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This weekend Jason and I backpacked to Jefferson Park in the Mt Jefferson Wilderness in Central Oregon. Jefferson Park is a gorgeous area situated at the foot of Mt Jefferson boasting large meadows, gorgeous lakes, and breathtaking carpets of wildflowers. Our 6.3 mile (one way) journey gained approximately 2900 feet in elevation as we hiked along the South Breitenbush Trail #3375 to Bays Lake. We began our hike at a trailhead off FS Rd 46.
We arrived at the trailhead around 9 AM and found only a few other vehicles there. The skies were clear and the temperature was in the mid 50’s F. After self-registering for a wilderness permit, we set out on the densely forested trail. The trail is well-worn and relatively flat for the first ½ mile. After this point, the trail was almost all uphill. The South Breitenbush trail crosses a couple small creeks as it winds along. Approximately two miles in, the trail junctions with the Bear Point Trail.
As we rose higher, the forest slowly thinned and gave way to shorter shrubs and bushes. We also began to notice huckleberry bushes. Continuing on, we started to catch glimpses of Mt Jefferson in the distance. The trail gradually turned from dusty and rocky to a well worn dirt path. We passed a few nearly dry ponds along the well-worn trail.
At times the trail was so worn in that it appeared as though someone had edged it with a machine. This was great along most stretches but proved quite mucky any time water passed over the trail. Approximately 4-4.5 miles into our hike, we came across large meadows of wildflowers. Because of the late snow melt in this area, the flowers were in full bloom. The colors were astounding against the lush green backdrop of the meadows.
As we hiked through the meadows, we came upon a talus field. Though scattered with large boulders, the path through the talus was relatively easy to follow and we kept our footing easily. On the other side of the talus, we were greeted by another lush meadow and saw a frog sunning itself near a pond full of tadpoles.
As we neared Jefferson Park, Mt Jefferson became a larger backdrop in the green meadows. We continued to enjoy the wildflowers, stopping frequently to snap pictures of the pretty colors.
Just after lunchtime we reached Jefferson Park. There are a many lakes close together in the Park and camp sites are marked with site designators. We had hoped to camp at Bays Lake, one of the larger lakes in the area, but by the time we arrived, the lakefront sites had been taken. Working our way around Bays Lake, we found a nice spot sitting just above the lake by a small pond.
As we set up camp, the clouds began to roll in and we had a few short-lived sprinkles. For the rest of the afternoon, the skies were partly cloudy. But with Mt Jefferson practically at our doorstep, we weren’t deterred by a few clouds.
After setting up camp, we explored the area a little and found abundant huckleberries ripe for the picking. There are numerous trails in the area and many lead (in roundabout ways) to the same place. We found some areas that were closed for rehab, likely to cut down on the number of redundant trails and help vegetation regrow. Back at camp, we cooked dinner and enjoyed the sunset over the lake and Mt Jefferson. As we bedded down for the night, we were a little warm in our cold-weather sleeping bags, but as the night wore on, we were comfortable. The temperatures dropped into the mid-30’s overnight.
On Sunday Morning, we awoke to clear skies. It was considerably windy on Sunday but without a cloud in sight, we weren’t too worried about rain. After a quick breakfast, we packed up camp. With some persuasion, Jason convinced me to hike up to the top of Park Ridge on our way out. We followed the Pacific Crest Trail out of Jefferson Park and left our heavy packs at the South Breitenbush Trail junction.
The trip up Park Ridge was 3 miles one way from Bays Lake and gained approximately 1200’ elevation to its high point at just over 7000'. Because the trail to the top is the Pacific Crest Trail, it was easy to follow. At times we noted side trails to other lakes and view points that were blocked with small rocks, designating the main Pacific Crest route. The Pacific Crest Trail had a gentle rise at first, slowly ascending Park Ridge. As we hiked along, the trail steepened moderately but was nicely switch-backed. We could see Park Butte and Park Ridge in the distance. Despite the late summer sun, there were also some patches of snow along the trail.
Just before reaching the high point on Park Ridge, we crossed from the Willamette National Forest to the Mt Hood National Forest. The winds picked up considerably as the trees thinned near the top of the ridge. We stopped to take in the unexpected views of Mt Hood and Olallie Butte as the Pacific Crest trail turned back down the ridge into the valley below. In the distance, we could also see the smoky remnants of the Waterfalls 2 fire.
The three mile trip from Bays Lake took us just over an hour. After snapping a few more pictures (and growing colder by the minute) at the top, we decided to head back to our packs. Our downhill trek was somewhat slowed due to the rocky trail surface, but we reached our packs in about 45 minutes. We hefted them back on and set off for home.
Our return trip was uneventful and took us just over two hours. We saw a few other groups of hikers and backpackers, most of them along the Pacific Crest Trail. Once we were about a mile down the Breitenbush trail, we did not see another hiker until we were within a mile of the car. Hiking to Jefferson Park via the South Breitenbush trail definitely afforded us more solitude than if we had come in on the Pacific Crest Trail. This area was gorgeous and ranks among the most scenic places we have been in Oregon.
REI Pinnacle 50 Pack
Osprey Aura 50 Pack
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 Tent
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir All Season Mattress
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Mattress
Alpinizmo by High Peak USA Latitude 20 Sleeping Bag
Marmot Lithium Membrain® 0 Sleeping Bag
Exped Air Pillow
HighGear ATF8 Altimeter
Platypus Big Zip SL 2.0L
Saywer Gravity Filter
Snow Peak GigaPower Stove
GSI Outdoors Tea Kettle HAE - 1 Qt.
Petzl TIKKA XP 2 Headlamp
Olympus Tough TG-1 Camera
Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus
Triple Star Packable Down Hooded Jacket
Columbia Hightail II Jacket
GoLite Kenai Pertex 2.5L Jacket
Columbia Men's Fast Trek Fleece Hat
First Aid Kit
Suunto A-10 Compass