backpack: Mount Jefferson Wilderness – Hunts Cove
Hike in next to Pamelia Creek, past popular Pamelia Lake and up to Hunts Cove to setup camp at Hanks or Hunts Lakes. Access the Pacific Crest Trail via the Old Hunts Cove Trail for outstanding views of Mount Jefferson.
- day 1 – Pamelia trailhead to Hanks Lake campsite: 6.8 miles, 2,354 ft. gain, 375 ft. loss
- day 2 – day hike to Shale Lake: 6.7 miles roundtrip, 1,098 ft. gain/loss
- day 3 – rest day/explore Hunts Lake
- day 4 – hike out to Pamelia trailhead: 6.8 miles, 375 ft. gain, 2,345 ft. loss
- best months: mid-July to September
- location: Mount Jefferson Wilderness; nearest town: Detroit
- land management: Willamette National Forest, Detroit Ranger District
- trail description & current conditions: Pamelia Lake Trail #3439; Hunts Creek Trail #3440
- permits: Central Cascades wilderness permits are required for all backcountry campsites
- trailhead pass: NW Forest Pass required
On this four day backpacking trip to Hunts Cove in Mount Jefferson Wilderness, we setup a basecamp at Hanks Lake and day hiked up to the Pacific Crest Trail and Shale Lake.
Day 1 – hike in to Hanks Lake
The hike in begins in a picturesque forest, with the sound of rushing water in Pamelia Creek not far from the trail. An understory of rhododendrons line the trail in the first two miles before reaching Pamelia Lake.
At 2.2 miles, we reached Pamelia Lake and the junction with the Hunts Creek Trail. To reach Hunts Cove, we took the Hunts Creek Trail on the right… if you turn left here, the trail goes up to the PCT north of Coyote Lake and bypasses Hunts Cove.
After passing the east end of Pamelia Lake, the trail crosses several small creeks over rustic bridges, including one with a cascading waterfall above the bridge.
At about 3 miles in, cross Hunts Creek on one of the logs, or wade across like I do. : ) The water was halfway up my calf at the deepest part, but the water wasn’t moving very fast so it was easy to cross. I almost always prefer to wade across water crossings instead of teetering on logs or rocks. I don’t mind having wet feet, and with trail runners, the water gets pushed out as you continue to hike so it doesn’t stay sloshy for long.
As we neared Hunts Cove, we were treated to a view of the top of Mount Jefferson with green meadows below us.
We crossed the outlet of Hanks Lake and began seeing campsites next to the lake. We found a great site with a view of the lake and plenty of room for spreading out.
It was fairly cold overnight, with a low around 42 degrees. In the middle of the night, we were all awakened by the loud sound of a large tree as it came crashing down in the forest. It wasn’t right near us, but it was startling to hear as we slept under the trees at our camp.
Day 2 – day hike to Shale Lake
Starting at the Old Hunts Cove Trail right next to our campsite, we hiked up to the PCT, along a ridge below Cathedral Rocks, and over to Shale Lake.
After taking a long break at Shale Lake (and attempting to avoid the swarming mosquitoes), we headed back to our camp at Hanks Lake.
At about 10:30pm, I made use of the full tripod I carried in and shot photos of stars and the Milky Way. Overnight, the wind picked up and gusted off and on all night long, shaking our tents and keeping my campmates from sleeping much. I’m lucky and can sleep through just about anything, so it didn’t affect me.
Day 3 – explore Hunts Cove
The next day was hot, reaching a high of about 86 degrees so we lounged around all day, going from sitting in our chairs, to napping in our tents, to doing camp laundry. When we were ready to do a bit of exploring, we hiked to Hunts Lake, just under half a mile from our camp. Just before sunset, we had a couple of camp visitors who were not afraid of us at all. We didn’t get close to them and just sat and watched as they walked through our camp and hung out in the meadow. This was the warmest night of our trip, with a low around 60 degrees.
Day 4 – hike out to trailhead
On our last day, we hiked all the way out to the trailhead. It was another hot day, and when we reached a talus slope under Lizard Peak, it was like someone turned on the air conditioning so we stood there for several minutes before continuing.