Donegan Prairie (Umpqua National Forest) 25-Sep-2019

I first came across this short hike in John & Diane Cissel’s Old Growth Forest Hikes (2003) and then found it listed as the Donegan Prairie Trail #1431 on the Umpqua National Forest’s website. It provides access to large meadows (full of wildflowers in season), a rare dry meadow community, and large stands of 300-400 year-old trees. Unfortunately, the website said it was presently closed due to fire damage. Well, I had to see for myself what “damage” entailed (The LovedOne, sensing a possibly painful adventure, opted to have her hair done instead).

The #1431 has two trailheads – neither with signs nor amenities – but the eastern one is closest to the meadows, so I started there. For the next mile-and a-half, I went past or through several large, moist meadows on a tread that was clear and easy to follow. It’s not the season now, but these meadows must be spectacular when they’re full of wildflowers in the summer. After the last big meadow I began to lose the trail to low-growing brush but easily found it again when it passed through patches of forest. Finally, about two miles from the eastern trailhead, the trail pretty much gave it up to encroaching brush and a few fallen trees. Here navigation was by looking for where fallen trees had been cut.

After about a half-mile of this, the trail reappeared as it passed by a rare dry meadow, then promptly disappeared again as it crossed an area damaged by a 2017 spot fire. I contoured cross-country through the fire area to where the trail crossed Dead Horse Creek. Past the creek, the trail was fairly easy to follow (except for a few fallen trees near the creek) as it climbed to the western trailhead on Forest Road 800. Then a walk along that road back to the eastern trailhead.

The eastern trailhead, marked only by remnant signposts (but no sign)
The first of the large meadows at Donegan Prairie
The first 1.5 miles of trail were easy to follow
Another meadow
And yet another
Near the last of the meadows
Sentinel tree – the trail starts to fade past here
The trail (arrow) fades…
But comes back as it traverses a patch of forest
Mushrooms fill-in for wildflowers in the Fall
Following the trail by looking for cut trees (arrow)
Fall color
A ghost or lunar mushroom
The trail comes back (briefly)
Fire damage
Here the trail was almost impossible to find
The trail climbs up from Dead Horse Creek
The signless western trailhead
Returning on Forest Road 800
View of the Crater Lake Rim from Forest Road 800 (L: Llao Rock, S: Mount Scott, U: Union Peak)

If all you want to see are wildflowers in large meadows then this a great trail for that – just start at the eastern trailhead and double back after about 1.5 miles when the trail starts to become hard to follow. Following the whole trail should wait until there’s been some maintenance in general and repair of fire damage in particular (being flattened by a falling fire-killed tree would hurt, to say the least).

Unfortunately, a stand of large incense-cedars and Douglas firs was partially damaged (or destroyed) by that spot fire but there are still some live ones left that are worth seeing. Walking back on Forest Road 800 would probably be easier than trying to drive a low-clearance, 2WD vehicle along it to the western trailhead.

Following the Donegan Prairie Trail

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