Upper Boulder Creek Loop

This forum is used to share your experiences out on the trails.
Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 2107
Joined: August 1st, 2011, 7:51 am
Location: SW Portland

Upper Boulder Creek Loop

Post by bobcat » November 11th, 2014, 5:06 pm

VanMarmot’s report on the Gumjuwac-Gunsight Ridge-Badger Lake Loop reminded me that I had a long-standing date with one of the more remote areas of the Mt. Hood National Forest.

I parked at the Boulder Lake Trailhead and hiked the opposite direction to 99.9% of the visitors there (although on that day I was the only car at the trailhead). The bottom half-mile of the Boulder Lake Trail drops down to Boulder Creek and crosses the stream on a solid footbridge. From there, I reached the many-signed junction with the Boulder Creek Trail.
Footbridge over Boulder Creek.jpg
Boulder Creek from the footbridge.jpg

There’s the old sign which commemorates the former name of the trail – Crane Creek – and then two newer signs (c. 1980 or so), about six feet apart, that offer competing takes on distances to the next destinations – the Forest Service allows a democratic choice here.
Crane Creek Trail sign, Boulder Creek.jpg
Boulder Lake Junction sign #1, Boulder Creek.jpg
Boulder Lake Junction sign #2, Boulder Creek.jpg
The bowl here has never been cut and there are some impressive trees, including many groves of large Engelmann spruce. I passed a massive 220-foot Douglas-fir lying on its side next to the trail, and then posed at a gnarly, but living, monster. Larch were lighting up the slopes coming down from Grasshopper Point and in some places the forest floor was carpeted with the fine golden fur of their needles. There was only one tree down on the trail: the area is now mainly used by mountain bikers and they have kept it clear.
Giant Douglas-fir, Boulder Creek.jpg
Yellow coral (Ramaria formosa), Boulder Creek.jpg
Big Douglas-fir, Boulder Creek.jpg
Larch candles, Boulder Creek.jpg
Eventually, I ended up at Crane Prairie, a series of small meadows that are even smaller now than in the days that livestock were herded up the creek to graze here. There is rapid encroachment on the ‘prairie’ by lodgepole pine and noble and silver fir. I passed two posts which formerly held a gate at the stock fence and came to the junction with the Crane Prairie Trail. The old junction sign lies rotting in the dirt.
Meadow, Boulder Creek Trail.jpg
Stock gate, Boulder Creek.jpg
Junction sign at Crane Prairie Trail, Boulder Creek.jpg
The last section of the Boulder Creek Trail rises more steeply through old growth to the FR 4860 road. Across the way is the upper trailhead for the Badger Creek Trail. I took up the Camp Windy Trail, which runs up the ridge crest on the southern edge of the Badger Lake bowl. There’s a view across to Lookout Mountain and then you’re in the trees until the Bennett Pass Road (FR 3550). Here, I crossed at the Camp Windy Spring, did the short jaunt up to the Gunsight Trail and made a left. I think this is the junction VanMarmot missed and it was indeed obscured by debris, so I rearranged things to make it a little more obvious.
Big tree, Boulder Creek Trail.jpg
5 mile sign, Boulder Creek Trail.jpg
Footbridge over bog, Boulder Creek Trail.jpg
Lookout Mountain and Palisade Point from the Camp Windy Trail.jpg
Gunsight-Camp Windy Trail Junction after.jpg
I walked out on the Gunsight to the Bennett Pass Road at its junction with FR 4891. Then I hiked about a quarter mile up the latter to the Crane Prairie Trailhead. This is not so easy to find, but I’ve been here a few times before so walked in and picked up the tread heading down the slope into a lush bowl. The Crane Prairie Trail was much easier to follow than in the summer, when the bushes, mainly huckleberries and white rhododendrons, are fully leafed out out. It seems others wanted to make it even simpler to find and, in addition to the old ax blazes, the trail is now obscenely decorated with yards of flagging and paint stripes, spots, and arrows. I wish those who had taken the time to do all of this had simply clipped back the encroaching brush instead. I had actually brought pruners, and spent a goodly amount of time cutting back all the brushy spots in this upper bowl, something that had not been done in about 15 years. I didn’t deal with the blowdown, which is fairly simple to negotiate (if you’re a hiker, not a biker).
Boulder Creek valley from the Gunsight Trail.jpg
Talus slope and Badger Butte, Gunsight Trail.jpg
Beginning of the Crane Prairie Trail.jpg
Trail sign, Crane Prairie Trail.jpg
Tarns, Crane Prairie Trail.jpg
Flagging and paint, Crane Prairie Trail.jpg
Once at Boulder Creek, there was yet more startling flagging, this time strung across the trail on both sides of the creek – I have no idea what the purpose is here, except perhaps to warn bikers not to attempt the Crane Prairie Trail. By this time, I was gathering flagging that was littering the ground and came out of the hike with a soccer-sized ball of the stuff. The bog here is also easier to wind through at this time of year – in the summer, the skunk-cabbage and other leafy plants carpet the area and obscure any tread.
Boulder Creek ribbons, Crane Prairie Trail.jpg
Then it was back down the Boulder Creek Trail and back to the trailhead. Driving back and ,not having had an expansive view all day, I pulled off where everyone does below Barlow Pass, and snapped Mt. Hood in the late afternoon light.
Hood from Barlow Pass.jpg
The Boulder Creek Trail (from the junction with the Boulder Lake Trail), Camp Windy Trail, and Gunsight Trail are all in excellent shape. Crane Prairie needs a fair bit of logging done, but I dealt with the brushy spots for the time being and it serves as a good connector for a couple of loops.

User avatar
Posts: 8197
Joined: May 28th, 2008, 10:03 pm
Location: Portland

Re: Upper Boulder Creek Loop

Post by Splintercat » November 11th, 2014, 8:35 pm

Cool, Bobcat - another lesser traveled area! Nice to see the bikers using that system, and even trial signs! But scratching my head on the flagging/paint... that doesn't sound like something a mountain bike organization would do, but maybe a rogue trail tender "helping", perhaps?

I didn't realize the prairie was vanishing so quickly... soon to join Beaver Lakes as one of those places that exist only on old topo maps?

Thanks for posting!

Tom :)

Posts: 5073
Joined: May 28th, 2008, 10:03 pm

Re: Upper Boulder Creek Loop

Post by pdxgene » November 12th, 2014, 3:07 pm

We saw those same red arrows going up to Boulder Lake last year. Thankfully they at least stopped there. All I could think of was that it's pretty hard to find an easier trail to follow that isn't paved. If someone really needed those arrows to find Boulder Lake from the trailhead maybe they should be looking at a different form of recreation to pursue.
After they peeled all the paint back off with a pair of tweezers.. :twisted:

User avatar
Double Tree
Posts: 204
Joined: September 6th, 2012, 10:51 am

Re: Upper Boulder Creek Loop

Post by Double Tree » November 12th, 2014, 7:06 pm

Boulder Creek, Boulder Lake, PCT south out of Frog Lake and even cutting through the trees over to the road, Blue Box trail all have red paint marks (arrows and spots) up high. I recently spent some time cleaning paint on the Boulder Lake trail and the PCT. Some of it chips off just fine, but some is just too stuck to flake off. Better than it was anyway.

User avatar
Posts: 2107
Joined: August 1st, 2011, 7:51 am
Location: SW Portland

Re: Upper Boulder Creek Loop

Post by bobcat » November 13th, 2014, 6:17 am

There's also red paint on the southern reroute of the Hidden Meadows Trail. On Blue Box, the paint leads off the trail along a straight line of trees - I thought that might be official?

Great that you were able to remove some of it. Crane Prairie is an eyesore and I've never seen such a high density of flagging.

User avatar
Posts: 2034
Joined: July 6th, 2009, 8:00 pm

Re: Upper Boulder Creek Loop

Post by miah66 » November 13th, 2014, 7:12 am

Reminds me of those signs people make for their friends to join them at remote camps. They end up sticking around for weeks/months.

"Hey Jimmy Bob! I marked the way to our camp in orange arrows! You can't miss it!"
"The top...is not the top" - Mile...Mile & a Half

Instagram @pdxstrider

Post Reply