Some North Fork John Day Wilderness trail conditions

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Walkin' Fool
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Some North Fork John Day Wilderness trail conditions

Post by Walkin' Fool » July 19th, 2022, 12:35 pm

I took 2 different trips to the N Fork John Day Wilderness this month and I thought some basic info on trail conditions might be useful, as they can be hard to come by.

North Fork John Day River Trail:
    From N Fork John Day Campground, the trail is in good shape to the bridge where the Granite Creek Trail comes in (that’s as far as we went). There are a handful of blowdowns, only one of which requires a somewhat annoying, but short, workaround. A bit brushy in places, and one spot where the trail disappears through a short meadow, but it’s not too hard to find on the other side.
      There are no signs of the old footbridge over Trout Creek, but there is a large and sturdy log. If you don’t want to walk or scootch on that, the horse ford immediately downstream is casual.
        The ford at Bear Gulch was no more than knee-deep and the water temp was pleasant. The trail is easy to see on the other side.
          There’s a good spot to camp right before the ford, in the trees near the miner’s cabin (“Tub Spring”). There are a few decent places to camp between the TH and Tub Spring. On the other side of the river, there’s a good place to camp right before First Gulch, another one at First Gulch, and a good spot at the bridge.
            Some maps show the trail from Silver Butte crossing the river ¼ mile east of the bridge. There used to be a handcart crossing there, and you can still see remnants, but now that trail is accessed across the bridge. Once you cross the bridge, the N Fk Trail continues to the left (heading west), while the trail to Copper Butte heads up and to the right (east).
              I headed up the Granite Creek trail just a minute and there is a large and sturdy bridge over Lake Creek.
                2 of us had 5-8 ticks each over 3 days

                North Crane Trail:
                  There is apparently a 2.5 mile trail connecting the N Fork John Day River Trail to the Crane Creek Trail. I couldn’t find it from either end. However, at the Crane Creek TH (the south end of the North Crane Trail), there is a big meadow and that’s where the trail is supposed to be. I only spent a few minutes looking for it – if I would’ve walked the perimeter of the meadow, maybe I would’ve seen where it comes out of the meadow.

                  Big Creek Trail:
                    From the Big Creek Meadow TH and campground, the trail starts out OK, with a 2 minor fords in the first couple miles.
                      After the second ford, things get interesting, and the trail deteriorates pretty quickly. Tons of blowdown and very faint. It also deviates quite a bit from where the maps show, at times about 500’ higher.
                        I was planning on looping around and coming back on South Winom, but due to the trail conditions, heat, and uncertainty of S. Winom trail conditions, I turned around at about 4,500’. So I started from South Winom the next day.

                        South Winom Creek Trail:
                          To reach this TH, drive past the Winom Campground (don’t turn in). You’ll very shortly see a group campsite on the left and then a 1-lane bridge. Shortly after that, the TH is on the left, with room for 2 vehicles. No toilet.
                            This trail is in much better shape than Big Creek, but it still requires paying attention, as it is faint at times, and there’s one very, very brushy section.
                              The maps for this are also not completely accurate, although better than Big Creek.
                                I did see what I think was the junction to the Big Creek Trail (I turned around before that spot when I hiked Big Creek). Not too far before the intersection with Big Creek itself, there’s a faint trail switchbacking steeply up the exposed slope. There is also a blaze on a tree at that intersection, which was the only blaze I noticed along the trail. I went up it just a minute, and it likely connects to the almost non-existent Big Creek Trail, but I didn’t actually go all the way up to where I left off on the Big Creek Trail the day before, so that’s just an assumption.
                                  The bridge over Big Creek is broken and burned, and not usable. The ford looked less than safe – not wide, but very fast, with deep pools.

                                  Elkhorn Crest Trail/Crawfish Basin Trail:
                                    From the Elkhorn Crest TH by Anthony Lakes, to Nip & Tuck Pass (what’s with that name, BTW?) the trail is in great shape, with a few very minor snow patches to cross. Saw 2 adult goats with 2 kids. They ran off quickly. A couple blowdowns, no big deal.
                                      Took the Crawfish Basin Trail back from Dutch Flat Saddle, it’s also in great shape.
                                        You will need to walk on a forest road for a bit to make this loop back if you go Crawfish Basin. My maps show a trail off the forest road to Hoffer Lakes, Parker Creek, then Anthony Lake, but I either just walked right past it or it doesn’t exist. I was distracted from talking to some mountain bikers about the fake elk in the woods (apparently for some sort of archery contest/training), so I wouldn’t doubt if I just walked past it. So I just walked the forest road to Anthony Lakes CG, then back to the TH.

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                                        Re: Some North Fork John Day Wilderness trail conditions

                                        Post by keithcomess » July 19th, 2022, 3:58 pm

                                        Thanks for the comprehensive and interesting report.

                                        A few questions:

                                        1_ Which Green Trails maps did you use for this hike?

                                        2_ Did you encounter other hikers?

                                        3_ Any estimate of daytime temperatures during your trip to the area?

                                        Thanks in advance,

                                        Walkin' Fool
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                                        Joined: July 7th, 2014, 10:03 am

                                        Re: Some North Fork John Day Wilderness trail conditions

                                        Post by Walkin' Fool » July 19th, 2022, 5:06 pm

                                        Hi Keith!

                                        I couldn't find any good paper maps. I have the USFS Umatilla National Forest paper map, which is just good for a general overview, not for navigating on trails. I have both Gaia and Caltopo, and for Caltopo used the FS Topo (2016) overlay and for Gaia I used the Gaia Topo overlay. All maps has some pretty big inaccuracies in that area.

                                        Daytime highs were 80-85, nighttime temps were mid-40s. It's worth noting all trails I mentioned had substantial areas of no shade, making it quite toasty in the sun.

                                        On the N Fork John Day River Trail, I was there Wed-Fri, and saw 1 person kayaking and 1 backpacker just leaving the TH, both on Friday. My other trip, I stayed at the N Fork Campground over a long weekend and there were 2 vehicles parked at the TH over the weekend. On the Big Creek and Winom Trails (Friday and Saturday), I saw zero people. On the Elkhorn Crest Trail (Sunday), I saw a group of 4-5 backpackers heading to the TH who'd camped at Dutch Flat Lake, and 3 day hikers on the Crawfish Basin Trail. Lots of solitude!

                                        Oh, I forgot to mention, there is a food cart in Ukiah called Penny's Cafe, and it is delicious!! Open for breakfast and lunch!!

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                                        Re: Some North Fork John Day Wilderness trail conditions

                                        Post by teachpdx » July 20th, 2022, 7:33 am

                                        Thank you so much for this detailed report!

                                        I am looking at heading out that way in mid to late September and I planned to do a shuttle hike from North Fork campground to Big Creek Meadows campground via the North Fork and Big Creek trails, but your report on the Big Creek trail makes me think we will head up the South Winom instead. Hopefully that sketchy ford of Big Creek will be more manageable in September.

                                        I'm also NO FAN of ticks, which is another reason for waiting.
                                        instagram: @remyodyssey

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                                        Re: Some North Fork John Day Wilderness trail conditions

                                        Post by Born2BBrad » July 20th, 2022, 7:49 am

                                        Thanks for some intel on trails in the North Fork John Day Wilderness. I did a backpacking trip out there in 2013 and never found much information about it. I plan to go back after I'm done exploring Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

                                        Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.
                                        - Jean Luc Picard

                                        Link to GPX tracks
                                        Link to Trip Reports

                                        Walkin' Fool
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                                        Re: Some North Fork John Day Wilderness trail conditions

                                        Post by Walkin' Fool » July 20th, 2022, 12:37 pm

                                        @teachPDX, I would definitely recommend going up the South Winom Creek Trail vs the Big Creek Trail. I know the N Fk was flowing significantly higher than normal, so I’m sure the side creeks were as well. I wouldn’t even worry about the Big Creek ford in mid-late September. It may require getting your feet wet, but I’d be surprised if it is any sort of problem. Although the Big Creek Trail from NFJD Trail to the Big Creek ford might be in pretty rough shape – at least it’s relatively short! You probably know, but that area is huge for hunters in the fall, so front country campgrounds and dispersed sites accessible via vehicle (OHV or otherwise) will likely be hard to come by if you were planning on that at either end. Given the terrain, I’d be surprised if more than a small handful of hunters go very far down the trails (heck, they hardly do on well-maintained trails!). Sounds like an awesome trip!

                                        @Brad, I did come across your TR when I was researching! It was probably the most detailed one I found, and the fact it was from 2013 was part of the reason I thought some updated conditions might be helpful. Looks like your experience was similar to mine. That is some rugged country that I’ve become pretty enamored with!

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