We are back again with a weekly featured hike to inspire your summer adventures and share what our new book, Oregon’s Ancient Forests: A Hiking Guide, has to offer. Today we are returning to the Mt. Hood National Forest to share the Fifteenmile Creek hike. It is a longer and more difficult choice, but this hike features an incredibly diverse array of old-growth trees and is an awesome outing for your day off.
Or, you could join Oregon Wild on this hike next Thursday, July 25th. This trip will focus on learning the basics of tree identification, so it is the perfect opportunity to brush up on your tree knowledge! There are only a few spots left, so be sure to sign up today if you’re interested.
Fifteenmile Creek - The Hike
Distance: 11.3 mile loop
Elevation Gain: 1940 ft
First, Some Background:
This hike will take you through one of Mt. Hood’s most diverse old-growth forests of mixed conifer, ponderosa pine, and Oregon white oak. Along the trail, hikers will also see the vegetative transition from moister higher-elevation forests to drier lower-elevation forests, each featuring its own unique wildlife habitat.
Though the ancient forest of the Fifteenmile Creek drainage is not protected as a roadless area, eleven miles of its pristine channel gained Wild and Scenic River status in 2009. This designated stretch begins at its headwaters in Badger Creek Wilderness just west of the trailhead. The National Wild and Scenic Rivers system was enacted by Congress in 1968 to, “preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for enjoyment of present and future generations.”
How to Get There:
From Interstate 84, take exit 64 in Hood River and drive south along the East Fork Hood River on Oregon Route 35. About 25 miles south of Hood River, turn left on Forest Road 44, a quarter mile south of milepost 71 and just past a Junction 44 sign. Follow this paved road 8.5 miles; then turn right onto unmarked but paved FR 4420. In just over 2 miles, stay straight to stay on pavement onto FR 2730. The trailhead is 2 miles farther at Fifteenmile Campground, just before you cross Fifteenmile Creek, a total of 12.7 miles from the OR 35 turnoff. Parking is limited to pull-offs in the campground and along the roadside.
This loop loses roughly 1900 ft of elevation on the first half and then gains it all back, making for a difficult, though very enjoyable hike. Another thing to note is that this trail gets a fair amount of mountain bike use, so stay alert.
The hike begins in the small campground near the restroom. In a half mile, go right at the trail junction for the Cedar Creek Trail to start the loop. You will descend further to cross Fifteenmile Creek on a bridge and as you continue down the trail, you will pass through diverse forests with denser and more sparse, younger and older, living and dead patches of trees with wild strawberries and lupine lining the trail. Around the 2-mile point, the forest opens up on the ridge that offers views of volcanic peaks to the north over the Fifteenmile Creek canyon. The trail continues its gradual descent on this ridge over the next 2.3 miles, passing boulder outcrops, huge orange-barked ponderosa pines, stunted juniper, grassy wildflower meadows with fluttering butterflies, as well as firs and vine maple in moister areas. After 4.7 miles, the descent steepens even further as you drop down the spine of the ridge. Notice how the south side to the right is drier, featuring white oaks, manzanita, and pine, while the north side to the left is a moister mixed conifer forest. The trail’s loose dirt, rocks, and steep incline make this half mile stretch challenging.
At 5.3 miles you will reach the valley’s bottom, near the confluence of Cedar and Fifteenmile Creeks. Cross Fifteenmile Creek on a little bridge. On the other side you will find a campsite that is a great place to rest and enjoy a snack. After your break, continue by following Fifteenmile Creek upstream, following the sign for the campground. Along the way you’ll find some vine maples, a few scattered cottonwoods, a grove of big redcedars, larches, ponderosa pines, and thimbleberry and huckleberry patches. At 7 miles the trail crosses a rocky channel of a seasonal stream and a bit farther along it crosses a flowing creek on rocks and logs. After this crossing, the trail begins to climb more steeply as Fifteenmile Creek’s sounds fade into the distance and the forest becomes drier. At around the 8-mile point you will begin switchbacking up the ridge for nearly a half mile, beginning to parallel an old logging road partway up. You’ll reach a natural rock garden on the ridge, with a rock wall dropping off steeply to the left and a pine plantation (previously logged) dropping off to the north. Continuing on, the trail follows an old logging road and then continues climbing to the ridgetop and through a narrow meadow with ancient twisted skeletons of long-dead pines. As you continue, you’ll have views across the Fifteenmile Creek canyon, making this tough climb worthwhile. You will get a break from the climbing soon and descend into the moister mixed-fir forest as you return to the main stream, crossing side channels along the way. Stay to the right at the trail junction (completing the loop) and continue the final half mile uphill back to the trailhead.
This hike is one of the 91 awe-inspiring hikes in our new book, Oregon’s Ancient Forests: A Hiking Guide, by Chandra LeGue. The book expands upon simple hike descriptions, providing fascinating ecology and natural history lessons as well. Get your own copy today, either online, in select bookstores, or at one of our book events throughout the summer.
Follow along for book updates and event info on Facebook at Oregon’s Ancient Forests, and Instagram @oregon_ancient_forests. And in return, we’d love to follow along on your ancient forest adventures! Tag your forest photos with #OregonOldGrowth and #ORAncientForests.
For more hikes and outdoor adventures, check out our suggested outings page.