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Ninemile Ridge Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View along Ninemile Ridge from the summit (bobcat)
Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum), Ninemile Ridge (bobcat)
Hoary balsamroot (Balsamorhiza incana), Ninemile Ridge (bobcat)
Looking north from Ninemile Ridge (bobcat)
Elegant mariposa (Calochortus elegans), Ninemile Ridge (bobcat)
The route of the Ninemile Ridge Trail to the summit - topo map shows old alignment (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Buck Creek Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Ninemile Ridge Summit
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 7.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2225 feet
  • High Point: 4,568 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Spring into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

This is arguably the most beautiful hike in the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness, but you’ll have to cross an entire Indian reservation to reach the trailhead. Also, try to make your arrival in late spring, when the slopes are blooming with a wide variety of grassland wildflowers and the summer heat has not yet set in. You’ll mostly be hiking in the open on south-facing slopes above above the Buck Creek valley. A good turnaround point is the actual summit although the trail continues another 4 ½ miles to an upper trailhead.

Hike in from the trailhead about 90 yards, and come to the four-way Buck Creek-Buck Mountain-Ninemile Ridge Trail Junction. The only signage remaining is a decayed plaque for the Buck Mountain Trail posted on a tree. You’ll be taking a sharp left through the shrubbery, however. This is the Ninemile Ridge Trail #3072, and it plunges upward through overhanging snowberry, wild rose, thimbleberry, and honeysuckle. Switchback at a Douglas-fir, where you formally enter the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness. Make two more switchbacks before you begin a traverse of an open grassy slope sparsely studded with ponderosa pines and blooming with cryptantha, elkhorn clarkia, and desert parsley in the spring. Reach a wooded draw, emerge from it, and then enter another shady gully. Switchback on under the conifers in an understory of arnica, ninebark, wild rose, and honeysuckle. Exit the woods, cross a grassy sward, and then find yourself back at the first draw.

Emerge again higher up on the slope, where you’ll note fiddlenecks, cluster lilies, and death-camas among a few sagebrush bushes. The trail bends around the wooded nose of the ridge and then drops to skirt the next grassy knoll. Reach a saddle meadow, and in spring wind up among yellow sulphur lupines, desert parsley, mule’s ears, and balsamroot. The trail keeps to the open ridge: The northern slopes to the left are densely wooded. Keep below a rocky spine where onions bloom. In spring, you might see where bears have been digging to get at the onion bulbs. The trail steepens as it heads up a slope of paintbrush, big-head clover, and balsamroot. Switchback once to rise steeply again: You’ll encounter a brushy section here, where you may want to divert to the right and find a broad sagebrush summit, often frequented by elk, with a cairn at its southern end.

This is not the official summit, however. Return to the trail and walk another 150 yards or so, again encountering brush over the trail, to reach another cairn that marks the measured 4,568-foot high spot just off the trail to your right. From here, you can see south to Buck Mountain and the High Ridge lookout tower on the horizon. The Ninemile Ridge Trail snakes east along the open crest another 4 ½ miles to Shamrock Spring.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Information kiosk
  • The port-a-potties behind the gate at the trailhead are for the Buck Creek Kiwanis Organization Camp. Use the facilities at the nearby Umatilla Forks Campground (drinking water also available).
  • Share trail with horses

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Walla Walla Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Umatilla National Forest

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Atlas of Oregon Wilderness by William L. Sullivan
  • 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon by Douglas Lorain
  • Eastern Oregon Wilderness Areas by Donna Ikenberry Aitkenhead
  • Hiking Oregon by Donna Lynn Ikenberry
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill

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.