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Upper Boulder Creek Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Revision as of 23:39, 13 April 2017 by Bobcat (Talk | contribs)

This page is marked as a Lost Hike. The "trail" may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Carry detailed maps of the whole area and/or a GPS unit and compass.
Footbridge over Boulder Creek (bobcat)
Big Douglas-fir, Boulder Creek (bobcat)
Boulder Creek valley from the Gunsight Trail (bobcat)
Boulder Creek headwaters meadow, off the Crane Prairie Trail (bobcat)
Fringed grass-of-parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata), Crane Prairie (bobcat)
The lollipop loop described traced in red; the alternative loop, avoiding the Crane Prairie Trail, in yellow (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Boulder Lake TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Crane Prairie Trailhead
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 10.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2140 feet
  • High Point: 5,640 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No



This hike is strictly for those who wish to plumb a remote stretch of valley little visited and devoid of the obvious delights that attract the casual hiker: sparkling lakes, high viewpoints, and golden meadows. In fact, all those attractions are not far away, should you wish to indulge, and can be attained by an easy extension although in so doing, you will deprive yourself of the thrill of the chase, so to speak, in finding your way down an abandoned trail. You will leave the masses immediately, heading in the opposite direction from the day trippers and overnight campers that throng Boulder Lake on a summer weekend. You course takes you down into and out of the remote upper valley of Boulder Creek, with its impressive old growth, and returns via the dilapidated Crane Prairie Trail. And yes, if you really insist, there are those other options . . .

From the parking area, walk up the road about 50 yards to the overflow parking and find the unsigned Boulder Lake Trail leading down to the right. Immediately enter an old growth slope forest of Engelmann spruce, Douglas-fir, noble fir, and mountain hemlock. Cross a small bench and continue the descent, veering right to drop in and out of a gully and reach the footbridge over Boulder Creek. From the creek, it’s a few yards up to the multi-signed Boulder Creek-Boulder Lake Trail Junction. Some of the signs here bear the former name of the watercourse: Crane Creek.

Go left and start hiking up the valley on a trail that is basically maintained by mountain bikers although not particularly popular even with that group. You will first pass along, and duck under, a huge 220-foot Douglas-fir lying on its side. There are many other large Douglas-fir and Engelmann spruce in these woods. Talus slopes below Grasshopper Point to the right are rimmed with larch trees that shine a brilliant yellow in the fall. You will also observe stands of aspen on the slope. Drop into a meadow and cross a brook issuing from a spring. In younger silver fir woods, pass through a linear meadow and step across a couple of small creeks. Wend around a large cottonwood at a third creek. Reach another meadow, part of the Crane Prairie complex of meadows, and then a boggy area. Cross a small stream and pass through a couple of gate posts remaining from the stock fence that sealed off the Crane Prairie bogs from trampling. Cross a creek at a Sitka alder thicket and come to the Boulder Creek-Crane Prairie Trail Junction.

The old sign may be lying on the ground here. Head right across a small meadow rimmed with lodgepole pines, and enter dry slope forest. Pass a large “5” nailed to a large Engelmann spruce (It’s five miles from the Boulder Creek Trailhead). The wide trail crosses a tributary of Boulder Creek and rises steeply with the creek on the right. Move away from the creek into a bear-grass carpet and hike along a ridge crest. Cross a sturdy footbridge over a bog and rise steeply again. Reach younger forest that is a regenerating burn and emerge at FR 4860. Across the way is the Badger Creek Upper Trailhead.

Leading left from the trailhead is the Camp Windy Trail. Take this as it parallels FR 4860. Hike up to the top of a rocky knoll in scrappy noble fir and mountain hemlock woodland. You can make out the glistening waters of Badger Lake below through the trees and there a clear view across to Lookout Mountain and Palisade Point. Badger Butte rises just to the east. The trail continues to rise in mountain hemlock woods and then makes a level traverse to come to FR 3550, the Bennett Pass Road, just above its junction with FR 4860. Across the road is a large spring area that displays a wonderful array of bog wildflowers in the summer.

Take the Camp Windy Trail to the left of this bog and rise to the unsigned Gunsight-Camp Windy Trail Junction at a shallow saddle. Go left here. Rise gently to an andesite knoll from which there are no views. Then drop below a rockpile and cross a large talus slope and get a view to Badger Butte and FR 3550 below. The trail descends from the talus slope, and passes a signboard to reach Gnitgnat Saddle and the Gunsight Trailhead on FR 3550 just before its junction with FR 4891.

Walk left to the junction and keep straight (right) on FR 4891. Hike above a talus slope and boulder field and ascend to where the road bends right at a pullout big enough for two cars. Ten yards back from this pullout is the unsigned Crane Prairie Trailhead.

You may have to clamber over some blowdown and then pick up a definite track traversing down to the left. There’s more blowdown, and then the trail becomes much more obvious. A sign confirms this is Crane Prairie Trail #464. The trail heads down through huckleberries and white rhododendrons and past a meadow with three tarns filled with tadpoles in mid-summer. The path then veers to the left, passes a boggy area and then drops through dry woods and traverses right. You will see a large boggy meadow two hundred yards down the hillside to the left. These are the headwaters of Boulder Creek. The trail passes through more white rhododendron thickets. Cross a creek and a bog above a blooming meadow. Flagging and red paint marks may help you find your way through the brush here. There are also blazes on trees to note. After more blowdown, the trail heads down with Boulder Creek to the left. Take note of the elk tracks in this area. Then head to the right above a marsh-marigold swamp before turning left and crossing two creeks. There are bigger trees, especially noble fir, Douglas-fir, and Engelmann spruce, as you near the valley floor. Western red-cedar, mountain hemlock, silver fir, and grand fir also populate this diverse transitional woodland. The trail heads down a ridge with a gully and a small waterfall to the right. Trail maintenance here is mainly due to the efforts of the elk. Boulder Creek flows to the right as the trail levels. Finally, you will cross Boulder Creek and pass underneath some large spruces and through a blooming skunk-cabbage bottom. Reach a small, sunny clearing. Here the trail braids: right is through a boggy area hemmed by willows and to the creek; left is through the dry woods. In an open area, part of the string of Crane Prairie meadows, the trail follows a dry runoff channel. Pass through a second meadow and then enter dry woods. Walk through lupines and step across a brook. The trail rises. Past a screen of young conifers and then a thicket of Sitka alder at the Crane Prairie-Boulder Creek Trail Junction.

Continue straight (right) from here to retrace your steps to the Boulder Lake-Boulder Creek Trail Junction and from there across Boulder Creek and back up to your vehicle.

NOTE: If you want to forego the pleasures, and sometime frustrations, of the unmaintained Crane Prairie Trail, you could take on the indulgences of the sights mentioned in the first paragraph. Keep going along FR 4891, up and over to descend to the Bonney Butte Trailhead. From here, you can go right to follow the old lookout road up to the ridge of Bonney Butte. Descending from the Butte, keep hiking down the road, and turn left into the Bonney Meadows Campground. Follow the Boulder Lake Trail, which departs from the left side of the campground, to hike around the meadow and then descend the slope to Boulder Lake.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Share Boulder Creek Trail with mountain bikes
  • Crane Prairie Trail is unmaintained: good route-finding skills required


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Mt. Hood, OR #462
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Barlow Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount Hood
  • Adventure Maps: Mt. Hood Area
  • Adventure Maps: Hood River, Oregon, Trail Map

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Best Old-growth Forest Hikes: Washington and Oregon Cascades by John and Diane Cissel
  • Hiking Mount Hood National Forest by Marcia Sinclair

More Links

Page Contributors

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.