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Lower Wenaha River Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

(Redirected from Wenaha River Hike)
View over the Wenaha River (Cheryl Hill)
Ponderosa and balsamroot slope on the Wenaha River Trail (bobcat)
Sticky geranium (Geranium viscosissimum), Wenaha River Trail (bobcat)
Hairy clematis (Clematis hirsutissima), Wenaha River Trail (bobcat)
Balsamroot along the Wenaha River Trail near Crooked Creek (bobcat)
The eastern section of the Wenaha River Trail from Troy (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Troy TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • Ending Point: Crooked Creek Crossing
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 12.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1375 feet
  • High Point: 1,925 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Spring through fall
  • Family Friendly: Yes, for a shorter distance
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No
Rattlesnakes
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Contents

Hike Description

The Wenaha River Trail runs for 31 miles along the Wenaha River from Troy to Timothy Springs, passing through the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness for three-quarters of its length. When the mountains are still buried in snow, the lower (eastern) section of the trail presents an opportunity for spring hiking. At that time of year, you may see balsamroot, desert parsley, larkspur, shooting stars, Dutchman's breeches, Brown's peony, hairy clematis, and ballhead waterleaf in bloom. Watch for bighorn sheep high on the canyon walls. You can hike as far as the Crooked Creek Crossing, but Crooked Creek itself only becomes a viable ford later in the summer. The bridge there was burnt to a crisp in the 2015 Grizzly Complex Fire, and the metal support severely damaged and removed - you’ll be seeing the blackened aftermath of the fire for most of this hike. The trail undulates and passes through brushy bottomlands now offering less shade than previously and probably also a few downed trees.

You’ll begin on Wenaha State Wildlife Area land above Troy and walk through a ponderosa parkland lightly scorched by the 2015 Grizzly Fire, which was caused by lightning. Traverse the steep meadows on the north side of the river canyon where balsamroot, purple brodiaea, and pungent desert parsley bloom in April. If you’re here in the late April, the Wenaha Muzzleloaders will be occupying the campground at Mill Bar across the river and adding to the general ambience with loud reports and puffs of smoke. Descend to a ponderosa flat, and rise again along the open wildflower slopes where the trail, in places, has been buttressed by gabions. Look across the canyon to the rimrock benches for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

At 1.1 miles you will pass through a gate. Be sure to close it behind you. (This marks the east boundary of this parcel of the Wenaha State Wildlife Area, and now you’re crossing a section of private land.) Drop to another flat, and then rise on a trail that is crossed by trickling seeps. Loop around a horseshoe bend in the river where the trail looks as if it may slide away at any moment. At 1.9 miles cross a decommissioned road. The old road descends from above, crosses the trail, and continues down to a large flat area along the river that makes for good camping. The trail is then notched into a cliff face with the Wenaha River flowing directly below. Listen for the cascading calls of canyon wrens as you get a view of river channels braiding around gravel bars. At 2.7 miles, opposite the V-shaped valley of Dry Gulch, you’ll pass the remains of a fence and a faded yellow sign that marks your entry into the Umatilla National Forest. This is a good turnaround point for those making a short excursion. There are rocks here for sitting and admiring dramatic views up and down the canyon.

To continue, switchback down twice and cross a seep-fed bog at the base of a dripping cliff. As you cross this next flat, you’re entering an area of crown fire where virtually every tree was killed. Shrubby plants, such as bitter cherry, snowberry, wild rose, and spiraea, have come back with a vengeance, however, and crowd the trail. Leave the bottomland meadows to wind up off of the flat and traverse a grassy slope. Hop across a small creek and look for Brown's peonies as well as the purple bell-shaped blooms of hairy clematis. Pass across another flat, and then cross a scree slope to enter more thickets. Hop over a small creek, and come to the next bottomland where the canopy was also incinerated by the 2015 fire. Clematis, cinquefoil, ball-head waterleaf, and geranium all bloom here. Hike up a slope, and pass under a rock overhang before dropping to cross a gabioned culvert at a little splashing waterfall. The trail passes across a scree slope, and then sinks into a squelching bulrush bog at a small flat. A rock cairn marks the boundary of the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.

The trail then threads the narrow ledge between a basalt cliff face and the river to reach the brushy but burned delta of Crooked Creek. Turn up the creek, and arrive at the unsigned junction with the Crooked Creek Trail. Make a left here to cross boggy channels of the delta to come to the site of the old Crooked Creek Footbridge. The footbridge was burned in the 2015 fire, and only the ramps and a pile of charred beams remain. You can’t ford the creek here in the spring when it is running full spate. Use poles and caution when crossing later in the year (See Tips for Crossing Streams), and there's a fallen tree downstream you could hold on to. Just upstream on the Crooked Creek Trail is a grassy flat suitable for camping.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Be prepared for downed trees

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Walla Walla Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Pomeroy 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
  • 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon by Douglas Lorain
  • Backpacking Oregon by Douglas Lorain
  • 100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest by Rich Landers & Ida R. Dolphin
  • Oregon’s Wilderness Areas by George Wuerthner
  • Hiking Oregon by Donna Lynn Ikenberry
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & 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.