Happy 50th Birthday, Oregon Wilderness
On September 3, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act, a landmark conservation bill that protects nearly 110 million acres from coast to coast. The Wilderness Act defined “wilderness” as areas where the earth and its communities of life are left unchanged by people, where the primary forces of nature are in control, and where people themselves are visitors who do not remain.
To celebrate the signing, we identified six wilderness wonders of the Eugene, Cascades & Coast region. A Northwest Forest Pass, which is available at the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Adventure Center, is required for almost all of the trailheads. Oregon Pacific Coast Passports, also available at the Adventure Center, are accepted for the coastal wilderness areas.
1. Cummins Creek Wilderness
Located in the Siuslaw National Forest, this area is unique because it is where the wilderness connects to the ocean. That proximity creates unique ecosystems and climates where wildlife move from shore to the forest and back again within these wilderness watersheds. Flanked by Cape Perpetua Scenic Area and Neptune State Park, the Cummins Ridge Trail (5.8 miles long) ascends more than 1,000 feet through towering Sitka spruce, Western hemlock and Douglas fir in the Coast Range. This wilderness area is also home to the only old-growth Sitka Spruce forest in the entire Oregon wilderness system.
Getting there: Accessible from Highway 101 – 15 miles north of Florence, Oregon. From Highway 101 turn east on Tenmile Creek Road (FS Road 5210), drive carefully and after 1.9 miles make a left turn on FS Road 5694. After 7.7 miles turn left on FS Road 515 for 0.2 miles to Cummins Ridge East Trailhead.
2. Rock Creek Wilderness
Just like the Cummins Creek Wilderness, the Rock Creek Wilderness is one of the most remote areas of the Siuslaw National Forest in Oregon’s Coast Range. With no developed trails, the best way to enjoy this wonder is with a map and a compass or from afar. Two streams (Rock Creek and Big Creek) flow through old growth Sitka spruce forests. To avoid getting lost, head to nearby Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, where the forest meets the sea. Cape Perpetua offers 26-miles of interconnected hiking trails that take you from old growth forests to the Pacific Ocean. Rest your legs and share tales of your trail over fresh seafood and fudge in Historic Old Town Florence.
Getting there:From Florence, head 15 miles north along Hwy 101. Turn right onto Big Creek Rd/NF-57. From Newport, follow Hwy 101 for 34.5 miles south. Turn left onto Big Creek Rd/NF-57.
3. Diamond Peak Wilderness
Diamond Peak was formed as the entire land mass of the Cascades was undergoing volcanic activity and uplift. Glaciers carved the large volcanic peak and when they receded, much of the mountain remained. About 14 miles of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail pass through the Diamond Peak Wilderness.
Getting there: There are several places to enter the Diamond Peak Wilderness, all along Hwy 58 which connects I-5 near Eugene to U.S. Route 97.
4. Waldo Lake Wilderness
The Waldo Lake Wilderness is just north of the Diamond Peak Wilderness. There is an impressive array of trout-filled lakes scattered throughout the 37,162 acre wilderness area. A system of 84 miles of trails lead to many of the lakes, including Six Lakes and Wahanna Lakes, the most popular hikes in the area.
While it’s not technically in the Wilderness area, Waldo Lake still earns a much deserved honorable mention. Formed by glaciers 10,000 years ago, Waldo Lake is Oregon’s second largest natural lake and one of the purest lakes in the world – some rank it third. Filled by springs and snow melt, Waldo Lake harbors very little plankton, and only fish stocked until 1991. The lake bottom can be visible on a calm day through 100 ft (30 m) of indigo water.
Getting there: Take Hwy 58 to Oakridge. Trailhead access off Forest Roads 24 (Salmon Creek Road), 19 and 5897.
5. Three Sisters Wilderness
Just north of Waldo Lake, you’ll find The Three Sisters Wilderness, one of the most accessible and scenic areas on the list. North, Middle and South Sister, all more than 10,000 feet high, and Broken Top lure hikers and climbers to push their bodies to the limits with 260 miles of trails and jaw-dropping views. Most of the trails begin in Douglas fir rich forest and climb to alpine meadows that lead to glacial and volcanic peaks. After a day of hiking, stop by Belknap Hot Springs Resort for a soak in a soothing mineral pool. Stroll through the secret garden for views of lush gardens and terraces. Grab a juicy burger at Takoda’s Restaurant in nearby Blue River.
6. Mt. Washington Wilderness
Heading north, hike or mountain bike the Mount Washington Wilderness, a geological wonder. Explore 75 square-miles of lava-strewn planes, Mt. Washington, Belknap Crater and part of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs 16 miles through the Mount Washington Wilderness. The southern boundary nears Dee Wright Observatory, a manmade hut at the summit of McKenzie Pass made entirely of lava.
Getting there: From south take State Hwy. 242 (McKenzie Pass Scenic Byway). Pacific Trail #2000 is to the west of Dee Wright Observatory. Benson Lake Trail #3502 and Hand Lake Trail #3513 are off Scott Lake Road 260.
This list is just a start; there are 47 wilderness areas in Oregon, and all deserve exploring. For a complete list of required passes for trailheads, go to the National Forest Service’s Recreation Passes & Permits page.
about author Molly Blancett
Molly considers herself a “born-again Oregonian”. A Seattle-native, she moved to Eugene in 2007 and immediately fell in love with the area. The endless running, biking and hiking trails and fresh, local food on every corner immediately stole her heart and her taste buds. Molly is the Tourism Public Relations & Social Media Manager for Travel Lane County. In her spare (and work) time, find her training for her next 5K, dreaming of completing a sprint triathlon, exploring Oregon’s fabulous microbreweries and wineries and plugging away at a NYT’s crossword puzzle.
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