostly spared by these fires.
Huge Ponderosa pines are a unique feature of this wilderness. Their survival on the bench is attributed to long taproots that can reach groundwater and a bark resistant to wildfires.
We were able to catch a glimpse of Mount Bailey to the east through some of the burned snags on the bench,
before reaching a junction with the Boulder Creek Trail #1552 . Note the wire loop that once held a forest telephone line insulator.
Judging from the quality of the tread, the majority of the visitors to this area make it to the bench – with its open meadows and plentiful camp sites – and not much further.
We decided to explore further north on the #1552, thinking we could reach the small waterfall on Boulder Creek at 2,300 feet. The #1552 is in good shape up to a short side trail to a spring on the left and a nice campsite on the right. Shortly after that it enters another burned area,
and its quality deteriorates markedly. Efforts were made at some point to keep it clear of the larger fallen trees but there has been new blowdown (not show-stopper size but irritating) and some invasion by brush. It seemed to us that it gets far less use than do the trails to the bench. After about 0.7 miles, we came to a junction with the Perry Butte Trail (formerly USFS #1487), which was badly damaged by the fires and as a result has fallen off the USFS list of maintained trails in this wilderness. Fortunately, some members of the Friends of the Umpqua Hiking Club in Roseberg have been making a effort to keep Perry Butte open.
We kept on but trail conditions remained irritating and the LovedOne began making mutinous noises such that reaching the waterfall seemed less and less likely.
We’d just reached a point where I could at least see the waterfall,
when open rebellion broke out in the ranks. Rounding up the usual suspects and shooting the ringleaders seemed inadvisable in this case, so we headed back.
Rather than returning on the Bradley Trail, we continued south on the #1552 down a long set of sweeping switchbacks,
to a trailhead at a junction with an old road that comes down canyon from the powerhouse. You can supposedly drive to this lower trailhead but the road is pretty rough.
We walked up the road to the Soda Springs Trailhead, stopping to be amazed by the contorted basalt columns forming the cliff across from the powerhouse.
A short (8.3 miles roundtrip; 1,000 feet of elevation gain) but interesting hike on a bluebird day in a previously unvisited wilderness – 13 more wilderness’ to go!