Palmer Mill Decommissioned Roads

Discussions and Trip Reports for off-trail adventures and rediscovering lost trails
Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 216
Joined: April 28th, 2014, 8:28 pm

Palmer Mill Decommissioned Roads

Post by arlohike » February 8th, 2021, 3:00 pm

0 IMG_8359.jpg
The dashed and penciled-in lines on this map are some old roads I used to enjoy hiking around the Devil’s Rest / Palmer Mill area. I used to regularly make a big loop around Devil’s Rest starting from Foxglove, then continuing south on the unnamed road (A) to Palmer Mill Road, turning east to Multnomah Basin Road and returning via the Devil’s Rest Trail cutoff, but I only did the east/west road (B) between the Multnomah Basin Road and road A once or twice. I remember that as having some wide, garbage-strewn sections, as with much of the Bridal Veil Plateau, but also some pretty sections with a faint, mossy path.

While on the Foxglove a few weeks ago, I noticed flagging on that A road, and started wondering what’s happening with those routes these days. I knew the roads were deliberately destroyed after the Eagle Creek fire, but I hoped the faint sections of road B were untouched. Yesterday I went up to check it out.

From Multnomah Falls, I went over to Wahkeena, up to the Devil’s Rest Trail and over to the Multnomah Basin Road. I walked past the B junction to the Palmer Mill junction just to check that out, and it looked the same as I’d seen it before … big rocks, felled trees and pits where the road used to be. I possibly saw a user path along the edge of the carnage, but that wasn’t my main interest, so I went back to the B junction to get started.

That junction was flagged and I hoped for a user path through the trees beside the road, but after three flags marked “Start 1,” “Start 2” and “Start 3,” there was nothing. I alternated between climbing over the felled trees in the road and dodging brush beside the road for a quarter mile, and then as I had hoped, the deliberate destruction faded and the road became more walkable. Before long I reached a clearing filled with messy underbrush, a truck tire and what appeared to be a wide road headed north, which I assumed was C on the map. I couldn’t see anything straight ahead, so I thought this might be where my pretty but faint section began, and started looking around the woods for a sign of it. I couldn’t find anything, so I headed in the direction of where I thought the path should be, hoping to eventually catch sight of it. There was hardly any underbrush in this area and the woods were easy to walk through. Eventually I saw a clearing to my right, headed over to check it out, and found another wide, destroyed road. Looking at my GPS track later, I had ended up veering too far south when looking for my faint path, because I was looking for something that was roughly 90 degrees to the left of what I thought was road C heading north. But in retrospect, what seemed like a distinct right turn in that messy area must have been a slighter bend to the right and simply the continuation of road B, which I should have stayed on.

In any case, I continued on or beside that road, which had gotten pretty messy again, until I reached what seemed to be the expected junction with road A, and turned right toward Foxglove. I couldn’t see anything of the old road heading south, which I had taken many times in the past, but the section heading north was relatively clean and walkable, and after a while I saw a few flags, so I figured I was getting close to the Foxglove junction. But just as I was shifting into cruise control, something told me to check my compass. I did, and realized I was now heading southwest instead of northwest. After thinking this over for a few minutes, I turned around and there was a flag, showing an almost imperceptible route to my right, in exactly the direction I needed to go. I followed that and it ended up being the worst section of the day, with fallen or felled trees that contained a lot of messy branches to crawl through, and too much underbrush beside the road to go around. But this section was regularly flagged, and it took me to the Foxglove junction as expected.

In retrospect, I must have made the same mistake regarding the junction to road A as I had back at the supposed junction to road C: interpreting a right bend in the road as a junction with another road to the right. So when I thought I had turned onto road A, I was actually still on road B and still needed to be watching for the actual junction with road A. This explains why I couldn’t detect road A continuing south at the place that I thought was the junction.

In conclusion:

- There are no pretty, untouched sections of Road B left, but some of it is decently walkable. The worst parts of this route are road B at at its east end, and road A north of the road B junction.

- Based on my experiences before 2017, I had thought of the north/south road between Foxglove and Smith Road as a primary, distinct route and the east-west road between that road and Multnomah Basin Road as a secondary, faint route. Now, it seems that road B and the bottom half of road A have been carved out as a primary, distinct route, leaving the top half of road A as a secondary route. Whether because my memories are inaccurate or because the character of the route was actually changed by the post-2017 management operations, this contributed to my disorientation. Anyway, I would now consider the road below the A/B junction as a continuation of road B instead of a continuation of road A.

- Now I’m curious what happens to that road B as it continues southwest past the road A junction. I assume it goes as far as the Smith Road junction, and then does it continue plowing down Smith Road, making a continuous cut from Multnomah Basin Road all the way to Palmer Mill Road near its west gate? And from that Smith Road junction was another pretty, faint path heading southeast to Palmer Mill Road. What happened to that? Unfortunately, what's left of Palmer Mill Road doesn’t look enjoyable at all, so the lack of a loop option makes that exploration seem less rewarding. But I could at least check it out from the Smith Road junction if I end up exploring the rest of road B in that direction.
1 IMG_8331.jpg
A bad section of road B
2 IMG_8340.jpg
A good section of road B
3 IMG_8343.jpg
A bad section of road A
4 IMG_8344.jpg
A good section of road A, with flags
5 IMG_8337.jpg
A tire at what I thought was a right turn onto road C
6 IMG_8334.jpg
An old car sun visor, just the kind of weird relic I've been missing on my hikes ;-)
7 IMG_8346.jpg
Back onto the Foxglove and relative ease
Screen Shot 2021-02-08 at 2.28.32 PM.png
The big loop I used to make; this is from 2016
Screen Shot 2021-02-08 at 2.29.28 PM.png
The shorter loop as I attempted it yesterday
TrailCheck (iOS / Android)
Elevation Tracker (iOS / Apple Watch)

User avatar
Chip Down
Posts: 2511
Joined: November 8th, 2014, 8:41 pm

Re: Palmer Mill Decommissioned Roads

Post by Chip Down » February 8th, 2021, 6:51 pm

I was aware of some decommissioned roads in the area, but was surprised to find Palmer Mill is a dead end now. Went up that road for the first time about a week ago. Yeah, finally was on the top of my to-do list after all these years.

User avatar
Posts: 216
Joined: April 28th, 2014, 8:28 pm

Re: Palmer Mill Decommissioned Roads

Post by arlohike » April 11th, 2021, 4:23 pm

I went back up here today to check out Smith Road to the west of where I stopped last time. I started at the Angel's Rest trailhead and up Foxglove to the north end of the "A" road in my original post above. When I got there I made a few attempts to find another old road I had heard about here, and eventually found it and walked down it for a bit. But I'd never done this before the fire, so it didn't seem smart to try navigating it now, and I returned to the junction and headed down the "A" road.

This was the messiest section I encountered last time, but knowing what to expect made it not so bad this time. Lots of smaller trees weren't too bad to climb over, but in some cases they had all their branches on, and there was a lot of underbrush growing up around them, including some blackberry thickets. Still, this section went by pretty fast, and before long I was at the A/B junction that had confused me last time. Past that junction, the forest got thicker and the fallen logs got bigger. Those were harder to climb over, but it was easier to walk through the forest alongside the road when needed. This section drops in elevation, and it would have been harder going up it. Even as it was, I started questioning my decision about how to spend my Sunday.

I wasn't sure I'd recognize the junction with Smith Road (the thicker dashed line on my map above), but it was pretty clear when I got there. I couldn't find the "Smith Road" wooden sign that used to be posted on a tree, but I did find an old Pepsi can set on a stump to mark the road. :-) I walked a little past this junction and found the next section to be pretty easily walkable. Then I turned back and headed west on Smith Road. That was also easily walkable, if faint and hard to follow at times. That's the challenge of this route -- either the road has been destroyed, which makes it easy to see but hard to walk on, or it has been left to slowly decay, which makes it harder to see but easier to walk on. I do prefer the latter, and started feeling better about my day as I strolled through this section and enjoyed the mossy forest around me.

About halfway across this east/west section, to my surprise, I met another couple coming from the other direction. In all the times I hiked in this area before the fire, I never saw another person! I think they were equally surprised. They advised me that up ahead was a good flagged route through the woods that paralleled the road, so I took that. Although a footpath was visible in spots, it would have been impossible to follow this without the flags, but the flags were plentiful enough. This took me all the way to a north/south road, which I followed a hundred yards or so back down to Smith Road.

From here to Palmer Mill, the road got progressively better, with evidence of volunteer log cutting, a more obvious boot path, and a few flagged side trails branching off from both sides of the road. One flagged trail was just northeast of the heavily destroyed road that heads to the bullet car, so I'm curious if it goes all the way there, similar to the flagged route that paralleled Smith Road. By the time I reached the final drop to Palmer Mill Road, the boot path was quite clear, and the shortcut trail down to Palmer was clearer than it ever was before the fire.

My second big surprise of the day was reaching Palmer Mill Road and finding it completely clear and undamaged. I've seen it at the Multnomah Basin Road junction and it looks like a World War I battlefield up there, so I imagined it was like that at this end, too. Depending on where the destruction starts, this might open up a big loop back to the Pepsi can junction, so that gives me more to check out next time. For today, I planned to just walk down Palmer Mill Road to Angel's Rest, which I did. I expected a big crowd down there, but my return to civilization ended a bit earlier than expected with parked cars squeezed onto the "shoulder" of this road for quite a ways past the parking lot. There are a bunch of no parking signs along the shoulders between the parking lot and the I-84 ramps, so I guess those pushed people up this road instead.

Anyway, I'm happy to report that while the east section from my first hike was probably not worth repeating, there is some promising territory in this west section, and apparently other people have been exploring it, too. But it seems most of those explorations have started from Palmer Mill, since the worst parts are the connections between this area and the Angel's/Devil's areas.

Messy stuff in the north half of the A road
Bigger logs but less underbrush south of that.
Easy walking but a fainter path on Smith Road heading west
This is looking back after rejoining Smith Road from the flagged route. To find the flagged route coming the other way, turn left at the scrap metal and look for the flags to your right in about 100 yards.
I've seen a ship in a bottle, but not moss in a bottle.
The motorcycles are still there. Rest In Pieces.
Motorcycles don't have sun visors! Is this the twin of the one I saw last time, a few miles east of here?
A boot path emerges, descending south to Palmer Mill Road.
Even clearer in the last section.
Palmer Mill wide open.
Overflow parking above Angel's Rest.
Screen Shot 2021-04-11 at 4.53.12 PM.png
My route for the day, with some brief detours.
TrailCheck (iOS / Android)
Elevation Tracker (iOS / Apple Watch)

User avatar
Posts: 1543
Joined: May 28th, 2008, 10:03 pm
Location: Southeast Portland

Re: Palmer Mill Decommissioned Roads

Post by Charley » April 12th, 2021, 10:51 pm

It's an interesting area, huh? I used to ride my mountain bike up Palmer Mill Road every now and then. I remember thinking that it would be a good place to have a small mountain bike trail network (not Wilderness, Palmer Mill as an access/ascent road, near Portland, a regenerating landscape with few hikers).

I still think that it would be a good place for a small set of nested loops, but seeing as how the even much-touted Cascade Locks MTB plan has gone nowhere, despite lots of community hype and investment, it seems unlikely that the FS would develop such a system.

It wouldn't have the community support or economic development benefits that Cascade Locks offers, but it would be the nearest Forest Service parcel to Portland (since the Sandy River Dog Park/Homeless Camp is really a good hiking destination, and since the Bullrun watershed is apparently for suitable clear-cutting and vehicles, but too fragile for hikers or bike riders).

Seeing as how we need more trails, it's a bummer we can't seem to invest in them!

Post Reply