In the Pacific Northwest, even city dwellers are accustomed to seeing the massive Cascade Mountain peaks from where they reside. These majestic peaks are surely something to be admired, even from afar, but there is nothing quite like being right in front them.
What Makes It Great
Because there are several route options to access Jefferson Park, the hiker can choose the level of difficulty he or she would like to experience. Once the hiker gets to Jefferson Park, there are alpine lakes surrounded by alpine meadows to explore. There is a map at the entrance to the park that is moderately helpful, though paying close attention to the turns that you take is recommended, as there are several different trail options throughout the park. If the hiker continues straight, the trail will lead to Russell Lake. Scout Lake, Rock Lake and Bays Lake are all nearby and are also worth exploration or even a casual, very cold swim. Bays Lake has a peninsula outcropping that is fun to walk or swim out to. Scout Lake is an ideal stop because of the excellent view of Mount Jefferson in the background and the ample room for a lunch or break spot.
When hiking in Jefferson Park, you are surrounded by wildflowers and colorful shrubbery with the beautiful and daunting Mount Jefferson looking down on you from above. The park itself sits on the north side of Mount Jefferson. There are three trails of varying difficulty that all lead to Jefferson Park and make the park accessible to hikers of all skill and comfort levels. The Park Ridge Hike is said to be the most scenic, but no matter which trail you choose, you are guaranteed to be amazed by the beauty of this place. The Whitewater Trailhead is the easiest, so if you are relatively new to hiking or want to make this a shorter day, this option would be a good one to choose. The most difficult and longest route is the hike from the South Breitenbush Trailhead, which is 13 miles roundtrip and climbs about 2900 feet in elevation.
If you choose to access Jefferson Park via the South Breitenbush trail, the hike is a moderately steep 6.5-mile trek. The steep angle of this trail is consistent, yet manageable at the right pace. Once you hit mile 3.5, you begin walking through alpine meadows filled with flowers and mixtures of red, orange, and yellow shrubbery. There is so much to see on this trail even before you enter the park. In 3 more miles, you enter Jefferson Park and begin your exploration of a land that looks so perfect, it could have been laid out by an incredibly talented landscape architect. The trail from the South Breitenbush Trailhead is very straightforward in terms of navigation. It intersects with a couple of other trails, but you simply continue straight until you reach Jefferson Park.
Who is Going to Love It
The three different route options make Jefferson Park accessible to anyone who is up for the distance, which is a minimum of 11 miles. Beginners can take the Whitewater Trailhead route that gains only 1800 feet in elevation in 11 miles. The Park Ridge route would be perfect for a group of people with a mixed level of experience or those looking for the most scenic route. It is not much more difficult with an elevation gain of 2500 feet in 11.2 miles. More experienced hikers can enjoy the challenge of South Breitenbush route with amazing through-the-tree glimpses of Mount Jefferson and the beautiful alpine meadows that you see even before the you enter the park.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To access this trail, you must display a Northwest Forest Pass in your vehicle as well as fill out a permit that is provided at the trailhead.
To get to the South Breitenbush Trailhead from Portland, take I-5 South toward Salem. Take exit 253 for OR-22 toward Detroit Lake/Bend and take a left on OR-22/Mission St SE. After 48.7 miles, turn left on Breitenbush Rd SE (NF-46). After about 11.5 miles, turn right on road 4685, which is about a mile past Breitenbush Guard Station. Follow 4685 for about 5.5 miles.
It is a fairly rough road, but drivable for any vehicle, as long as appropriate caution is used. At the trailhead, you will see a sign for the Crag Trail (which you will not take, but is a good indication that you are in the right place).