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Casey Creek 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. Carry detailed maps of the whole area and/or a GPS unit and compass.
High meadow on Casey Creek Way (bobcat)
Burned forest on the lower slope of Casey Creek Way (bobcat)
Nearing the crest of Nick Eaton Ridge, Casey Creek Way (bobcat)
Tiger lily (Lilium columbianum), Nick Eaton Way (bobcat)
View to Woolly Horn Ridge, Nick Eaton Trail (bobcat)
Mountain hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis), Nick Eaton Trail (bobcat)
Loop route shown in red (bobcat)

Contents

Hike Description

WARNING: The Casey Creek Trail was severely affected by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. In places, the tread has been obliterated or is very faint. As of Summer 2019, no maintenance work had been done. Good route-finding skills are necessary.

The Casey Creek Loop is one of the Gorge's more challenging day hikes. It has become more so after the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. The Casey Creek Trail has not been maintained since then: downfall at the bottom end of the trail and rampant regrowth in the crown fire areas higher up the ridge obscure the tread in places. As of Summer 2019, probably 90 percent of the tread can be fairly easily located: it's the other 10% you have to worry about! After the pleasant amble up the Herman Creek Trail, Casey Creek's very steep connection to Nick Eaton Ridge - over 2,500 feet in elevation gain in two miles - is singularly demanding. Once you have survived this, however, it's an undulating crest hike along Nick Eaton Ridge, taking in a few vistas and oak-rimmed meadows before you drop to Herman Camp and then the trailhead.

The path drops from the Herman Creek Trailhead, but then switchbacks up twice before traversing. There are two more switchbacks in shady big-leaf maple, hemlock, Douglas-fir woods. Reach the powerline corridor and cross it, heading up to the right to reenter the woods. Here, you'll begin to see the effects of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, with the understory burned away but slowly recovering and the conifer canopy mostly intact. The path winds through an area of large, moss-covered boulders, and then passes an old forest track leading off the left (This track drops down to Herman Creek Road). Pass around the nose of a ridge, switchback twice, and traverse up to the junction with the Herman Bridge Trail #406E, 0.6 miles from the trailhead. Keep up on the main trail to switchback and then reach a bend in an old forest road. Stay right and head up the road, which levels in Douglas-fir, hemlock, and maple forest. You'll arrive at a five-way junction after 1.3 miles where the Herman Creek Trail reaches Herman Camp. The actual campsite is up the first trail to the right if you turn left here; in the 1970s, this spot was also a trailhead - if you were willing to risk your vehicle on the slow drive up the narrow road.

Keep right at this junction to stay on the old road bed. You're now entering the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness as per the new boundaries drawn up in 2009. Three hundred yards from Herman Camp, pass the Herman Creek-Nick Eaton Trail Junction (See the Nick Eaton Ridge Loop Hike.). The road bed dips into a bowl that experienced crown fire, but notice that numerous species of understory plants are staking their claim on the ravaged slopes; these include bracken, Solomon plume, fireweed, trailing blackberry, fairy bells, phacelia, sword fern, candy flower, miner's lettuce, snowberry, pathfinder, poison oak, thimbleberry, and spiraea. As the trail drops, you'll be able to hear Herman Creek rushing below, and you can see down to the ramparts of the narrow defile through which it funnels at this stage of its course. The path narrows after the old road bed ends, and you'll cross several trickling seeps before passing below some massive basalt battlements. Head into a lush gully where, 2.1 miles from the trailhead, you get to admire tall Nick Eaton Falls splashing down a mossy vertical face. The waterfall, the tallest along the trail, is a sight even in late summer.

The trail begins to rise again, and there are views across Herman Creek to the forested slopes on the east side of the Benson Plateau. You can see only patches of crown fire here, and most of the evergreen canopy has been preserved. On a high steep meadow, you pass through a copse of charred oak trees that are all coming back from their bases. Rosy plectritis, blue-eyed Mary, and larkspur bloom here in the spring. Descend to cross maple-shaded Camp Creek three miles from the trailhead, and then pass below a scree slope which was entirely scoured of its beautiful moss and licorice fern blanket during the Eagle Creek Fire. From here, the trail drops to cross a trickling creek where a seasonal waterfall splashes down a mossy face. Head up under un unburned oak meadow, and continue a rising traverse to cross a bracken-carpeted bench shaded by scorched Douglas-firs. Come to the Herman Creek-Casey Creek Way Trail Junction, 3.6 miles from the Herman Creek Trailhead. Just past the junction, on your right, is Casey Creek Camp nestled under tall old-growth Douglas-firs.

The Casey Creek Trail heads up among large Douglas-firs. The unmaintained nature of the trail is immediately apparent. Especially on the lower sections, there is old blowdown to clamber over. At a large downed tree, angle up to the right through maple regrowth (a false trail continues on the level here and peters out). Scramble steeply up and around a huge old-growth log. Switchback up four times, traverse steeply up and make another six switchbacks before passing below a rock outcropping. Switchback up to this grassy outcrop, getting a glimpse of the Columbia River far below. Oregon sunshine, blue field gilia, rosy plectritis, and herald-of-summer bloom here in early summer. Cross the meadow, make two short switchbacks, and then head up to a ridge crest. The trail rises steeply and then drops around several uprooted trees before traversing upward, making two switchbacks, and traversing up again. Pass through an ocean spray thicket. There are views through the burned trees to the forks of Herman Creek and Woolly Horn Ridge. Cross an open area rimmed with Douglas-fir, ocean spray and oak. Then head up a ridge crest and rise steeply just below the crest. Cross a narrow oak/ocean spray meadow blooming with lupine and woolly sunflower in summer, and then rise again. For much of this ascent, the narrow tread is obscured in summer by post-fire regrowth, especially phacelia, thimbleberry, and maple. Pass mossy boulders in shady woods, and make a long traverse up, crossing a small talus slope. The trail passes above a large talus slope and then crosses a third heavily-vegetated talus slope. Wind up to the left, and reach the Nick Eaton-Casey Creek Way Trail Junction in a carpet of summer-blooming arnica.

The old sign at the junction is now a charcoal board on a backless tree. Also, the Nick Eaton Trail has not been maintained above the junction with the Deadwood Trail, so expect the tread to be a little obscure and sometimes overhung with brush. Go left towards some boulders. Almost immediately, the trail drops to the east side of the ridge, and winds steeply down the ridge nose to emerge from the crown fire area. From the east side of the crest again, you'll get a view across the Columbia River to Home Valley, Wind Mountain, and Mount Adams. Pass through a thimbleberry thicket, and keep traversing on the east slope of the ridge below the crest (the tread is quite obscure here). Return to the crest at a shoulder, and descend to the Nick Eaton-Deadwood Trail Junction, where a battery of four new signs announces your return to the semi-civilized world. From here, the trail has been maintained, but you're in a crown fire zone again with no shade and little vegetation. Yellow arnica carpets the exposed forest floor, and columbine, phacelia, spiraea, mountain hollyhock, and vetch also bloom here. Hike up to a saddle below Peak 3152, the high point at the north end of Nick Eaton Ridge. Switchback up out of the crown fire zone, and swing left to cross a small meadow where wild onion, cryptantha, blue field gilia, and Oregon sunshine bloom. A user trail leads up to the summit of Peak 3152. Descend through more dry meadows to the Nick Eaton-Ridge Cutoff Trail Junction.

Keep to the west side of rocky knoll under dead trees but with healthy forest just to your right. Wind down the nose of the ridge. Here, many species of flowering plants have come back from their roots since the burn, including dogbane, white spiraea, candy flower, miner's lettuce, lupine, and aster. Make six switchbacks down through steep grassy meadows where most of the oak trees are coming back from their bases. At one hanging meadow, you'll get a great view up to the two forks of Herman Creek with Mount Hood's snowy summit peeking up behind Waucoma Ridge. You can also see west along the Columbia River to Beacon Rock and the Bonneville Dam. From now on, you'll generally have a shady canopy as you continue this long descent. Nine more switchbacks will take you through two more small oak meadows, and then you'll get a vista down to Government Cove and the mouth of Herman Creek. Make four more switchbacks, and then traverse through a denuded understory before three further switchbacks carry you to a massive, living, but blackened Douglas-fir. The last two switchbacks on the trail take you to more large Douglas-firs whose thick bark has kept them alive through probably more than one conflagration although some are weeping resin from the stress of the encounter. Wind down through the bracken, and pass the concrete Nick Eaton Way marker. A few yards later, reach the Herman Creek-Nick Eaton Trail Junction, and make a right to rejoin the crowds to hike back past Herman Camp and down to the trailhead.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Bonneville Dam, OR #429
  • Green Trails Maps: Columbia River Gorge - West #428S
  • Geo-Graphics: Trails of the Columbia Gorge
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • Discover Your Northwest: Mt. Hood National Forest North
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Hood River Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 70 Virtual Hikes of the Columbia River Gorge by Northwest Hiker
  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge by Russ Schneider

More Links


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.