Last Sunday was one of those balmy blue-sky days in Portland, but I headed south and, as soon as I passed the frontier of Multnomah County, I dove into low clouds and frigid weather in the central Willamette Valley. The hike was in the McDonald State Forest just north of Corvallis, highlighted in AlexanderSupertramp’s report on the Peavy Arboretum a couple of weeks ago.
My trailhead was at Chip Ross Park on Lester Avenue. This area has a different forest mix (I’ll call it Coast Range eastern foothills): Douglas-fir, Oregon white oak, big-leaf maple, grand fir, Pacific madrone, even some valley ponderosas.
Near the top of Chip Ross is the first of several memorial plaques you pass on this double-loop hike. This one is for Willi Unsoeld, one of the Northwest’s most storied mountaineers. The trail leads over the grassy crest with views down to the city of Corvallis and then drops to a junction, where you head into the McDonald State Forest.
This area is nestled right up against Corvallis and serves them as the equivalent of Portland’s Forest Park. In spite of the proximity to a small urban area, signboards at all the entrances to this research forest emphasize that you are entering predator habitat: there are dire warnings about cougar, bear, and coyote posted at every trailhead. The loop I took heads down to Jackson Creek and then switchbacks up Dan’s Trail, named after Dan Petrequin, volunteer trail builder, to the top of 1,500’ Dimple Hill in forest dominated by second-growth Douglas-fir, big-leaf maple, and grand fir.
The trail can be busy on the weekend with hikers, joggers, horses and mountain bikers. On a clear day, there would be views from here, but on that day the cloud ceiling, as well as the rapidly melting snow cover, began at about 1,200’. A grove of large old growth Douglas-firs at the very summit shades a bench and some hitching posts.
I descended Dimple Hill via a forest road that connects with Patterson Road, a gated gravel track that is the arterial in this area of the forest. One more botanical feature, a rather unfortunate one this time, distinguishes the two OSU research forests (The other is the Dunn State Forest, which is more heavily logged than the McDonald): they are thoroughly carpeted by an invasive Eurasian grass called false brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum). Unlike our native grasses, false brome thrives under the canopy and dominates the ground cover. There are entreaties at the trailheads to clean boots and hooves as you exit the forest; at the Oak Creek Trailhead, there are even hoses and brushes provided for the purpose. False brome has been inadvertently transplanted by hikers to the Cascades.
I connected with the Horse Trail, which winds down through mixed woods and a couple of small plantations to Jackson Creek. From here, I reentered Chip Ross Park and took the lower end of the park’s short loop back to the trailhead.
The McDonald State Forest is not for everyone. The network of roads (all gated) and trails does allow for longer hikes or bike rides as well as Sunday strolls; however, it is an intensively managed area with some of the ugliness that implies: invasive plants, brush piles, a few clearcuts, and single-species plantations in places, with little sense of any distance from civilization in spite of the cougar warnings. Nonetheless, the hike to Dimple Hill spends a lot of time on well-maintained trails in pleasant, more mature woodland with some scenery to boot: about 9.5 miles and 1,800’ total elevation gain.
Note: Sky Islands Graphics, a Corvallis company, produces a stunning map of the McDonald State Forest, Marys Peak, and other Corvallis-area hikes. It is available in Corvallis bookstores and online.
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I love Oregon white oak trees when the leaves are off! Thank you for the wonderful picture!
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.--E.Abbey