Oregon

Jack Creek - Metolius

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This area of National Forest lands in the eastern shadow of Three Fingered Jack easily offers a full day or more of exploration, including a variety of roads and terrain which reward you with stunning mountain views. From the subdued babble of Jack Creek to the vigorously roaring Metolius River, from crystalline lakes in the woods to buttes offering breathtaking panoramas, from rough rocky hillclimbs to velvety soft trails of red dirt and pine needles, there are discoveries awaiting down every road. Countless spurs provide additional challenges to the otherwise wide and well maintained gravel roads crisscrossing the area, leading to remarkable vistas, secluded dispersed camping sites, or in some cases, dispersed camping sites with remarkable vistas.

The area was hit by a devastating forest fire some years ago. Many hillsides are spiked with the burnt carcasses of the trees that once stood tall, even as new young pines are sprouting up in between. On the plus side, this allows you to better see the contours of the land, preview some of the roads twisting away through the hills, and opened views to the numerous volcanic peaks now visible in a 180° panorama from higher points. On my excursion here, I decided to spend the night and found a spot to camp atop a ridge from which I could see Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Washington, Three Sisters, Broken Top and Black Butte. While hiking about, I crossed paths with a handful of deer and a massive (50+) herd of elk, the latter of which, by the way, makes an adrenaline-surging amount of noise when suddenly spooked into stampeding away. Ask me how I know. It almost made me forget about the couger tracks I spotted in the snow.

In all seriousness, this wilderness area can be home not only to adorable deer, elk and chipmunks, but cougar, bear, and rattlesnake. If you plan to be hiking around at all (and there are numerous interesting trailheads accessible by these roads) be sure to read up on what to do when encountering this wildlife, and employ safe camping practices, in particular with food storage.

This is a fairly high elevation area. I visited in March and many of the roads remained impassible to anything but a snowmobile. Be prepared for potentially cold temperatures at night if you sleep over at any time of the year. The northern edge of this area abuts the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. You may find yourself on a roads which dead-end in locked gates. Please respect their No Trespassing signs. There's more than enough land to explore around here without crossing onto the reservation.

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SUMMER UPDATE:
A return to this area after the snow had melted off allowed further exploration of higher elevation areas, which did not disappoint.

The road to Round Lake is a fun drive with spectacular views...you can drive this as a loop and is probably best starting at the southern arm, then looping west then north then east, to have the best views in front of you as you drive. The lake itself is charming, although there is only one little access spot on the eastern shore which is a little too cozy if someone else is already there.

At the northwest extreme of this area, just south of the Warms Springs Reservation, you can head out to the western end of Candle Creek Road where you'll find a wilderness trailhead; hiking in just the first mile was well worth the time, winding first through a cool pine forest with the trail following gushing Candle Creek, then an otherworldly crossing of a lava flow backdropped by dramatic views of Mt. Jefferson (after the first mile, the trail just kind of plods on and on through tall brush).

Further east, a spur heading up off NF 1270 - which was impassible in March - yielded one of the most stunning central Cascades vistas I've ever seen.

Our summer return  served only to confirm what an amazing area this is, with countless superb dispersed camping options in shady forests, along creeks, in blissful meadows, and atop buttes with remarkable views. The third row of five photos in the gallery above were shot during our late June visit, which is also when we captured the footage for the video below

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I've listed this as a "Central Oregon" excursion but it's easily accessible from the Eugene area as well, as a (long) day trip or an overnighter (better, as there is a LOT to explore). If dispersed camping is not your thing, there are a number of campgrounds to be found within this area. Candle Creek Campground, situated at the end of a long dirt road, is a particularly inviting (but primitive) facility perched along the banks of the Metolious. I doubt you'll be able to hear your neighbors snoring over the thundering water rushing by.

Coming from the east on Hwy 20, you can follow National Forest road 14 north all the way out past the touristy stuff, cross the Metolius at Lower Bridge Campground, and start exploring your way south and west from there. Coming from the west, if there's not too much snow, you can drop in via Suttle-Sherman road (gravel road just across Hwy 20 from the Suttle Lake resort area), otherwise continue east a little further on Hwy 20 to Jack Lake Road (NF12). There's a nice network of roads that loop and intersect. Have fun exploring!