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Jefferson Park from Whitewater Trailhead Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as a Closed Hike. Some or all of this hike has been closed by a governing body and hikers may be liable for fines or even arrest. At least part of this route may be dangerous and hard to follow, or it may cross areas with sensitive plant life or wildlife habitat. Trailkeepers of Oregon does not endorse or recommend hiking this route. When restrictions are lifted, this notice will be removed.
Mount Jefferson from Whitewater Trail (romann)
Bays Lake (romann)
Park Butte from the south shore of Scout Lake (romann)
Red huckleberries near PCT, late September (romann)
Unnamed lake between Scout Lake and Bays Lake (romann)
Map of the Route
  • Start point: Whitewater TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Jefferson Park
  • Hike Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 11.0 miles (round trip)
  • Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
  • High point: 5,900 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Mid-July - early October
  • Family Friendly: Yes, for older kids as a backpack
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Very

Contents

Hike Description

NOTICE: Trails in this area were affected by the 2020 Lionshead Fire. Please check current closures in the Willamette National Forest before planning an outing.

This is the most popular trail to Jefferson Park since it is the shortest and easiest access. The other two other options start from the Breitenbush Lake Trailhead and the South Breitenbush Trailhead. The first 3.75 miles of this hike burned in the 2017 Whitewater Fire, and the trail was closed for two years until the Forest Service reopened it on August 1, 2019. While this is still the shortest and fastest way into Jefferson Park, the experience is now very different. On the plus side, the fire has opened up the views. On the down side, there is virtually no shade until you get to the first crossing of Whitewater Creek, making this a harder hike during hot summer days.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Bear in mind that in 2020, the severe and devastating Lionshead Fire swept along the entire route of this hike, having passed through Jefferson Park itself. This includes the area burned in the 2017 Whitewater Fire. Check trail conditions/status before you go. Also, as of 2021, the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit is required of all hikers, including day trippers, who enter the wilderness (the Friday prior to Memorial Day through the last Friday in September). Designated campsites in Jefferson Park must be reserved via this process.

You'll start to climb moderately through burned old-growth forest. After four wide switchbacks and 1.6 miles, turn right at a junction. The trail becomes rockier and dustier. Some patches of vegetation and trees survived the fire, and plants such as beargrass, huckleberry, and fireweed are quickly growing back. You will have numerous views through the burnt snags, including pretty consistent views of Mount Jefferson to the east.

After a cliff traverse, you will reach the edge of the Whitewater Burn and the first crossing of Whitewater Creek at 3.75 miles. This is also the first water source of the hike. The crossing has no bridge (sometimes hikers construct a seasonal makeshift bridge), but the creek is pretty small in summer and boulders are convenient to step on. After another quarter mile, the trail meets up with the PCT. Keep left at the junction, heading uphill.

Cross Whitewater Creek again at 4.7 miles, this time on a footbridge. A lovely meadow just before the bridge blooms with hundreds of wildflowers in July (be aware that peak bloom usually coincides with peak mosquitoes). The trail parallels a small gurgling stream as you make the final uphill push. Soon you'll break out of the forest and the trail will level as you enter Jefferson Park.

There are many options for exploration. Side trails on the left lead to Scout Lake, which is the closest lake to the main trail. Traveling around to its north side will reveal the iconic view of Mount Jefferson rising above the lake. A network of unofficial trails here allow you to also explore Bays Lake, Rock Lake, and Park Lake. You can also head north on the PCT, which will come to a side trail leading to Russell Lake in about 0.8 mile. Wherever you go, remember to stay on the trail to preserve the fragile meadows. When you are done exploring, return the way you came.

If staying overnight, be aware that camping is limited to designated sites, so you may wish to print out a copy of the campsite location map for Scout, Bays, Park, and Rock Lakes or Russell Lake and bring it with you. Campfires are banned throughout the area (stoves are OK).

Lastly, be prepared that current conditions in Jefferson Park may be very different from conditions at lower elevation hikes. Like all high-elevation hikes, this place may get cold even in the summer, although if the weather is fair the nights are usually quite warm in August and September. If you come before the middle of July, expect to see a plenty of snow. The lakes don't usually thaw there until the end of June or the beginning of July. Also, mosquitoes can be plentiful in July and the first half of August.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Mt Jefferson, OR #557
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Detroit Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Willamette National Forest
  • Pacific Northwest Recreation Map Series: Willamette Cascades
  • Geo-Graphics: Mount Jefferson Wilderness
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington
  • Adventure Maps: Mount Jefferson, Bull of the Woods & Opal Creek Wilderness Trail Map

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Self-issued wilderness permit
  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required
  • Central Cascades Wilderness Permit required: $6 overnight permit; $1 per person day use (June 15th - October 15th)
  • Fires are banned in Jefferson Park; stoves OK.
  • If camping within 250 feet of any of the lakes in Jefferson Park you must camp within a designated site.
  • Maximum group size is 12 people and 12 head of stock.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region by Matt Reeder
  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Central Oregon Cascades by William L. Sullivan
  • Trips & Trails: Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Oregon Favorites: Trails & Tales by William L. Sullivan
  • Day Hikes In the Pacific Northwest by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • Oregon’s Wilderness Areas by George Wuerthner
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Hiking Oregon’s Central Cascades by Bruce Grubbs
  • Hiking Oregon’s Three Sisters Country by Bruce Grubbs
  • 60 Hiking Trails: Central Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan

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.