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Jefferson Park via Park Ridge 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.
Mt. Jefferson reflected in Scout Lake, Jefferson Park (bobcat)
The view from Park Ridge (Steve Hart)
Descending into Jeff Park (Steve Hart)
Mt. Jefferson hiding behind a late season Aster (Steve Hart)
Forest Service flier showing where you can camp
The route of the Pacific Crest Trail into Jefferson park from the north (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Breitenbush Lake TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • Ending Point: Jefferson Park
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Distance: 11.2 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 2320 feet
  • High point: 6,875 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: July - September
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Yes

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.

Jefferson Park is one of the prime backpacking destinations in Oregon and, on summer weekends, trailheads and trails can become very crowded with overnighters and day hikers alike. The most scenic approach is along the Pacific Crest Trail from the Breitenbush Lake Trailhead. This is also arguably the easiest route once you're on the trail, but that boon is easily balanced out by the roughness of the last few miles of FR 4220 to reach the trailhead. Once this dusty, bone rattling drive is accomplished, however, the hiker soon encounters high alpine scenery, majestic views at Park Ridge, and the 1,000 foot descent to Jefferson Park. Note that the beginning of this approach to the park was affected by the 2010 View Lake Complex Fire, but in 2020, the far more severe and devastating Lionshead Fire swept along the entire route, including into Jefferson Park itself.

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.

The trail (the Pacific Crest Trail, actually) begins at the Breitenbush Lake Trailhead, at an elevation of 5,500 feet. Not surprisingly, snow lingers here well into July. You'll start through small meadows and forests of small trees. At about mile 0.6, you'll notice a small reroute including a new bridge over a rocky channel that's usually dry most of the hiking season. Cross a talus slope and, at a junction that may or may not be signed, you'll see the informal trail leads westward from the older route to Pyramid Butte.

The Crest Trail climbs through a large talus area with views of Pyramid Butte, bright red Ruddy Hill and Olallie Butte, and then resumes climbing through huckleberry meadows. The PCT crosses a saddle at mile 1.5, and you'll get your first views of the summit of Mount Jefferson. The trail flattens for a bit, and then resumes a well-graded climb into subalpine terrain. The views expand to the west as the trail ascends. There are a couple of small ponds near mile 3, at the edge of timberline.

The land takes on a foreboding look above timberline. There's very little soil here and, as a consequence, very little plant life. The rocks form large hills resembling castles or monuments. Square, broken pieces of rock form aprons around the bases of the hills. Small seasonal streams drain lingering snowfields deep into September. As you approach the ascent of the ridge, pay close attention to the trail and to the cairns that mark the way. There are a few sections in which it is very easy to lose the trail. As you near the crest of Park Ridge, cross one or multiple snowfields (depending on the time of year) and reclaim the trail, which at this point is very dusty and only occasionally well-defined. Finally, crest Park Ridge and look at the incredible sight in front of you: Mount Jefferson dominating the view, just four or so miles to the south of you. On a nice day (and you really shouldn't do this hike on a rainy day, unless your sole interest is solitude), the top of Park Ridge is a fantastic spot to stop for lunch and to sit and soak in the impossibly great view of Mt. Jefferson.

To continue to Jefferson Park, follow the obvious trail in front of you downhill for two miles of stupendous scenery to Russell Lake, where you will be greeted by masses of dayhikers, backpackers, and professional photographers who hiked one of the other two trails into Jefferson Park. The scenery is stunning. Numerous lakes dot the meadow-filled alpine wonderland while Mount Jefferson towers over the scene, dominating the skyline. The area is very crowded and some parts have been set aside for restoration. However, you can find solitude if you avoid Scout, Bays, and Russell Lakes (in other words, if you venture off the PCT) and search out one of the many small lakes dotting the area. It would be very easy to spend several days in the area exploring, and after arriving, you may be wishing you'd brought a backpack, took the week off from work, and/or brought more supplies. It's just that great.

As mentioned, there are two other trails into Jefferson Park: the first, and shortest, leaves from the Whitewater Trailhead east of Detroit and climbs 1800 feet in 5.1 miles to reach Scout Lake and Bays Lake; the second leaves from the South Breitenbush Trailhead northeast of Detroit and climbs 2800 feet in 6.2 miles through beautiful meadows to meet the PCT near Russell Lake. Both are recommended, though I prefer the South Breitenbush River Trail.

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Pacific Crest Trail #2000 Joe Graham Horse Camp to Willamette NF Boundary (USFS)
  • Jefferson Park Ridge trail map (Splintercat)
  • Green Trails Maps: Breitenbush, OR #525 and Mt Jefferson, OR #557
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Clackamas River Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Detroit Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Willamette National Forest
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail - Map 8 - Northern Oregon
  • 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.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region by Matt Reeder
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon by Douglas Lorain
  • One Night Wilderness: Portland by Douglas Lorain
  • 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
  • 100 Oregon Hiking Trails by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Hiking the Oregon Skyline by Charles M. Feris
  • Day Hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon & Washington by George & Patricia Semb
  • Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon & Washington by Jeffrey P. Schaffer & Andy Selters
  • Day and Section Hikes Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon by Paul Gerald
  • Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon by Eli Boschetto

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.