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Devils Garden from Switchback Hill Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Strolling a soft ridge in the Devils Garden (bobcat)
Abandoned log car near the trailhead, OC & E Line (bobcat)
Milepost 32 on the OC & E Line (bobcat)
Jagged lava ridge, Devils Garden (bobcat)
Rabbitbrush blooming in the dry wash, Devils Garden (bobcat)
The loop route to the Devils Garden; cross-country section as a dotted line (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Switchbacks Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Devils Garden
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 4.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 320 feet
  • High Point: 4,733 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Spring through fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes, for older kids
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

The OC & E Woods Line State Trail runs a total of 95.3 miles beginning at Klamath Falls, including the Woods Line spur from Beatty to Sycan Marsh. The OC & E (Oregon, California, and Eastern Railroad) is Oregon’s longest rails to trails conversion: It is mostly quite flat and many sections are biked more than hiked. One interesting section of the trail is at Switchbacks Hill, where there are spurs that logging trains used to back up in order to negotiate the tight topography at a pass (A tunnel was planned to overcome this temporary fix but was never built). From Switchbacks, you can break off the OC & E to find the volcanic wonderland of the Devils Garden (This is not the only refuge of Satan in the general area - there’s a larger Devils Garden near Fort Rock and Derrick Cave). Devils Garden is a hydroclastic volcano, where the magma erupted in water and cooled in blobs and pillow breccias. A heavy dose of Mount Mazama ash was deposited 7,700 years ago to make walking easy along dune-like pyroclastic ridges. Small windows and breccia formations, along with bonsai-like junipers and ponderosas, allow for a fascinating exploration.

You are parked on one of the switchback spurs. After the rails were taken up in 1992, a solitary log hauler car was left because its brakes were jammed. Hike back towards the way you drove in, and then go left past a gate to a vault toilet, information kiosk, and picnic area. From this vantage point, at Mile 32.6, you can see across the looping rail grade to the Devils Garden and Cruikshank Butte. Swan Lake Point is the low shield volcano to the west. Hike the old rail bed as it descends the slope very gradually among scattered ponderosa pine, juniper, manzanita, and bitterbrush. At the bottom of the slope, you’ll see Switchback Road (FR 22) to your right. Cross a grassy playa, and reach the OC and E State Trail-Devils Garden Route Junction just before Mile 32 on the rail trail.

Jeep road tracks branch off to the right. Walk west 30 yards, and take the track leading south (left), actually abandoned FR 2200-862. Not many people come here, and the tread is strewn with ponderosa pine cones. Pass through copses of mountain mahogany and clumps of sagebrush before swinging right. At an old camp, you may notice twisted cables, a rusting bucket, tin cans, and rotting planks of wood. Continue west on this track where it becomes somewhat overgrown with sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and bitterbrush. Reach dusty FR 2200-860 near its junction with FR 22, and go left. Follow this track, and where the road curves to the right, start hiking cross-country towards the low lava formations of the Devils Garden.

Cow tracks thread through the sagebrush, and you’ll hike across a plain of pyroclastic material deposited by Mount Mazama, now Crater Lake, 7,700 years ago. A couple of species of buckwheat bloom here in early summer. There’s a massive ponderosa pine on the north side of this plain, and you can see southeast to Round Mountain and Cherry Creek Peak. When you reach the jumbled mass of lava, begin clambering about. The best rewards are in a southerly direction. Breccia formations include exposed chunks of dark rock, and in places small windows permit a peek through a lava wall. Lizards scurry frantically, and a few cow tracks cross this expanse; you’re unlikely to see many other human prints. Soft and colorful pyroclastic dunes connect the lava ridges, making walking easy. In mid-spring, various wildflowers bloom here, including death-camas and the stunning pink bitterroot.

Once, you’ve finished exploring, you can return the way you came, but you can also make an easy cross-country loop to return to your car. Start walking northeast across the sloping plain north of the Devils Garden, keeping the dry ponderosa woods to your left. You should encounter the beginnings of a dry wash that you can follow east as it forms a shallow gulch between lava ridges. Flash floods pour down through a narrow defile guarded by two ancient junipers at the east end of the wash. You can see where rock striations have been left on the exposed lava. Below the defile, you’ll encounter a cow track. Turn left, and dip into a gully before heading right through a grove of aspen. Reach a fence at the corner of private property, and follow the cow track along the outside of the fence about a third of a mile until you reach the OC & E Line.

Make a right here, and then after about 100 yards, notice a road track coming down the slope. You can follow this route a third of a mile up the slope to the pass and trailhead.


Facilities

  • Vault toilet, picnic tables, information kiosk, interpretive sign
  • No camping on the OC&E State Trail

Maps

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Best Rail Trails: Pacific Northwest by Natalie Bartley
  • Rail – Trails: Washington & Oregon by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
  • Oregon’s Southern Cascades: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan

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.