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White Iris-Bissell Trail Loop 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.
Clackamas white irises (Iris tenuis), White Iris Trail (bobcat)
The upper traverse, Bissell Trail (bobcat)
View to Wildcat Mountain, Old Baldy Trail (bobcat)
Western rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum), Old Baldy Trail (bobcat)
Shaggy mane (Coprinus comatus), White Iris Trail (bobcat)
Map showing the trail and road routes for the loop (bobcat) (not a GPS track) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Old Baldy West TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Old Baldy
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 11.1 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 1955 feet
  • High Point: 4,485 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Early Summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Description

This hike takes advantage of a couple of abandoned yet still navigable trails in the upper South Fork Eagle Creek drainage. The two trails can be connected using the maintained Old Baldy Trail #502 and the paved but little-used Forest Road 4615, which tunnels through towering old growth. Both the White Iris and the Bissell Trail can be difficult to locate in places, however, so only experienced trail finders should attempt this loop. In early summer, the White Iris Trail can be awash in blooming Clackamas white irises, a species with only a limited distribution in Oregon's Old Cascades. The Bissell Trail has seen increased dirt bike use of late, which means it may be easier to find but also may disturb your sensibilities about those who flout wilderness restrictions. While completing this loop, make the short diversion to the site of the Old Baldy Lookout, which once offered commanding views over the Eagle Creek drainage; however, the decommissioning of the structure in the 1960s has allowed the trees to grow up. To compensate for this, there's a ridge crest viewpoint you can access on your return that offers vistas to Mount Hood and beyond.

There is an arrangement of boulders at the trailhead intended to prevent ATV incursions. Walk past the boulders to the trail, and go left. Avalanche lilies and violets are in bloom in early summer. Head up, paralleling the road, in old growth silver fir, noble fir, and western hemlock ridge forest with a carpet of oxalis. Reach a viewpoint at an old helispot and see cliffs across the way on the slopes of Githens Mountain. Rhododendron, bear-grass, and huckleberries proliferate in this clearing. Keep up, sometimes steeply, with Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness boundary signs to your right. Then make a traverse to the left and drop past an arrow stuck in a tree. Reach a saddle and then drop down to the Old Baldy-White Iris Trail Junction, which is above a spring. There is an Old Baldy Trail #502 sign at this junction.

The White Iris Trail drops below the spring on an obvious tread and then traverses to the right. Gradually descend to the edge of a clearcut, where the trail veers left and down to a huckleberry-shrouded stream and then the recently decommissioned Forest Road 4614. Head a few yards up the road to the left and find the trail heading down on the east side of the stream. These are quiet carpeted woods of old growth. Traverse in an area that has been selectively logged and then reach original old growth again. The rhododendrons are blooming and Clackamas white irises (Iris tenuis), endemic to just a few counties in Oregon, are crowding the trail (In this area, they will be blooming from mid-June into July). Pass along the bottom edge of a clearcut before heading straight across into the middle of the clearcut. Finding the correct trail alignment in this area is crucial, so pay attention! When you reach a large, downed silver fir, turn downhill past the root ball and pick up the faint trail heading straight downhill through the clearcut. White iris and starry solomon plume form a dense carpet here. There are views down into the South Fork Eagle Creek valley. The ground levels off as you negotiate more blowdown. At a hemlock plantation, the trail veers right a few yards and then descends down the nose of the ridge. The trail bends right again, and then descends to the White Iris Trailhead at Road 4615.

Go right: you will be walking 2.3 miles on this rarely traveled paved road. Pass the pullout parking for the unmarked trailhead. Alders line the road as you cross a tributary of the South Fork in dense old growth. In the late 1990s, a timber sale in this area was the spark for a lengthy protest of sit-ins and tree occupations by activists. The road heads up, crossing a brook. Then, you descend among coltsfoot, alders, and young hemlocks. Cross a creek before FR 4615 swings up. Pass a cascading waterfall on the right and then a pullout. Look for Oregon flag irises (Iris tenax) blooming in the ditch. At a road junction, keep right. Many brooks tumble down this slope and the sound of the cascading water is music to the ears. Finally, reach the turnaround where the road becomes gravel. Here, the unmarked Bissell Trail leads up to the right from the Bissell Trailhead.

The trail begins as a road track and then becomes a trail. Don't be surprised if you see dirt bike tracks. Enter darker hemlock/Douglas-fir woods and keep up in lush woods carpeted with oxalis and inside-out flower. The trail veers right over a creek. Some flagging marks the route. Uphill from the stream, you may see orange flagging proceeding straight uphill, but the real trail veers to the right away from the stream. Pass a spur and a sign on a tree showing the way to the end of decommissioned Road 4614. Keep left and proceed uphill here. The tread is quite obvious and the sawn-off logs, faint orange paint circles on trees, and blazes indicate the route in noble fir, silver fir, and western hemlock forest. Drop down below a large downed conifer and follow a detour through a small swamp of skunk-cabbage, marsh-marigolds and bog orchids. Reach the Bissell Trail again where it angles up to the right on an indistinct tread. The trail jogs up to the left, reaches a bench, then makes a level traverse to the right in bear-grass carpeted woods. This is a long traverse marked by some flagging and with a little blowdown. Reach the Old Baldy-Bissell Trail Junction at an old sign (Old Baldy 1/2 mile) and head up to the left.

The trail is level in Douglas-fir, silver fir, noble fir and western hemlock woods with an understory of huckleberries, rhododendron and bear-grass. Drop slightly to a saddle and then wend up in noble and silver fir woods. There’s a last short, steep climb to the Old Baldy summit and the site of an old fire lookout with no views. Some straggly Scouler's willows and a carpet of bunchberries have colonized the site.

Return to the Old Baldy-Bissell Trail Junction, and continue along the ridge on the Old Baldy Trail #502, which travels gradually down under western hemlocks, Douglas-firs, noble and silver fir and some western red-cedar. Then head gradually up the slope of Githens Mountain. When you see a clearcut ahead, the trail turns left up to the ridge crest. Walking along the crest, you'll see a spur to the left which accesses a great viewpoint across Eagle Creek to Wildcat Mountain. Mount Hood partially obscures Mount Adams in the distance. There’s a peat bog directly below and rhododendrons bloom all around. Mountain hemlocks form the rim forest here. Descend past a campsite and then wind up past wilderness boundary signs. Keep close to the edge of the ridge, and then make a traverse and descend gradually to a spring and the Old Baldy-White Iris Trail Junction. Keep left here to return to the Old Baldy West Trailhead.

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Old Baldy Trail #502 (USFS)
  • Green Trails Maps: Fish Creek Mtn, OR #492 and Cherryville, Oreg #460 (Old Baldy Trail only)
  • Discover Your Northwest: Mt. Hood National Forest North: Trail Map & Hiking Guide
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, Bull of the Woods Wilderness, Opal Creek Wilderness, Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area (Old Baldy Trail only)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest (Old Baldy Trail only)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Clackamas River Ranger District (Old Baldy Trail only)
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood

Trip Reports

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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.