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Underhill Trail to Fifteenmile Creek Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View to Mt. Hood, abandoned forest road above Fifteenmile Creek (bobcat)
Old Cabin, Old Cabin Loop (bobcat)
Meadow death-camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum), Underhill Trail (bobcat)
On the Underhill Trail above Fifteenmile Creek (bobcat)
Arrow-leaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittate), Underhill Trail (bobcat)
Dalles Formation cliff, Fifteenmile Creek (bobcat)
Map showing the hike and the loop option (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo Note: Caltopo alignment of the Underhill Trail is way off track; also Mt. Hood NF boundary is now north of the jeep track
  • Start point: Underhill TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Fifteenmile Creek Eastern Trailhead
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out or loop using forest roads
  • Distance: 11.8 miles as an in and out
  • Elevation gain: 1785 feet
  • High Point: 3,695 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Mid-Spring into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No
Snakes
Ticks

Contents

Description

The Underhill Trail is the last hiking opportunity in the Mt. Hood National Forest as you go east on FR 44 towards Dufur. It is also one of the most remote and unused trails in the northern Oregon Cascades and arguably the best trail in that area that has never appeared in a guidebook - although it does appear on several maps. A plaque at the trailhead states that the 160 acres around the current small campground/picnic area was donated by Mrs. Adeline Underhill, the wife of Ned Underhill, who operated a small mill here during the Great Depression. The scouts from nearby Camp Baldwin have earned innumerable merit badges setting up a small trail system that, due to lack of boots on the ground, is going to seed in places. Most of the signage is down or blasted to pieces by target shooters. A short loop leads down and around Ramsey Creek, where you can find a collapsed old cabin. Then you can continue up the ridge on the Underhill Trail to descend into the next drainage, Fifteenmile Creek, through a lovely semi-open oak and ponderosa pine savanna blooming with wildflowers in the spring.

If you are just doing the Underhill Trail, it is 5.6 miles round-trip. The loop option described allows more views, but it does cross a patch of private land on a county road (or rather a jeep track): keep strictly to the forest road in this section: it cuts about a mile off the total mileage.

Walk down the slope from the campground past a hiker only sign. The trail veers to the right under ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, and grand fir. Descend to paved FR 4450 and cross. The trail drops, passes through some split-rail fencing, and reaches the Underhill-Old Cabin Trail North Junction. Go right here to make the west circuit of a loop – you’ll see the only signpost on the trail down to your left: this advertises the East Loop, which peters out in a meadow, and the Old Cabin Loop, which you’ll take on your return.

Descend an old road bed. Soon you’ll pass a long series of steps, constructed by the Scouts, leading down. You can take this shortcut or continue on the road bed, which switchbacks and runs through a meadow. The destination for both options is a collapsed old cabin on the bank of Ramsey Creek. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can follow an abandoned trail tread that leads along the north bank of Ramsey Creek past an Eagle Scout shelter, erected in 1992, and then over two rotting footbridges. Then, above the tread, you’ll see a couple of split-rail enclosures around a woodpile and a small, collapsed structure. Eventually, you’ll end up at a sturdy footbridge on the Old Cabin Loop.

If you’re staying on the Underhill Trail, cross Ramsey Creek on a footbridge at the old cabin. The trail keeps to the creek a short distance and then rises up the slope through a carpet of vanilla leaf and little wild rose. Reach the Underhill-Old Cabin Trail South Junction and go right to continue traversing up the hillside in fairly open woods of Engelmann spruce, Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, and grand fir. Reach the Underhill Trail-FR 4421 Junction.

Walk 40 yards to the left and resume the unsigned trail just past a small boulder. The trail traverses down the slope in open oak/ponderosa/manzanita woodland blooming with balsamroot and death-camas in the spring. You’ll get views to the Lookout Mountain-Flag Point ridge over the Fifteenmile Creek valley. Enter coniferous woods, cross a draw, and traverse up to a ridgecrest. Head down this ridge, with oaks and manzanitas to the right and some larger Douglas-firs and ponderosa pines to the left. Pass above a rocky meadow blooming with buckwheat to make a switchback below the meadow and descend gradually in a pine and oak parkland. Make another switchback at a draw and, passing clusters of lupine and luina, drop down an open meadow and enter a shady woodland. The trail descends on a faint tread in a meadow studded with ponderosa pines and reaches the campsite at the Fifteenmile Creek-Cedar Creek-Underhill Trail Junction.

The Underhill Trail is not mentioned on the signage here. Go left on the Fifteenmile Creek Trail and soon enter Strawberry Meadow. After the meadow, you’ll pick up an old road bed that runs along the creek under a canopy of western red-cedar. Pass through Pinegate Meadow and then undulate along the slope above Fifteenmile Creek before dropping on the rocky road bed to creek level again. Cross the creek on a long footbridge and hike along the south bank in shady forest. Recross the creek on a similarly lengthy footbridge, this one in poor repair and rather overgrown with riparian vegetation. Walk up and along an oak savanna slope, crossing small footbridges and passing a couple of springs. Lupine blooms alongside the trail in spring and ground squirrels scurry into their burrows at your approach. A cliff composed of Dalles Formation sediments rears above: these are creek deposits, composed mostly of pyroclastic materials, laid down over the Wanapum basalts of 15 million years ago. You’ll see an old road bed below, which the trail soon joins. Pass a bullet-riddled hiker sign and reach a junction with a decommissioned road track. Head down to the right to reach the Fifteenmile Creek Eastern Trailhead. You can find a pleasant picnic spot on the south bank of the creek to the right of the road bridge.

Note: The Fifteenmile Creek Eastern Trailhead is not recommended as a drive-in possibility. You cannot access it via the Upper Fifteenmile Road which runs along the north bank of Fifteenmile Creek (This road is closed as part of the Dufur Watershed). The only option is via FR 4421, accessed through Dufur, Shellrock Road, and Spring Mill Road. FR 4421 requires 4WD and high clearance, so you may have to park near a private farm and hike two miles along the road to the trailhead (See this trip report for details: Fifteenmile Creek Trail loop from the east).

Loop option:

To make a loop on rarely traveled 4WD tracks and abandoned roads, walk back to the junction near the hiker sign. Hike up to the right on an eroded, rocky road bed. Pass in and out of a gully and then under a ledge of the Dalles Formation and look back to get a view of Mount Hood behind Flag Point. Continue up this track and pass above an extensive meadow surrounded by oak woods. Curve up to a berm where the track joins a 4WD road. You’ll see No Trespassing signs here, so keep to the road: County Road 4615, really a segment of the meandering Logging Gulch Road or FR 4421 (This road section across private land is less than 1/4 mile). You’ll note a lonely A-frame off to the right in the oak savanna. Pass the national forest boundary and get another view of Mount Hood (In this segment, the public land is mostly to the south of the road).

If you're uncomfortable walking past the No Trespassing signs, walk back down the eroded road bed to above the Fifteenmile Creek Eastern Trailhead. Bushwhack up the slope, veering slightly left and taking care to keep to the left of any No Trespassing signs, until you reach FR 4421 at the rim.

Ponderosa pines begin to appear among the oaks. There are views to the basalt cliffs above Fifteenmile Creek as you pass a road track leading right. Pass through an open gate and, at a road junction, keep left under larger pine trees. Where the road turns away from the ridge, you’ll see a campsite and bermed track on the left. This will keep you to the valley rim and the passage is obvious as it is sometimes used by ATVs. Where large trees have fallen, the ATVs have manufactured a track to circumvent them. Keep gently rising until you see a gate across the track where it meets FR 4421. You can stay on the ATV track a little longer as it takes the ridge crest and then drops to FR 4421. Then it’s a pleasant stroll along the gravel forest road for about ¾ mile to where the Underhill Trail crosses it at the Underhill Trail-FR 4421 Junction.

Descend the Underhill Trail to the Underhill-Old Cabin Trail South Junction, and keep right to complete the Old Cabin Loop. Make a descending traverse in coniferous forest to a substantial footbridge over Ramsey Creek and then hike up the slope, passing through a meadow to pass the junction with the abandoned East Loop to reach the Underhill-Old Cabin Trail North Junction. Go right here to cross FR 4450 and return to the trailhead.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Camping, picnic shelter, vault toilet, information kiosk at the Underhill Trailhead
  • The Underhill Trail is sometimes indistinct: good trail finding skills are necessary
  • Mountain bikers share the Fifteenmile Creek Trail.
  • Short passage across private land if you're doing the loop: keep strictly to the road.
  • If you're doing the loop, you may encounter ATVs, which occasionally use some of this section

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Underhill Trail #683 (USFS)
  • Fifteen Mile Trail #456 (USFS)
  • Green Trails Maps: Flag Point, OR #463 (Underhill Trail not shown)
  • Discover Your Northwest: Mt. Hood National Forest North: Trail Map & Hiking Guide
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Barlow Ranger District
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks

  • Note: Guidebooks cover lower end of this hike (Fifteenmile Creek Trail) only:
  • A Guide to the Trails of Badger Creek by Ken & Ruth Love
  • Kissing the Trail by John Zilly

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.

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