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Jefferson Park from Whitewater Trailhead Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Revision as of 00:07, 9 August 2019 by Justpeachy (Talk | contribs)

Mount Jefferson from Whitewater Trail (romann)
Bays Lake (romann)
Park Butte from the south shore of Scout Lake (romann)
Red huckleberries near PCT, late September (romann)
Unnamed lake between Scout Lake and Bays Lake (romann)
Forest Service flier showing where you can camp
  • Start point: Whitewater TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Jefferson Park
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: (Out-and-back or backpack)
  • Distance: 11.0 miles (round trip)
  • Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • High Point: 5,880 feet
  • Seasons: Mid-July - early October
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Very


Hike Description

This is a shorter, easier, and the most popular trail to Jefferson Park. It is also somewhat less scenic approach comparing with two other options - from the Breitenbush Trailhead access (over Park Ridge) and from the South Breitenbush Trailhead (along S. Fork Breitenbush River). However, this trail does offer one of the best close-up views on Mount Jefferson at about 3 miles in, and - being the shortest approach - means you can get to Jefferson Park sooner and will have more time end energy exploring the Park itself. Its cool alpine lakes, surrounded by patches of trees and nice wildflower meadows, make a great destination on a warm summer day.

You'll start to climb moderately through old-growth forest. After 4 wide switchbacks and 1.5 miles turn right at the junction. The trail becomes more rocky and dusty from this point, but it's not bad. You'll come by a couple of viewpoints opening to the west and then you will hike along the ridge where you'll see a first-class view to Mount Jefferson to the east. At mile 4.0 there's Whitewater Creek crossing - your first water source. The crossing has no bridge (sometimes the hikers construct a seasonal makeshift bridge) but the creek is pretty small in summer and boulders are convenient to step on. After creek crossing the trail becomes really steep for about 0.2 miles and then joins the PCT. Keep left at PCT, which crosses one or two small creeks on a bridge and a couple small meadows. Soon you'll break out of the forest and the trail will level as you enter Jefferson Park.

Here many small trails come in all directions from PCT. Come about a quarter mile on PCT ignoring side trails for now, and then take a wide unsigned trail to the left, which will come to the north edge of Scout Lake (if you want to extend this hike you may stay on PCT which will come to Russell Lake in about 0.8 mile). This side trail comes along the Scout Lake and then continues to the north side of Bays Lake. Take a short spur trail to the right to see a small Rock Lake with yellow-colored Park Butte towering over it. After taking pictures, you may continue to and around Bays Lake (the trail dead-ends half way around this lake and circling it requires some easy route-finding), but for this hike just backtrack to Scout Lake, turn right (south), and hike along its west shore. Take an obvious trail right (west) to an unnamed small pond and then to the south edge of a beautiful Bays Lake with its steep rocky shores. Watch children near the drop-offs here. There's a maze of trails in this small area, but with the map (see one at the bottom of this page) you can use the lakes as beacons so it's hard to get lost. After exploring Bays Lake, head back east. The PCT is pretty close to the right at this point, but it is below very steep slope (you may take a shortcut trail to PCT here, otherwise keep east until you re-join the PCT). Keep right on the PCT and return the way you came.

There are some fire and camping restrictions in Jefferson Park. Camping is limited to designated sites, so you may wish to print out a copy of the campsite location map and bring it with you. Campfires are banned throughout the area (stoves are OK).

Lastly, be prepared that current conditions in Jefferson Park may be very different from conditions at lower elevation hikes. Like all high-elevation hikes, this place may get cold even in the summer, although if the weather is fair the nights are usually quite warm in August and September. If you come before the middle of July, expect to see a plenty of snow. The lakes don't usually thaw there until the end of June or the beginning of July. Also, mosquitoes can be plentiful in July and first half of August, so some kind of repellent may be useful. Having said that, this area is truly unique, but do come prepared with extra clothing, food, map and other essentials.

Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass required at the trailhead.
  • Dogs OK
  • Fires are banned in Jefferson Park; stoves OK
  • Designated campsite permits must be obtained ahead of time from Recreation.gov if you are camping in Jefferson Park.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon by Douglas Lorain
  • 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades by William Sullivan

More Links


  • Click on hike map below to enlarge
Map of the Route

Also see:


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.