Oregon

Eagle Creek Road

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I don't know that I would call this an excursion, but I somewhat randomly ended up exploring and camping in this area so I wanted to at least document it.  Eagle Creek Road (NF 5883) heads north off Hwy 58 up into heavily forested hills, and eventually splits into multiple dead-end spurs...none of the roads go through to anywhere, so the only way out is the way you came in. The handful of roads don't cover a huge amount of ground, there are few sights to see, and all the roads I followed were reasonably well-maintained gravel, so there isn't even any terribly interesting terrain to tackle.

In spite of that lackluster introduction, I ultimately was really happy I ventured up this road. 

My unplanned foray up this road came at the end of my Diamond Peak Wilderness excursion . I had originally planned on camping somewhere in the hills to the west of Diamond Peak, and I had originally NOT planned on venturing further east than Summit Lake, but it ended up being such an engaging drive that just kept going and going, thinking I would certainly find a random spur I could camp on. Instead it must have been the longest stretch of National Forest road I've ever driving that didn't have a single side road heading off, and eventually I found myself at Crescent Lake - a busy and popular recreation area lined with fee campgrounds and no dispersed camping. It was getting a bit late in the day and I just didn't have it in me to retrace my steps back along the fun but challenging (& slow) trail I had just traversed.

So I decided to just scurry north on the paved Crescent Lake road and head back west on Hwy 58. I realized there was no way I would manage to loop back around into the Diamond Peak wilderness to a nice campsite I had spotted earlier, so it was time to improvise. Fortuitously, I had stopped off at the ranger station that morning to inquire about campfire restrictions and points of interest, and decided to purchase their deluxe map of the Willamette National Forest - Middle Fork Ranger District. I already carry a very comprehensive Oregon atlas from Benchmark Maps - and this is a fantastic resource - but the level of magnifcation and detail of forest service roads doesn't compare to having a single ranger district spread across both sides of a massive 3'x4' foldout map. And while my GPS unit and/or phone with offline map app are great for figuring out where I am, the small screens are not conducive to getting an overview of a large area and identifying potential destinations, which I normally do on my desktop computer. Topography lines and elevations on the map help you visualize which roads climb up ridgelines or stay low in creek valleys. Having this large paper map made it much easier to get a sense for which National Forest side road might work for finding a campsite for the night...it definitely felt like money well spent at that particular moment.

With the sun sinking ever lower, I hurriedly probed around and found two really amazing spots to camp, one on the shore of an adorable little lake, and the other at the end of a spur near the top of a butte (see photos above). There were mosquitoes at both sites so I figured I might as well stay next to the lake. I went so far as to set up my ($60 DIY) camp awning and take out my folding chair before I realized that the mosquitoes had quickly become absolutely intolerable...I literally had dozens of them on my arms and legs, despite heavy and repeated applications of citronella repellent (which is usually adequate for me). I was disappointed to leave this charming campsite, but quickly threw everything in the car and drove back up to the butte-top spot, and managed to get camp set up well before the sun went down.

July in the Cascades is probably not a great idea in general. I always knew to avoid the high lakes at this time of year, but even at the top of this butte, far from any bodies of water, the mosquitoes were pretty bad. It was better than the lakeside site, but bad enough that I eventually found it preferable to place my chair right where the campfire smoke was blowing, as the mosquitoes wouldn't follow. A bit of burning in the eyes was a welcome tradeoff for respite from the incessant attacks. After it got dark, the mosquitoes all disappeared and I was finally able to relax and enjoy the evening a bit.

I eventually discovered that the dead-end spur I was camped on actually led to a trailhead - the sign was broken and on the ground, so I hadn't seen it before. It seemed unlikely that I would get disturbed by any potential hikers - it's a pretty random trail with no signage whatsoever leading to it on any of the roads. I looked forward to exploring the trail the next morning. When camping, I usually get up before sunrise to  shoot photos, and I was especially motivated in this case to be up early and hike around before the mosquitoes would become active again.

Boy was I wrong about that though. I did indeed get up and head down the trail before dawn, but so had the mosquitoes, and they wanted breakfast. The trail was nice and I discovered a little outcropping free of trees and was surprised to see Three Sisters and Three Fingered Jack silhouetted against the colorful sunrise, but standing still for even 10 seconds to compose a photo resulted in growing swarms of mosquitoes zeroing in on me. I found that by moving constantly, they were less likely to land on me, but every time I paused, I would quickly have a couple dozen on me. This was especially frustrating because the landscape was lovely and the sunrise was spectactular and I would have loved to thoughtfully and carefully compose some nice photos. Eventually I had to give it up and hurry back up the trail to the car.

The situation was no better at my campsite. It became clear that making coffee and a leisurely breakfast and enjoying the vista was not going to happen. Rather, I frantically threw everything into the car without bothering to fold/sort/organize...I broke camp in about two minutes and drove away as quickly as I could, all windows down to help suck out the dozens of mosquitoes that had managed to get inside while I packed up. I later tallied up more than 70 bites sustained during this 24-hour outing in the Cascades.

The takeaway here is not that this is a bad spot. On the contrary, I am eager to return - maybe late late summer or early fall - so I can camp next to that sweet little lake. No, the main message here is: the mosquitoes are horrendous in the Cascades in July. Be armed with DEET if you decide to brave the biting hordes. Or just go somewhere else and save the Cascades for another time...I had no such problems camping in March, May, and June

Eagle Creek Road is about 18 miles east of Oakridge, on the north side of Hwy 58. The campsites I found are along the NF 381 spur to Upper Bunchgrass Trailhead.