Every year, Melissa and I try to get out into the backcountry for our birthdays. Not only is this a good time to take a couple of days off but September is also an ideal time to get out. The weather is good, and the bugs and people are at a minimum. Last year at this time, I went on an overnighter at Bays Lake in Jefferson Park. I really liked Jefferson Park as it was a beautiful spot that was not too difficult to reach. I thought it would be a perfect location for Melissa and me to go. I had a couple of thoughts in mind but with the uncertainty of hunting season beginning and ongoing wildfires, I figured that this was a safe bet.
Jefferson Park is a very popular backcountry destination and for a good reason. It located at the NW base of 10,497-foot Mt. Jefferson, the second tallest mountain in Oregon. Jefferson Park is itself at 5,880 feet and is nearly a mile long from north to south. This area has expansive meadows and is dotted with half a dozen lakes, even more earlier in the season when the snow is still melting. Jefferson Park can be reached by four inbound trails: both north and south on the Pacific Crest Trail, South Breitenbush Trail, and the Whitewater Creek Trail. Last year, I took the Whitewater Creek Trail which is what we were going to take again. The trailhead is located about 7 miles off of highway 22 between Salem and Sisters. Our trip was going to be for three days and would be the first two-night trip for Melissa as everything thus far has been just overnight.
Melissa and I took off both Thursday and Friday from work as her birthday was on Thursday and mine Saturday. After running a couple of errands in the morning and going out to a birthday breakfast at Alpenglow Café in Bend (highly recommended), we hopped in the Rav and headed to the trailhead. It is about a 2-hour drive from Bend where it was hazy sunshine with smoke from the nearby Pole Creek Fire lingering in the air. The fire had been now going for over three weeks, and it was getting quite old to have smoke in the air. Word was that it will continue to burn until we get some rain or snow, and that does not look to be anytime soon. For our trip, the forecast was for highs of 70 degrees in the mountains and lows in the upper 30s to upper 40s depending on the night. The skies were to be a little hazy but there was no rain in the forecast which I was excited about. As our days were not flexible, we were subject to whatever came about, and once again, we got lucky with the weather.
We arrived at the trailhead at about 2:30 and were on the trail just before 3 pm on Thursday. The parking lot was fairly empty with only six cars when we arrived. We passed several groups on their way down as well so we were encouraged that it would not be too crowded up at the lake. The hike begins in the forest with a gradual 850-foot climb over the first 1 ½ miles. The trail climbs up through the forest with huge trees but not much to speak of views. I like to break things up into sections, and I would call this the first section. At the end of this section the trail connects with the Triangulation Peak trail at the top of a ridge. The Whitewater Trail heads east at this point and not travels along the ridge and traverses the Sentinel Hills for the next 2.4 miles. The trail only gains about 400 feet over this section and ends at the crossing of Whitewater Creek, the namesake of the trail. This section is fun as you start to get views of Mt Jefferson as you approach and even the occasional view over the other side of the ridge.
After crossing the creek there is about 0.3 miles to the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail where you will want to head NE towards Jefferson Park, the trail is well signed so you do not get lost. From here there is 0.9 miles to Jefferson Park making the last section a vertical gain of 500 feet to the park. Slightly uphill but not too bad. This last section s also where the landscape begins to change as elevation gets higher. The trees begin to get smaller, and the underbrush becomes hardier types of species that can handle the 6+ months of snow it gets buried beneath each winter. Melissa and I made good time up to Jefferson Park as we stopped for a couple water breaks but really never stopped for more than a minute or two the whole way. We just paced ourselves and cruised on up without issue. Upon entering Jefferson Park, there are several lakes with designated campsites already set up. Essentially these are open areas with a marked log to indicate to camp there. Since Jefferson Park is so well used the Forest Service has set up these locations to try to minimize the impact on the area. We decided to head to a similar area to where I had camped last year as I saw a couple of spots that had looked much better than my previous choice. On our way in we saw a great camp spot along the NE shoreline of Scout Lake and decided that this was a good spot to set up our camp. It was easy access to the lakeshore and unlike my last year’s site, it was flat.
It was about 5:30 PM when we arrived at camp, so I set up the tent and we got water to start making dinner. At home, we have a tendency to eat late but this is much less feasible in the wilderness when it gets dark at 7:30. We had camp set up quickly and ate our freeze dried lasagna dinner with double chocolate cheesecake birthday dessert. All in all, it was pretty good, and we even took some time down by the water before getting ready of the evening. It was fairly hazy out, which meant that it was not as cold as it could be. We also had a full moon which gave us light all trip long. After an okay night’s sleep, we woke up to another beautifully sunny day where we had planned to just take it easy.
Friday we woke up and had some granola cereal for breakfast. It is amazing how everything tastes so good when you are on a trip. After taking it easy all morning we decided to go off and explore Jefferson Park some. We headed down to Russell Lake and hiking around it and then down a portion of the South Breitenbush Trail. We even tried to find the climbers trail for Mt Jefferson but after a while were not too confident on our direction. We headed back to camp for lunch before heading out again and exploring Rock Lake and Bays Lake. At this time, you could see that the amount of people was growing as some of the once empty campsites were starting to get filled. We headed back to camp and spent the next two hours or so reading on our nearby beach. We made some hot chocolate and coffee and even charged our iPhones with my Goal Zero solar panels while we read. Before long, it was becoming evening, and the temperature was dropping much quicker than the previous night. There was considerably less haze in the sky so it was going to be a cloudier night.
We made some macaroni and cheese for dinner and this time had some banana cream pie for desert. We both agreed the chocolate was better, but as I said before, everything tastes in a superior way in the mountains. With one night on the trail under our belt, the second night went much better. It is funny how it takes a night to get everything situated the way you like it. My inflatable pillow needed to be filled with less air and my mattress with more. These adjustments while subtle made for a better night’s sleep. Melissa, on the other hand, had a little bit worse of a night as her late-afternoon coffee made it more difficult to fall asleep. Next time no light afternoon coffee and she always gives me a hard time for having caffeine late in the day. This night was also much colder than the first night was. If I was to guess it was around 50 on Thursday night and below 40 on Friday night. We both were warm enough though and waking up on Saturday it was another beautiful morning. I have to laugh as it is now two years in a row that I have woken up on my birthday in Jefferson Park. This year was better as I had company; it was a little lonely last year.
After breakfast, Melissa and I started to take down camp. We had planned to get back to Bend in the afternoon, so we could get all our errands done for the week. I also had my birthday dinner to go to, and we had planned to go to Thai Thai in Bend, another recommended restaurant in Bend, in my opinion, the Best Thai food in town. We were all packed up and on the trail by 9:30 AM. We had 5 ½ miles of descending back to the car, and Melissa was really looking forward to taking a shower. After being a mountain guide you kind of get used to being a bit crusty. The hike back down was fairly uneventful except for the steady stream of people coming up. I would guess that we passed about 50+ people, five dogs, and eight horses all coming up. Half were planning to stay the night, and the rest were just for the day. I can see how this place gets so much use and cannot even imagine it in the summer. When we finally arrived at the car we were astonished to see over 30 cars now in the parking lot, I am sure someone was happy to get our spot close up as they were parked down the road quite a way.
Another trip to Jefferson Park, a very worthwhile destination in the backcountry. If you have never been there I would definitely recommend the trip. The trail is not too difficult, and the views are impressive. I really think it is best to go midweek if you do not want to be rubbing shoulders up at the park. Weekends can definitely get busy, even in the off-season of late September. Take a look at the links below if you want to see my GPS data from the route. As always, your mileage may vary.
[button url=”http://www.mapmyhike.com/routes/view/142776489″ style=”black” size=”small”] Map and GPS Data [/button]
Gear Used (of Note)
- Sierra Designs Meteor Light 2 Tent – As a two-person tent, the Meteor Light 2 is a good mix of size and weight. I really like this tent.
- Sea to Summit Pack Tap – This is very handy and great for having water on hand.
- Goal Zero Guide 10 Adventure Kit – Very handy for keeping your electronics charged. A little bit of a weight penalty.
- Gregory Savant 58 Pack – Lots of pockets on this pack. Not sure if I used them all but it does carry well.
- Sierra Designs Zissou 30 Lite Sleeping Bag – Bag was surprisingly warm. Had no issues with the bag loosing loft through the night. It was not very wet or humid.
- Klymit Inertia XL Sleeping Pad – First night I needed to add some air and the 2nd night it worked much better.
- Cocoon Travel Pillow – Air pillows are a little firm for me. After letting some air out it worked better.
- Millet Trilogy WDS Jacket – This jacket continues to be very comfortable. I need to get it in some real weather.
- Smartwool PhD Smartloft Jacket – Warm and comfortable and made of wool.
- Bear Grylls by Craghoppers Bear Survivor Pants – These are my go to lightweight softshell pants. They are a bit warm on hot days.
- Adidas Fast R Shoes – Were comfortable the whole trip and even were stable with a 30 pound pack.
- Easton Trail AL3 Trekking Poles – The poles are great once locked, still not sure about twist lock poles.
- Bolle Quaray Sunglasses – Very dark tint but worked well along the lake.
- Snow Peak SnowMiner Headlamp – I like this better as a lantern than a light but nice to have both options.
- Osprey Aura Backpack – Rubbed on her shoulder a bit. Might need to try one of the new models next year.
- The North Face Cat’s Meow Sleeping Bag – A good solid bag. At 20 degrees it kept me warm enough down to 40.
- Sierra Designs Gnar Lite Jacket – This jacket is so light yet warm and soft. Weather was nice so I did not get to test the DriDown.
- Mountain Hardwear Yumalina Pants – These pants rock, durable softshell outer fabric and micro fleece liner. They also fit well.
- Montrail Rogue Racer Shoes – I like these for trail runners so I thought they would work as a light hiker. Maybe a bit minimal for carrying 25 pounds but were comfortable. Dust gets in easily.
- Leki Makalu Lite Trekking Poles – Love having the extra stability. Not the most comfortable straps