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Boulder Creek-Swamp Creek Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Little Boulder Lake (bobcat)
Beginning of Forest Service land, Boulder Creek Trail (bobcat)
False bugbane (Trautvetteria caroliniensis), Boulder Creek Trail (bobcat)
Turtle head (Nothochelone nemorosa), Forest Creek Trail (bobcat)
Log crossing, lower Boulder Creek (bobcat)
The loop up Boulder Creek and then back down the Forest Creek and Hidden Meadows Trails (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo

Contents

Description

Boulder Creek runs for five and a half miles through shady old growth below the talus slopes of Grasshopper Point before reaching clearcuts and generally disturbed forest. The Boulder Creek Trail is visited mostly by mountain bikers: its lower three miles are rarely paid a visit although two of those three miles are still maintained. A loop can be made that takes in the lower end of the trail, one of the most remote hiking venues in the Mt. Hood National Forest, as well as the two Boulder Lakes and old logging roads and trails on the ridge above the creek. If you wish to take in all of the lower three miles of the Boulder Creek Trail, the hike begins with a veritable bushwhack at the Crane Creek Trailhead, where the tread has been abandoned through a clearcut private square of timberland. The verbiage dates the sign here: Crane Creek’s name was changed back to Boulder Creek in 1977 (It had been Boulder Creek before, until 1924, when the Forest Service decided there were two many Boulder Creeks in Oregon). Otherwise, begin the hike at the Boulder Lake Trailhead and leave out the lower ¾ mile. The directions below start there, however, so if you choose the former, much easier, option, begin at paragraph 5. Because of the short bushwhack sections, this hike is rated 'difficult' although for most of the route, the path is easy to discern.

From the Crane Creek Trailhead, hike down the old logging road, which soon leaves shady forest and traverses across a 40-year-old clearcut on a square of private timberland within the national forest boundary. Since the cut, young conifers have regenerated and the road has been colonized by sometimes dense shrubbery, such as ocean spray, manzanita, and snow brush. The latter is the most difficult to get through, and sometimes you will be forced to find a way around or crawl through (Bring large pruners if you have a mind to whack away at all this). You’ll come to an apparent junction, where a deer trail leads down the slope: ignore this and stick to the upper road. Eventually, after further tangles with snow brush, the road tread becomes rocky and rises a little. This is a good point to keep heading north on about the same contour until you hit a talus slope. Make your way down the side of the talus and a tread will appear as you get closer to the creek. At the bottom of the talus, the trail heads right and passes an old Crane Creek Trail sign on the north side of a snag. Note the aspen grove on the talus slope.

Soon enter a shady old-growth forest of Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, western hemlock, western larch, grand fir, and noble fir. Pass Forest Service boundary markers, and note a pair of low cairns on each side of the now obvious trail: these mark the closure of the loop. On a well-maintained trail now, come to a metal one-mile marker tacked onto a tree (Small etchings on this little plate record the frustrations of hunters). Hike through a vanilla leaf, twin flower, bead lily, huckleberry carpet as the trail swings away from Boulder Creek. Rise gradually and pass the two-mile marker. The trail drops a little here, and you can stop to admire a massive noble fir on the left. Undulate gently along in pristine forest as you note little pocket meadows between you and the creek. Soon you’ll traverse through a lush meadow and encounter the wooden three-mile marker resting against the roots of a large hemlock. Cross a small brook where it issues from a spring, and reach the multi-signed Boulder Creek-Boulder Lake Trail Junction.

Go left here, and reach Boulder Creek and its footbridge. The trail rises and then drops to cross a gully. The trail then ascends the slope before leveling in shady woods and reaching gravel FR 4880. Go left 50 yards to the often busy and dusty Boulder Lake Trailhead to find the tread heading up through a thicket of willows and into the woods.

This trail can be a virtual wagon road for people carting up supplies and water toys on a hot summer weekend, making you appreciate the solitude of the rarely visited trails down in the valley. However, you should also take a few moments to appreciate the large old-growth Douglas-firs and noble firs in the woods here. Pass by shallow Spinning Lake on the left. The trail heads along next to a creek and reaches the signboard at the Boulder Lake-Little Boulder Lake Trail Junction, and beyond that, popular Boulder Lake, where many may be enjoying a warm summer day.

After checking out the lake, proceed south from the junction on the Little Boulder Lake Trail #463A. Traverse up a slope through an undergrowth of huckleberries before dropping, rather steeply at first, to a level passage through fairly open woodland to the spiraea thickets at the shore of Little Boulder Lake. The trail veers right out to the gravel, and decommissioned, FR 4881-123 spur road.

Hike up the road through a partial cut, getting open views of Grasshopper Point across the Boulder Creek valley. The road, fringed by young conifers, snow brush, and pinemat manzanita, curves right and ascends gradually before dropping gently. Then it makes a turn around a bend, passing a spur on the left, to arrive at the Forest Creek Trail-FR 4881-123 Junction.

Go left here on the Forest Creek Trail through a regenerating clearcut with red paint marks on some trees. Pass through bracken meadows and then a section of unlogged forest. Then reach a clearcut where the trail veers right and away from the abandoned alignment of the Forest Creek Trail. Shortly, you arrive at the well-signed Forest Creek Trail-FR 4881-121 Junction. Go left and down a road fringed with young larch trees. Cross Swamp Creek and then head up to the Hidden Meadows Trail-FR 4881-121 Junction. The southern section of the Hidden Meadows Trail leads off 30 yards past the northern section.

Hike on flat ground through a four-decade-old clearcut regenerating with lodgepole pine. Again, there are red paint marks on trees here where the trail actually passes through private timberland. At a junction with an abandoned logging road, keep left. In another 60 yards, there’s another logging track leading off to the left (This drops to cross Swamp Creek; to the right after the creek is the site of the Ledford Cabin and a small bog. Farther on, the old junction signs on the previous alignments of the Forest Creek and Hidden Meadows Trails can be found nailed to a cedar).

Continuing on the Hidden Meadows Trail, keep to an open tread bordered by snow brush and a variety of young conifers. Pass a bracken meadow, and then enjoy the shade of taller trees. This logging road eventually reaches the Hidden Meadows Trailhead on FR 4880 (The sign was missing here in 2015, but the pullout is distinguished by red paint markings on two dead trees). Go right on this gravel road and, in about ¼ mile at the FR 4880-FR 4880-013 Junction, take the first spur road leading left into a Douglas-fir plantation.

This road follows a level contour with a couple of very slight descents as it heads north up the west slope of the Boulder Creek valley. There are a couple of spurs that peel down to the right, but ignore these. Vehicles can follow the road a certain distance, but after a while the overhanging snow brush makes that difficult; the track is still used by mountain bikers though. Cross Swamp Creek and walk along an open slope colonized by snow brush. Pass a small stand of cottonwoods and enter a grassy clearing. The road bed rises and ends in a bracken meadow. Do not enter the forest at the north end of the meadow. Instead, go straight down through the meadow: you may find a deer trail or bike tracks to follow down to the Lower Boulder Creek Crossing. Look for a cut and small ramp in an old log. Keep going past a USFS boundary post and come to the root end of a large tree that has fallen over the lush bottomland next to the creek. Walk along the tree and dismount on the right. From here, you’ll see a broken log across the creek. Steps have been carved on a log to take you up the opposite bank, where you’ll find two small cairns astride the Boulder Creek Trail. If you began the hike at the Boulder Lake Trailhead, go left from here and follow the trail description in paragraphs 3 and 4 above. Otherwise, head back to the Crane Creek Trailhead via the south side of the talus slope and the brush-covered logging road.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Share trails with mountain bikes

Maps

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Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • A Guide to the Trails of Badger Creek by Ken & Ruth Love (old trail alignments)
  • Best Old-growth Forest Hikes: Washington and Oregon Cascades by John and Diane Cissel (Boulder Creek)

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Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.