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Wahtum Lake via Herman Creek Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Camp Creek on the Herman Creek Trail (Greg Lief)
Wild ginger (Asarum caudatum), Herman Creek Trail (bobcat)
Looking back to Mullinix Creek on the Herman Creek Trail (bobcat)
Mud Lake (bobcat)
Wahtum Lake from its south shore (bobcat)
Nick Eaton Falls on the Herman Creek Trail (Tom Kloster)
The route of the Herman Creek Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail and Wahtum Lake (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Herman Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Wahtum Lake
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Out and back (with potential loops)
  • Distance: 22.2 miles (round trip)
  • Elevation gain: 5070 feet
  • High point: 4,330 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into fall
  • Family Friendly: For a short distance
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: On summer weekends

Contents

Hike Description

This hike parallels Herman Creek, but mostly provides glimpses of the actual stream from high on the canyon wall until you cross the East Fork of Herman Creek seven and a half miles into the hike. Instead, the main attraction is the series of mossy tributary streams, some with graceful waterfalls, that that the trail crosses. Higher up, there are two mountain lakes, Mud Lake and Wahtum Lake, where you can camp. Large old-growth Douglas-firs and western red-cedars are another feature of this hike. Backpackers or long day hikers may want to combine this route with the Wahtum Lake via Pacific Crest Trail Hike to return to the Herman Creek Trailhead. The area was severely impacted by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, and for the first five and a half miles, until just before Whisky Creek, you'll be experiencing the aftermath of the blaze. There were only a few areas of crown fire along the trail, but most of the ground cover was burned and is now regenerating from its roots.

From the Herman Creek Trailhead, the route begins a steady climb through a couple of switchbacks, under a power line, and past the Herman Bridge Trail which provides a continuation of the 400 Trail, dropping down to Herman Creek. This section of the hike is a bit of a grind, with noticeable highway noise, and especially when the trail turns to old roadbed for the next mile or so. You will enter the 2017 Eagle Creek Burn as soon as you cross the powerline, but in this area it was mostly a ground fire with some scorch marks rising up the trees.

When you reach the five-way junction with the Gorton Creek and 400 Trails at Herman Camp at 1.0 miles, you'll be entering the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. In the 1970s, Herman Camp was also a drive-in trailhead if you you were willing to risk your vehicle on the narrow road. Three hundred yards past Herman Camp, reach the junction with the Nick Eaton Trail. Shortly thereafter, the road narrows to a pretty forest path at about the 2.0 mile mark, dominated by the sound of Herman Creek far below. You'll also encounter your first section of crown fire where all the trees were killed but the ground cover is making a vigorous comeback. The first waterfall appears shortly—for lack of a name, called "Nick Eaton Falls" here. It is a tall, twisting cascade that can be tough to photograph, but very pretty to admire. In spring and summer, the wall of moss here is particularly impressive. Beyond Nick Eaton Falls, the trail soon passes through a charred stand of Oregon white oak on a bluff above Herman Creek before curving back into dense forest.

The trail passes lovely Camp Creek at the 3.0 mile mark. No waterfalls are to be found here, but a scree slope forms the south border of the stream. The moss and licorice ferns which made this a lush, attractive hollow were scorched off the rocks by the fire. The trail rounds another bend, and passes a seasonal waterfall on an unnamed stream—a nice tiered drop, with a bigleaf maple perched on the second tier. From this stream, the trail turns away from the sound of Herman Creek and enters a quiet woodland for the next half-mile or so.

At the 4.0 mile mark, the route passes a campsite at a little crest covered in dense forest. The Casey Creek Trail heads steeply uphill from here, and an unmarked, unmaintained trail, now much obscured by debris from the 2017 fire, heads steeply downhill for one-third of a mile to the confluence of the two main forks of Herman Creek.

The main route continues on to crossings of tiny Casey Creek and then Hazel Creek, where an upstream falls can be glimpsed through the forest. Next up, at the 5.0 mile mark, is tall, wispy Slide Creek Falls—a photogenic cascade set into a mossy basalt wall. This would be a good stopping point for most and would make for a 10 mile hike with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Continuing on, the next pair of streams are Mullinix Creek and, finally, Whisky Creek at the 6.0 mile mark. Neither have waterfalls, but both would make nice lunch spots. There is more crown fire after Slide Creek Falls, but shortly before Whisky Creek, you'll exit the burn area and pass a campsite.

From Whisky Creek, the trail climbs steadily toward Cedar Swamp Camp. You'll cross small streams among large Douglas-firs and hemlocks and pass by skunk-cabbage seeps with large cedars now joining the old growth mix. The trail levels at the junction with the Herman Creek Cutoff Trail #410 before hopping over another creek and reaching Cedar Swamp Camp. Continuing on, pass over small creeks and a broken footbridge before beginning a gradual descent. Negotiate a swampy area on a trail turnpike, and then drop to the East Fork of Herman Creek. You may be able to rock hop if the water level is low; otherwise, you'll have to find a mossy log or attempt a ford.

Above the creek crossing, you'll pass Seven and a Half Mile Camp and then Noble Camp at 7.5 miles. The trail threads through dense copses of Sitka alder, thick with hedge-nettle and devil’s club, where mountain beaver burrows pock the trail. Traverse upward on a boulder slope, and make two short switchbacks at a steep, tumbling stream. Enter a lush bench of bracken, Sitka alder, western aster, thimbleberry, paintbrush, and goat’s beard. Switchback up to the right and reach the Herman Creek-Mud Lake Trail Junction.

Step left and traverse a bear-grass slope in montane forest; then drop down through a campsite to the shore of Mud Lake. Indulge yourself on a sunny day watching the floating newts and hovering dragonflies. A decaying raft lies pulled up in the sedge borders, and yellow water lilies bloom on the placid surface. A screen of noble fir and western red-cedar rims the lake, while the scree slopes of Green Point Mountain drop to its eastern shore.

Back on the Herman Creek Trail, cross a talus slope squeaking with pikas. The trail levels in silver and noble fir forest. Cross three small creeks, and switchback at a talus slope. At the top of the rise, at just over 10 miles, pass two junctions within 40 yards of each other. Keep straight on the Herman Creek Trail, and rise gently through a carpet of avalanche lilies, which bloom profusely here in mid-summer. Pass the Herman Creek-Rainy Wahtum Trail Junction, and keep straight on the former trail. Keep dropping gently in a carpet of bear-grass to reach the Pacific Crest-Herman Creek Trail Junction. Go left here, and drop to cross a creek. The trail keeps descending gently in drier woods with a bear-grass and huckleberry carpet. Cross a dry stream bed, and pass through a Sitka alder thicket. Notice the huge noble firs in the surrounding forest. Springs trickle down onto the trail among lush thickets. Reach the shore of Wahtum Lake, and take the Pacific Crest Trail along it. There are campsites along the lake, but camping is no longer permitted in these. However, they are excellent places to stop for lunch while you enjoy the lake – although this will probably be the most populated part of your hike. Pass the junction with the Wahtum Lake Horse Trail and reach the junction with the Wahtum Lake Express Trail #406H. Both trails will take you to the Wahtum Lake Trailhead and campground. A user trail leads all the way around the lake. Some more private campsites are off the Chinidere Cutoff Trail, which rises from the lake's northwest corner.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Herman Creek Trail #406 (USFS)
  • Green Trails Maps: Bonneville Dam, OR #429
  • Green Trails Maps: Columbia River Gorge - West #428S
  • Geo-Graphics: Trails of the Columbia Gorge
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service/Bureau of Land Management: Columbia River Gorge
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Hood River Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass required
  • Restrooms, information kiosk, picnic table at trailhead

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge by Russ Schneider, revised by Jim Yuskavitch
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • Best Old-growth Forest Hikes: Washington & Oregon Cascades by John & Diane Cissel
  • 35 Hiking Trails: Columbia River Gorge by Rob & Roberta Lowe
  • 70 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Rob & Roberta Lowe
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill

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.