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Strawberry Mountain Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Strawberry Lake with Indian Spring Butte in the background (Jerry Adams)
Expect last bit up to the Strawberry Mountain ridge to be snow covered into July (Jerry Adams)
High Lake (Jerry Adams)

Contents

Hike Description

The Strawberry Mountain Wilderness is a fairly small, fairly uncrowded wilderness area in Eastern Oregon, a few miles South of John Day and Prairie City.

I am not all that impressed with the Strawberry Mountains. The main thing it has going for it is that it is far East so it doesn't get so much snow so it becomes accessible earlier in the season than the Cascades. Maybe I'm prejudiced because it was hot and mosquito infested when I was there. It's far away from Portland. It's not alpine like the Wallowas or Elkhorn Crest which are about the same distance away and may be better destinations. The Strawberries sort of remind me of lakes around Mount Hood like Burnt Lake or lakes in the Salmon Huckleberry area, except the Strawberries are a lot drier and thus sparser growth. Large areas have been burned off in recent years.

If I lived in John Day or Prairie City I'de be going up there all the time.

The Strawberry Mountain Loop Hike includes the best of the Strawberries. It goes up to a number of high passes, then down to scenic lakes. Early in the season, like July 1, there are plenty of streams for drinking water but I think later in the season drinking water would become hard to find.

Strawberry Lake is the one large lake. It's about one mile from the trailhead, so don't expect solitude. The lake is large enough so you should be able to find a semi private campsite even if there are many people around, just keep going a ways past where the trail first reaches the lake. The lake is large enough to provide some coolth if the temperatures are hot.

There are a number of trailheads, some of which are on rough roads. I think the Strawberry Trailhead is the most common.

There are many other trails in the Strawberries. This loop I think is the most traveled and best maintained. I also went west a ways and the trail was difficult to follow at times because it was so faint. I just had to go where I thought the trail was and eventually the trail got better defined. Also there were a lot of trees across the trail, exacerbated by the fact there have been a number of fires recently. Also there was a lot of brush that at times I just had to plow through - long pants were good.

Detailed Description

Start at the Strawberry Basin Trailhead. The trail is well marked. Elevation is 5750 feet.

Mostly, the trail is fairly easy to follow, with switchbacks. Stream crossings are fairly easy with bridges at a few places.

After 0.8 mile, there is a junction for the trail from Slide Lake, the return for this loop hike. There are actually several cut-offs between Slide Creek Trail and Strawberry Trail.

About 1.2 mile from the trailhead you reach Strawberry Lake at 6300 feet elevation. The trail goes on the South side of the lake for about 0.5 mile. There are a number of nice campsites and streams that have colder water for drinking. There's also a primitive trail on the other side of the lake with campsites. Expect a few people that have carried boats up to the lake.

One thing that was confusing is there's a sign to a trail that says "Little Strawberry Lake". This is just a bypass that goes a little off the main trail, away from the lake, and rejoins the main trail after a while. The main trail goes right next to the lake, so if horses use this, then horse poop effluent will wash into the lake, so it's better for them to use the bypass. Just use the main trail even if you're going up to Little Strawberry Lake.

At 2.3 miles from the trailhead is the base of Strawberry Falls. This is a really nice waterfall, about 100 feet high. Quite a bit of water.

At 2.5 miles from the trailhead is the top of Strawberry Falls and a little further, the junction for the trail to Little Strawberry Lake. This is at 6600 feet elevation. It's about 0.5 miles and 150 feet of elevation gain to Little Strawberry Lake. There are a number of campsites there. The lake is pretty small, so if there's a noisy group there, there's no way to get away from them. Keep your eyes on the cliffs above. If you hear rockfall, then look carefully and you may see mountain goats.

At 4.5 miles from trailhead and 8000 feet elevation is Strawberry Spring. There is probably drinking water here year-round. Expect to see snow here even in July. There are a number of nice campsites.

At 4.8 miles from the trailhead and 8300 feet elevation you reach the Strawberry Mountain ridge. The last few hundred feet are steep and if there's any snow left, this is where it'd be. The heat and elevation really got to me here so I went really slow.

Up to here it's steadily uphill with no significant downs.

Once you get to the ridge, you traverse below and to the east of Strawberry Mountain and then up its northeast side, about one mile, to it's 9038 foot elevation summit. Then go back the way you came to the ridge top.

I sort of lost the trail here. I just went over the ridge until I found a faint trail. It went south, gradually losing a little elevation. At mile 6 from trailhead I reached the old trailhead at 8000 feet elevation.

I explored off the Strawberry Loop Hike, Southwest, to Wildcat Basin and then on to Canyon Creek, but I wouldn't really recommend it. There was a campsite and spring at Wildcat Basin but they weren't very nice. Instead I camped a little before where I found a cold stream crossing the trail. Finding the trail down to Canyon Creek was difficult, I just sort of took off and eventually found a trail. I was thinking of following the ridge on the Joaquin Miller trail, but it was so hot, and I think there were long sections without any drinking water.

Anyway, continuing on the hike, from mile 6 from the trailhead, just follow the old road. Cars could drive on this, except it's blocked ahead.

At mile 7.2 and 7900 feet elevation is the Roads End Trailhead. It looked like a pretty good gravel road and several regular vehicles. Just follow the road for 0.5 miles to the High Lake Rim Trailhead at 8000 feet elevation. The road goes pretty much straight from the Roads End Trailhead to High Lake Rim Trailhead, which is different than what the USGS map says.

From here the trail goes down to High Lake at mile 8.7 and 7500 feet elevation. High Lake is a pretty small lake. There are a couple campsites. It's only a mile from the trailhead so there were some dayhiker fishermen when I was there. Nice cliffs above lake. We're on the opposite side of Rabbit Ears from Little Strawberry Lake. 0.7 miles away as crow flies, 6.7 miles away on trail.

From here, follow the signs to Slide Lake, not down along the creek or around High Lake.

The trail goes up to a high point at 10 miles from the trailhead and 8150 feet. Nice views.

From here the trail gets difficult. First, go down a ways to mile 10.3 and 7950 feet elevation. There's a trail with a sign down to Mud Lake - don't take that. Interesting how that whole basin is burned over.

Instead, you want to go generally north on the unsigned trail. It was snow covered at places, and there were some trees covering the trail. The trail was faint. I just continued along where I thought the trail should be. GPS was handy, actual trail was pretty close to where the USGS map said it was.

At mile 11.1, 7300 feet elevation, the trail nears Slide Lake. I missed it. No obvious trail. I never did see Slide Lake.

At mile 12.1, 6800 feet elevation, the trail hits a low point and a junction with the trail over to Slide Mountain. There's also a trail here that parallels the main trail above it. You can take either.

At mile 12.9, elevation 7000 feet is a high point. Really nice views. There are places you could camp if you wanted, but no water nearby.

At mile 13.8 we're back to the Strawberry Trail at 6300 feet elevation. It's 0.8 miles back to the trailhead.

For current info call:

    Malheur National Forest John Day 541-575-3000
    

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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.

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