2 days on Middle Fork Willamette River National Recreation Trail

Early season backpacking when the snowpack is so deep and wide-spread is a challenge. Rivers seem to be the best plans, like hikes a couple weeks ago, Smith Rock/Crooked River, John Day River, Deschutes River. The plan was open and flexible given the weather conditions – where’s the snowpack? Initially, 2 days up river and 2 days back down was detailed. NOAA snowpack maps and a good discussion with the rangers at Middle Fork Ranger station, rendered that plan highly speculative. Snow was to be expected around 4,500 elevation – way before the intended end at Timpanogas Campground.

Not surprisingly, it was not snow that forced me to turn around, but the run-off and the mud killing the trail from the snow melting just up stream – I could have maybe gone another 4-5 miles, but they’d been wet, muddy and harder work than fun.

The Route

Ideally, Prairie Sands would have been the campground for the night before and hiking from the down-river terminus of the trail. But, the campground wasn’t opened yet, … i parked right outside the gate. From Prairie Sands I just followed trail and river all the way to Indigo Springs, and then camped for the return the next day.

Day 1

Day 2

Trail conditions were better than expected up to Indigo Spring. There were muddy sections and several tricky stream crossings, but only 1x did I take my boots off to wade through a back eddy puddle (i found a tree to use for crossing 2x). Going up-stream seemed more difficult to navigate at the forest road intersections and signage seemed better going down-stream.

There are two sections to note. First, there is a campsite desert between Bear Bones Rd (cross river) and Ridgon Meadows – campgrounds show on the map, but on the other side of river. In emergency, one could find spot in that desert, but I wouldn’t plan on it. Second, there is a very hard (relative to rest of trail) newer section that is very dry and seeming long between Coal Creek Rd and Staley Ridge Rd.

Water was plentiful in most other places, and I never carried more than 1L.

Heading Out

After hiking Hardesty Mountain that day (Monday), camping at Packard Creek Monday night was the closest I could get to Prairie Sands th, camping amongst pretty good thunderstorms. The morning broke clear (but alas, it didn’t last – I was rained on Tuesday afternoon but not soaked).

Water was raging everywhere – the tributaries were raging, the river and all the water made crazy patterns in air.

All the side streams that needed bridges had bridges, not all of them the most robust, but they worked! That one was replaced and not needed.

Plants

Ground cover was exploding everywhere – all colors, all shapes and the further up-stream, the less and shorter it got.

There was a definite ‘rain forest’ feel to the lower sections with heavy moss-covered forest floor.

Special Places

There were two places that stood out as ‘i’d go back there!’. First, Ridgon Meadows just pops out after walking along the river trail like this

Then it’s like this and there are several great camping spots – a car can get there too. Water can be found seasonally I think back behind the camera (it was running well when I was there). This is less than a mile from Sacandaga Campground (which was not ideal imho). I would have camped here, but at 13:30 too early to stop.

Indigo Spring is amazing … almost as impactful as Metolius River headwaters. The Indigo Spring campground is a first come, first serve 3-4 site campground below the spring. When I was there, a couple from Junction City (1 hour drive) came to collect about 100 gallons of water – they claimed the best water on west coast. It was good.

Within 100 ft the creek is a good 20-30 ft wide. The water is great! I camped right beside the creek – come to the campground, walk to the bridge and go left (up) right before the bridge to the spring and then it loops back to that bridge – fabulous!

Views

There are not many, if any beyond the river and its canyon. But, if one pays attention to the woods, the river and all the changing micro-ecosystems, views are not needed … they weren’t that good.

Conclusion

Would I do this again? Probably not. I would do sections of this during the right season and weather – the upper sections past Sacandaga Campground are the better ones imho. Camping is a challenge especially when busy in summer.

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