Linn County, in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley, is a hiker’s paradise! We have trails for everyone, from small children and beginners to hard-core mountaineering enthusiasts.
We have so many possibilities for hiking, it would be impossible to list them all here.
However, to get you pointed in the right direction, we’re suggesting a number of particularly great trails or areas in which to hike or climb mountains.
The Willamette National Forest includes about 1,700 miles of trails, ranging from wilderness routes for hard-core hikers to low-elevation, easy-access trails for year-round hiking.
Approximately 30 of them are located in Linn County. Here’s a quick summary, with a few specifics on some of the most popular trails:
Lower-elevation trails, which include the Trout Creek Trail, Walton Ranch Interpretive Trail, Yukwah Nature Trail, Rooster Rock Trail and House Rock Trail, can usually be accessed year-round and are generally easy, with the exception of Rooster Rock.
Trout Creek Trail – Located in the Menagerie Wilderness, this 2.8-mile trail is accessed from a small parking area shared with the Walton Ranch Trail 19.8 miles from Sweet Home. The trail climbs over 2,000 feet, winding through mature forests to the base of Rooster Rock and has views of the South Santiam drainage.
Open to hikes and horses. Difficulty: Moderate/Hard.
Walton Ranch Interpretive Trail – This quarter-mile ADA accessible trail is accessed from a small parking area shared with the Trout Creek Trail 19.8 miles from Sweet Home. It leads to a viewing platform that overlooks a meadow where elk can often be seen in the winter and early spring. Open to hikers/wheelchairs. Difficulty: Easy.
Higher up the South Santiam River valley is the Santiam Wagon Road Trail System, which totals 19 1/2 miles and range from 1,500 to 3,200 feet, from Mountain House to Fish Lake. The trail then crosses Highway 126, connecting with the McKenzie River Trail System, which extends all the way to Big Lake. Santiam Wagon Trail parallels and crosses Highway 20, which provides many access points.
Starting at the west end, the different sections are:
-Mountain House to Latiwi Creek Road – 3.3 miles one way. This section is one of the most intact pieces of the original wagon road and parallels the South Santiam River for much of the way. The road is mostly double track and gains slight elevation as you travel west. There is one creek crossing on this section that is usually easily passible, except during large runoff events. Difficulty: Easy.
-Latiwi Creek to Sevenmile Trailhead/Horse Camp – 3.3 miles one way. Starting on the north side of the South Santiam River this section begins in a section of second growth then winds its way through old growth as it follows the route of the original wagon road up the famed Sevenmile Hill. Look for old bridge abutments that used to aid travel along the road. Difficulty: Moderate.
-Sevenmile Trailhead to Tombstone Pass – 4.2 miles one way. This section mixes old segments of the wagon road with new spurs and single track as it winds its way to the top of the pass. Glimpses of Iron Mountain and Green Mountain can be seen from various points. Difficulty: Moderate.
-Tombstone Pass to Fish Lake – 8.7 miles one way. A mix of forest roads (closed to vehicles) and sections of the original wagon road make up this relatively downhill and the flat portion of the wagon road to the district boundary. Visitors pass through a mix of forest types along the way to the Historic Fish Lake Guard Station, an original outpost for Forest Service employees and once a major stop along the wagon road. Difficulty: Moderate.
To the north is the Middle Santiam Trail System, which provides access to the Middle Santiam Wilderness. Trails include the following:
Chimney Peak Trail – Located in the Middle Santiam Wilderness, this 12.7 miles trail takes you on a true wilderness experience as you follow the route to Donaca Lake and then to the base of Chimney Peak. The trail winds through old growth stands and you have to cross both the Middle Santiam River and Pyramid Creek, neither have a bridge. Water levels are lowest in the fall. Open to hikers and horse riders. Difficulty: Hard.
Gordan Peak Trail – Your hike starts on a ridgeline with periodic views of Mount Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack, before gradually descending through mature old-growth forests. After 4.6 miles the trail joins the Chimney Peak trail near the Middle Santiam Wilderness boundary. Another option from this trailhead is to head northeast 3.1 miles and tie into Scar Mountain and the Swamp Peak Trail.
Open to hikers and horse riders. Difficulty: Moderate.
Swamp Peak Trail – This trail system has two options, you can go west 3.2 miles to Knob Rock and tie into the Chimney Peak Trail or east 2.2 miles where you scramble over to Swamp Peak and tie into the Gordan Peak trail system. Open to hikers and horse riders. Difficulty: Moderate.
The Tombstone Pass area includes Cone Peak, Daly Lake, Browder Ridge, Iron Mountain, Gate Creek, Echo Basic Trail, Tombstone Nature Trail and Hackleman Old-Growth Trail.
Cone Peak Trail – A gentle grade leads you through the shade of the forest onto open hillsides bursting with wildflowers in the spring and summer. This trail can be combined with the Iron Mountain Trail and the Santiam Wagon Road to make a nice loop hike of 6.4 miles from Tombstone Pass. Open to hikers. Difficulty: Moderate.
Daly Lake Trail – This trail provides easy access to the lake, 1 mile. The lake is a great place to have a picnic and try your hand at catching the stocked brook trout.
Hackleman Old-Growth Trail – This 0.8 mile ADA accessible trail winds through a classic old-growth forest stand of Douglas fir, western red cedar, and mountain hemlock. This loop trail winds down a section of the Old Santiam Wagon Road and then to a view of Hackleman Creek before winding back around through trees over 500 years old.
Open to hikers and horse riders. Difficulty: Easy.
Iron Mountain Trail – The area around the Iron Mountain Trail has been set aside for its unique botanical interest; over 300 species of flowering plants call the area home. Flowering plants can be enjoyed throughout the early summer; many flowers are out at various times so it pays to come more than once to see them all. There is a viewing platform at the summit with interpretive signs. From the upper trailhead, it is a 3.4-mile round trip journey. Open to hikers. Difficulty: Moderate.
The Old Cascade Trail System provides access to the Old Cascades – Crescent Mountain, Three Pyramids, Trapper Butte and Scar Mountain.
Crescent Mountain Trail – The trail begins by gently dropping down toward Maude Creek beneath a peaceful old-growth canopy. After crossing the creek, the trail makes switchbacks through dense forest before opening into open hillsides teaming with wildflowers in the summer. Remnants of the old lookout are visible from the top as well as a great view of many Cascade peaks. A trip to the top is 4 miles one way.
Open to hikers, bikers,
and horses. Difficulty: Hard.
The Tidbits Mountain/Bear Pass area includes the Twin Buttes, Gordon Lakes, Tidbits Mountain and Gold Hill trails – all mid-elevation routes to peaks along the Sweet Home Ranger District’s southern boundary.
To the northeast are the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness trails, and the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs south past Three-Fingered Jack and Mt. Washington. Along Highway 126, on the east end of the county, the McKenzie River Trail, called the No. 1 bike trail in America by one bicycling magazine, runs for 26 miles from just north of Clear Lake following the river, starting by the lava beds near Fish Lake and running past the beautiful Sahalie and Koosah waterfalls. It’s excellent for walking too!
In Central Linn County are Soda Creek Falls trail in Cascadia State Park, which runs three-quarters of a mile to the falls for which it is named.McDowell Creek Park, north of Sweet Home, offers a three-mile loop that includes mature forest views and beautiful vistas of Royal Terrace and Majestic Falls from the bridges and viewing decks along the trails of this lush green park. Sseveral different levels of hiking are available at McDowell, ranging from relatively easy to more strenuous walks.
A walking trail has been developed between Lewis Creek Park and Foster Dam on the north shore of Foster Lake, on the east end of Sweet Home, and other segments are in progress. In Sweet Home, the South Hills Trail skirts the south edge of the city and is great for running and biking. It can be accessed best from Sankey Park and from Elm Street at 16th Avenue.
Farther west, The Build Lebanon Trails organization’s goal is to develop trails and encourage hiking in the area. BLT has developed Cheadle Lake Trail, an approximately three-mile hiking trail around the former mill pond east of Lebanon, and sponsors a variety of other hiking opportunities. For more information, visit buildlebanontrails.com.
Albany offers a variety of hiking and biking trails, including the Waverly Lake/Cox Creek Loop (1.35 miles), Dave Clark Trail (1.5 miles), Oak Creek Greenbelt Trail (1.8 miles), Periwinkle Creek Trail (1.8 miles), Simpson Park Trail (1.2 miles), Takena Landing Trail (1.5 miles) and TImber Linn Park trail (1.5 miles). (Distances are one-way. For more information, visit www.cityofalbany.net/departments/parks-and-recreation/parks/walking-paths-and-trails.)
Serious mountain climbers can find some “peak” experiences on Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington and Three-Fingered Jack, all near the eastern border of Linn County. Mount Jefferson, the tallest at 10,497 feet – second-highest in Oregon, is a beautiful, photogenic cone that has been used in a variety of commercials. It is located in a rugged wilderness setting and is difficult to access, though though USFS Road 1044 off Highway 22 comes within four miles of the summit. Mt. Jefferson has five glaciers and is a challenging hike, considered by some to be the most difficult of the higher volcanoes. Its summit pinnacle requires Class 4 to 5 rock climbing on very steep ice-encrusted rock.
Mt. Washington, to the south, rises to an altitude of 7,794 feet and is relatively easy to access from the Pacific Crest Trail. Due to its relatively simple summit route, Mount Washington is a very popular destination and the normal route can be crowded, especially on weekends.
Three Fingered Jack, 7,844 feet, is also accessed from the Pacific Crest Trail in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness between Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Washington. The base is heavy scree and, in addition to packing water, climbers are urged to be sensitive to the erosion going on if not climbing or descending in snow. The South Ridge Route is the most popular and the only one really recommended.
As we said above, Linn County is loaded with opportunities to hike, so put your boots on and come walk our trails!