backpack: Salmon River Canyon in the fall
Two nights of magical backpacking in a wet forest full of mushrooms and trees dripping with lichens.
- day 1 – Salmon River West trailhead to campsite: 5.8 miles, 1,200 ft. gain, 400 ft. loss
- day 2 – day hike: 5.5 miles roundtrip, 1,150 ft. gain/loss
- day 3 – hike out: 5.8 miles, 400 ft. gain, 1,200 ft. loss
- best months: May-June, September-October
- location: Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness; nearest town: Welches
- land management: Mount Hood National Forest: Zigzag Ranger Station
- trail conditions: Salmon River Trail #742
- hike description: OregonHikers.org
- permits: self-issued at wilderness checkpoint (about 2 miles in on the trail)
- trailhead pass: NW Forest Pass required
I’ve hiked along the Salmon River Trail to the canyon viewpoint on day hikes about 10 times, but I’d never continued beyond it. For my first backpacking trip here, a friend and I hiked in to the campsites at Goat Creek, about a mile beyond the canyon viewpoint.
The day before this trip, the forecast called for light rain in the morning to end by 11am. By the time we left on this trip, however, the forecast changed dramatically, with a 90% chance of rain all day.
It rained all day. And I found out that my waterproof trail running shoes are not waterproof. Otherwise, we were well prepared for the rain with waterproof pack covers, rain jackets and rain pants, plus we brought a tarp for setting up a camp kitchen.
When we reached Goat Creek, we could see empty campsites on the other side of the creek. Unlike several of the tributary streams we crossed on the hike in, Goat Creek still had a good water flow. Just after the creek, the trail rises and the side trails to the campsites plunge steeply down the hillside, looking more like slides than trails. There are three camp areas, but all are close together and don’t have much privacy between them. Luckily, no one was camped here so we had our pick of sites.
After pitching our tents, we set up a tarp that we could sit under and cook our meals while staying out of the rain. In October, it gets dark early so hiker midnight for us was close to 7pm. The overnight low was about 38 degrees, and with heavy humidity hanging in the air, it felt cold and damp.
For cold weather backpacking, I bring two quilts (one 10 degree quilt + one 15 degree quilt) that I nest together. I’m not sure what the combined temperature rating would be, but together they are extremely warm. I use my Moment DW tent with the solid inner on cold weather trips, leaving the Aeon Li for summer trips when going ultralight is important.
It was cold and dark in the morning. While having breakfast, we watched the sun shine through small openings in the forest above us. Ready to soak in some warmth, we decided to hike back 1/2 mile to a viewpoint that I hadn’t expected to see on the trail. On the way there and back, we passed through a “tinsel forest” with lichens dripping from every branch. Fall color on vine maples contrasted sharply with the dark wet bark on the trees.
For our day hike, we planned to hike along the Salmon River Trail for a 10-12 mile hike. However, when we reached the wide flat expanse of slippery basalt at Kinzel Creek, we decided to turn around and hike up the Kinzel Lake trail instead. The forest was full of mushrooms of all types everywhere we looked. Tiny orange mushrooms at the base of old growth Douglas firs, little white bell-capped shrooms, bright orange Lobster mushrooms… and a few super creepy bleeding shrooms.
The Kinzel Lake trail is steep… climbing about 1,000 foot per mile. Since we had a late start to our day, we didn’t go all the way to the lake. The higher we hiked, the lighter the forest felt. We realized that our camp at Goat Creek was indeed a dark and cold location compared to other areas here.
At 4:20am that night, we heard someone let out a long, strange yell/scream sound that was kinda freaky. There were no other camp areas within 1-1/2 miles from where we were. We never did find out what that was about.
We took our time in the morning before packing up for the hike out. I brought a tripod for my camera so we set it up and practiced doing jump shots. : )
Unfortunately, I began the hike out by falling backwards and dropping my camera in Goat Creek. This is the last photo my camera took: