Jefferson Park Hike via Whitewater Trail


As sort of a last hurrah to summer, I took a couple days off in late September. I had two trips planned and decided to hike up to Jefferson Park for the first trip. Jefferson Park is arguably one of the most beautiful backcountry destinations in Oregon. It is also one of the most popular. Jefferson Park is an alpine plateau at the base of Mt. Jefferson. There are abundant meadows and lakes throughout. During the summer there are also many wildflowers in bloom and mosquitoes as well. Being that I was going up in late September on a weekday, I figured I would avoid most of the crowds and bugs. There are several trails that access Jefferson Park; the Pacific Crest Trail, South Breitenbush Trail, and Whitewater Creek Trail. I was going to take the Whitewater Creek Trail; it is the easiest, most popular, and closest to home so it made sense with my limited time.

Starting up the Trail

Wednesday morning I woke up to low and dark clouds in Bend. The forecast was for nice weather on my trip but they had been wrong plenty of times before. I packed up my gear and was out the door around 10 am. By this time the clouds were burning off and it was going to be a nice day. The trip over the pass was uneventful. Whitewater Creek Trail is located at the end of Whitewater Creek Road (FS Road 2243) off of Highway 22. It is located about 10 miles southeast of Detroit Lake. The road up to the trailhead is 7 miles of gravel; since it is used so much the road was not too bumpy. I had heard stories of large amounts of cars at the trailhead but was happy to see less than 10 when I arrived.

Along the Ridge

After getting my wilderness pass I was on the trail by 12:15 or so. The trail begins climbing right out of the parking lot, switch backing several times up to the ridge line. The trees along the trail were huge fir trees and the forest was kind of damp from recent rains. The sun was out but there was a chill to the air. It is just over 5 miles up to Jefferson Park from the Whitewater Creek Trailhead. The first 1.5 miles climbs up to the ridge crest. There then is rolling terrain along the ridge for about 2.7 miles. Just after crossing the creek the trail reaches the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail. The final mile is uphill along the PCT into the North Side of Jefferson Park. I ran into a couple people going up and about a dozen people coming down on the hike in. The trail itself was in really good condition, definitely a product of all the usage it gets.

Mt. Jefferson over Bays Lake

I arrived at Jefferson Park in the early afternoon and set out looking for a campsite. I had seen pictures of Bays Lake before and was hoping to find a site along the lake. In Jefferson Park there are designated campsites marked by poles as the Forest Service is trying to keep the area from being overused. There are already many trails going this way and that. Many of these trails are now closed for rehabilitation but it is still a maze around the lakes. I myself wandered through many options and being too greedy ended up going too far and had to back track to the last site I found. I opted for this site in haste and later discovered that there was not a true flat spot for the tent. The site itself was a great location just above the lake with a phenomenal view. I was on the southwestern corner of Bays Lake, the farthest site along the southern shore. While the site was beautiful, it did lack a good tent spot so I opted for the flattest spot I could find.

Rehabbing the Trails

After setting up camp I went out and explored the other lakes and areas of Jefferson Park. Russell Lake is located on the north side of Jefferson Park and has amazing views of the mountain. The wind was blowing a bit but it was perfectly clear out. I think I counted a dozen other camps around the park, there may have been more. After exploring I wandered back to my tent and made myself dinner. I was starting to get dark around 7:00 pm and I eventually succumbed to the dark and cold and got into the tent around 7:30 pm. I had to stuff some of my waterproof gear under the legs of my bag to try and level off my bed, It worked okay and I slept on an off as the wind blew the first half of the night. I also tried putting my pack under my legs for a bit but that was too much and took it out later on. The night actually got calmer as it went and I was able to get some good sleep, waking up around 8:00 am.

Mt. Jefferson at Sunset

My birthday morning was a perfect one. The sun was up, there were no clouds, and it was noticeably warmer than the day before. You could tell it was going to be a much warmer day. I ate some breakfast and wandered around a bit but ultimately knew I needed to get home to get stuff done and to get ready for my next trip. I took my time packing up and was on the trail again around 10:00 am. On the way down it was uneventful, I did pass at least 25 day hikers heading up to Jefferson Park. It definitely is a crowded place but well worth it. I would recommend getting up there if you never have, it is pretty spectacular. As always, Your Mileage May Vary.

Hiking the PCT on the Way Out

Link to Full Picture Album

Link to GPS Info from Hike

Gear Used

  • High Sierra Hawk 45 Pack – Comfortable and just big enough. Was pleasantly surprised by this pack.
  • Primus ETA Solo Stove – Worked solid again. I appreciate the volume lines inside the cup for measuring the correct amount of water to boil.
  • Nemo Espri 2 Tent – Slightly on the short side, well vented though.
  • Columbia Reach the Peak Hybrid Down Jacket – This jacket is warm for its weight. Was too warm when hiking with it under my rain jacket.
  • Columbia Peak to Peak Jacket – Still waiting for some good weather to test it in.
  • Mountain Hardwear Mesa Pants – Comfortable hiking pants. I like all the pockets and gusseted crotch.
  • Mountain Hardwear Butter Man ½ Zip – Good shirt for hiking in cooler weather. It breathes and blocks a little wind, also has no seems on the shoulders.
  • Keen Pyrenees Boots – A bit finicky to get tied the way you want but once you have, very comfortable.
  • Julbo Trail Sunglasses – Comfortable sunglasses, they adjust to the light quickly which is great.

About the Author

I am an avid runner, cyclist, swimmer, hiker, climber, skier and many other activities that would make this list too long. I started Your Mileage May Vary Reviews in Early 2011 to combine two of my passions: sports and gear.

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