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Thorp Creek Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as a Lost Hike. The "trail" may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Beginning hikers should check out our Basic Hiking Information page.
Thorp Creek at Thorp Creek Meadows (bobcat)
The Hurricane Divide from the Thorp Creek Trail (bobcat)
Fraternal paintbrush (Castilleja fraterna), Thorp Creek Meadows (bobcat)
Looking at Sacajawea Peak and the upper Thorp Creek valley from the Hurwal Divide (bobcat)
Golden columbine (Aquilegia flavescens), Thorp Creek Meadows (bobcat)
The route traced in red (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: Hurricane Creek Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Thorp Creek Meadows
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 9.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2830 feet
  • High Point: 7,560 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

The Thorp Creek Trail is an abandoned trail that takes the hiker into a high mountain meadow surrounded by some of the Wallowas’ highest peaks. In effect, this is the easiest route, especially if done as an overnight, from which to access the summits of Chief Joseph Mountain, the Hurwal Divide, and Sacajawea Peak. The trail is not difficult to follow in the main although changing conditions each year can make certain points (the junction with the Hurricane Creek Trail and the area around Twin Creek) difficult to negotiate. Maintenance by volunteer groups is occasional, but late summer is a good time to go and experience the seclusion of such a pristine spot.

After filling out your wilderness permit at the trailhead, head in to the woods on the well-used Hurricane Creek Trail #1807. Very soon, reach the Hurricane Creek-Falls Creek Trail Junction: it’s an easy and short diversion from here to head up the Falls Creek Trail about a quarter of a mile to the viewpoint of Falls Creek Falls. Continuing on the Hurricane Creek Trail, come to the rubbly crossing of Falls Creek. In late summer, this is a mere stepping-on-stones exercise, but earlier in the season, the crossing is more of a challenge. The forest is here is composed of Engelmann spruce, Douglas-fir, grand fir, western larch, ponderosa pine, and lodgepole pine. In open areas, aspen spread up the slopes. You can get glimpses of Hurricane Creek rushing below to your left.

Soon reach an area of fallen trees, all knocked over by an avalanche that roared down from Hurricane Ridge. Get views up to the rugged ridge of the Hurricane Divide to the west and the Hurwal Divide to the east. Ahead, the northern slopes of Sacajawea Peak, the highest point in the Wallowas, become obvious. You will cross a couple more creeks in open areas before reaching the large outwash fan of Deadman Creek. Then, about a quarter of a mile beyond the Deadman Creek crossing, in a grassy area, look for an unmarked trail leading off to the left from the Hurricane Creek-Thorp Creek Trail Junction.

This is the Thorp Creek Trail. The trail slopes gently down to shaded Hurricane Creek. The crossing almost always necessitates a ford, better done with trekking poles for balance especially if you have an overnight pack. Once across the creek, there will be a confusion of trails and pseudo-trails leading to an open meadow scoured by some outwash from Twin Creek. The old Thorp Creek Trail has been obliterated by the flooding of this creek, so head straight across the meadow to pick up a use trail that enters shady forest and veers right to the rocky gully carved by Twin Creek. Try to keep on a use trail here as it eventually connects with the tread of the Thorp Creek Trail, which rises parallel to Twin Creek in an open grassy woodland dominated by ponderosa pine. Now the dusty trail switchbacks steeply with tread often in bad repair. You will get glimpses over to a plunging waterfall in the canyon of Thorp Creek to the right. In addition, Sacajawea Peak comes into full view.

Eventually the grade slackens and you will find yourself hiking along the ridge of an ancient, grass-covered moraine. The trail rises more steeply again to enter parklands dominated by subalpine fir and whitebark and lodgepole pine. The path, here very obvious, dips into numerous small gullies along the slopes of Chief Joseph Mountain. The high point on the trail marks a possible cross-country ascent route to the saddle between Chief Joseph Mountain and the Hurwal Divide. The trail now drops and meaders through fairly open, dry woodland to the first of the Thorp Creek Meadows. There are a few places to camp off on the edges of this meadow. An obvious tread continues to a second meadow and then peters out at the burbling bed of Thorp Creek.

Hikers entering remote Thorp Creek Meadows often do so to ascend some of the nearby peaks. Sacajawea Peak can be ascended by heading up Thorp Creek to where it meets the mountain’s east ridge. This ridge can be followed all the way to the summit, but there is some exposure as the best footing takes you right along the rim of Sacajawea’s spectacular marble east headwall. Those willing to chance further exposure can then make their way across the highest ridge in the Wallowas to the summit of the Matterhorn, but don’t do this unless you have full confidence in your head for heights. The high point on the Hurwal Divide can be accessed by scrambling up steep fell fields and scree directly from Thorp Creek Meadows. From here, you can descend to the saddle to the north and walk two miles along the ridge to the summit of Chief Joseph Mountain. Head back to the saddle and descend from there to the Thorp Creek Trail.

Thorp Creek Meadows and their surrounding slopes support a wide variety of wildflowers, including arnica, paintbrush, alpine death-camas, golden columbine, subalpine daisy, alpine milk-vetch, sagewort, and cinquefoil. There are deer in the valley and mountain goats on all the high ridges. A herd of bighorn sheep sometimes frequents Chief Joseph Mountain’s summit area.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass required
  • Sign in at the Wilderness Permit box at the trailhead
  • Keep dogs on leash around horses; step off the trail when they approach.

Maps

(Note: No recent USFS maps show the Thorp Creek Trail, but some topographical maps still indicate the route)

  • Imus Geographics: Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Eagle Cap Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 75 Scrambles in Oregon by Barbara I. Bond
  • Hiking Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness by Fred Barstad
  • The Wallowa Mountains: A Natural History Guide by Keith Pohs

More Links

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.