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Wildcat Basin Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as a Lost Hike. The "trail" may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Carry detailed maps of the whole area and/or a GPS unit and compass.
The White Badlands, Pine Creek Trail, Strawberry Mt. Wilderness (bobcat)
Strawberry Mountain from the Pine Creek Trail, Strawberry Mt. Wilderness (bobcat)
Alpine waterleaf (Hydrophyllum capitatum var. alpinum), Strawberry Mt. Wilderness (bobcat)
View to the rim, Wildcat Basin (bobcat)
The Yellow Badlands, Indian Creek Cutoff Trail, Strawberry Mt. Wilderness (bobcat)
The lollipop loop to Wildcat Basin (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo


Hike Description

The eastern section of the Strawberry Range was created by volcanic activity 15-14 million years ago. Over the eons, ash layers from that period, now weathered into interesting formations, have been exposed. This loop hike takes you to the most prominent of these outcroppings on a high altitude hike that will still have significant patches of snow at the beginning of summer. William L. Sullivan calls the these ash formations the White Badlands and the Yellow Badlands respectively. In between, there is a smaller group: I’ll name them the Cream Badlands. Ridgetop views will take in Strawberry Mountain and the peaks along the Indian Creek Ridge to the west. Most hikers may just want to do the in and out hike to the White Badlands and Wildcat Basin, where you can camp for the night if you wish. The rest of the route, making a loop, was almost entirely scoured by the 1996 Wildcat Fire and the 2015 Canyon Complex Fire. You will need good route-finding skills if you want to complete the loop as there will be downed trees, and the trail is indistinct in several spots.

Walk past the boulder barrier to take the Roads End Trail #201A up the track that led to the old lookout. Clark's nutcrackers flit among the whitebark pines and subalpine firs. The top of Strawberry Mountain appears ahead. You’ll pass through an area of bleached snags from the 1996 Wildcat Fire. The track crosses a series of seeps that bloom with monkey flower and penstemon in summer. Reach a saddle at the unsigned Pine Creek-Roads End-Onion Creek Trail Junction. Strawberry Mountain, at 9,038 feet, looms ahead, but you need to find the scratch of a trail dropping down to the left.

This is the Pine Creek Trail #201. In a high parkland landscape, drop below rugged ramparts to a saddle, and then hike up to the signed Pine Creek-Indian Creek Cutoff Trail Junction. Keep left here to continue on the Pine Creek Trail (This junction closes the loop for you if you choose that option). Hike down and soon cross three trickling alpine brooks that bloom with buttercups. Enter a tongue of the 2015 Canyon Complex Fire, and hike up to a ridge crest. The trail then begins to descend with a rocky prominence to the right. It’s worth making the short detour here: there are views south to Logan Valley and the Aldrich Mountains and Bear Valley to the west. The rock garden here includes wild onion, sandwort, cinquefoil, and phlox. The trail descends rather steeply from here and then passes through a dense patch of snow brush (There may be downed trees here). Switchback on a slope in the burn which has been much mined by gophers. Negotiate more snow brush, and then walk through a strip of unburned conifers before arriving above the first outcroppings of the White Badlands. Continue to the main attraction and, after admiring these heavily eroded ash layers, drop steeply to arrive at Wildcat Basin and the junction with the Buckhorn Meadows Trail.

Going left here will take you to the nearby Wildcat Spring. There are also a few campsites spread around this parkland. If you’re not up for hiking across a burned landscape with a lot of downed snags, turn back and retrace your steps. Otherwise, continue up through this small alpine basin with the cliffs of the White Badlands to your right. Pass through a small but lush meadow and hike up through patches of burned forest composed of lodgepole pine and snow brush. Reach the ridge crest, and get views west along the ridge to Point 7660 and Indian Creek Butte. Proceed up the ridge, and then make a traverse on its north slope to pass below the Cream Badlands, another outcropping of 14 million-year-old ash. Keep right at the Pine Creek-Indian Creek Trail Junction , and soon come to the unsigned Indian Creek-Indian Creek Cutoff Trail Junction.

Make a right here, and descend the slope and make a traverse on a grouseberry-lined tread that is soft from little use. Below the drainage of Indian Creek, burned in 1996, spills down to the west of Strawberry Mountain. Cross two streams, where elk and deer tracks may be evident. Proceed straight across another creek into an area of more blowdown. The trail then rises to the Yellow Badlands, a weathered ash ridge, and the verdant Onion Marsh, headwaters of Indian Creek. Cross the creek where it exits the meadow and pick your way up the slope through the deadfall, with the Yellow Badlands to your left. Currant and snow brush bushes sometimes obscure the tread. Views extend to Strawberry Mountain and back to Indian Creek Butte. Continue steeply up to the ridge crest, and descend past a campsite through lodgepole pine woods to the Pine Creek-Indian Creek Cutoff Trail Junction. Go left here to retrace your steps to the Roads End Trailhead.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Self-issued registration


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Strawberry Mountain-Monument Rock Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Malheur National Forest
  • USFS, BLM, USFWS, National Park Service: Southern Blue Mountains

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Hiking Oregon’s Geology by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • Oregon Hiking by 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.