News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Trailgrams: Cone Peak/Iron Mountain Trail

There is perhaps no better wildflower trail in western Oregon at this time of year than the Cone Peak/Iron Mountain loop, which of course makes it very popular. It's about 7.5 miles if you do the whole thing, but some of the best flowers are within a 5 mile up and back jaunt on the Cone Peak (eastern, lower) end. Massive old growth trees on the way up, spectacular sweeping meadows packed with abundant and diverse flowers, and some excellent views complete this package of delights. Go as soon as you can though, as with the onset of hot weather the blooms will fade very soon!

Photo by Scott Bowler

Cone Peak/Iron Mountain Trail, a wildflower paradise.

Why go?

Wildflower diversity is the key here. On my hike last week I catalogued more than 75 different species in bloom in about 3 miles. The trees and shrubs also present a remarkably diverse collection. The diversity here is so great that an entire wildflower identification guide for the Cascades was written here. And when you get up high, especially if you do the optional Iron Mountain climb, there are spectacular views. Truly a wonderful, and deservedly popular, trail.

When to go:

Right now! Our cooler, wetter spring condensed the season and has created an especially great year: ideal conditions that led to many spring and early summer flowers all blooming on top of one another at present.

What to expect:

Once you leave the road, it's a good, well-constructed and maintained, easy to follow trail. You will climb initially up a long slope via a shaded, switch-backed, but not very steep, path for the first mile or so, noting the many mostly white (easier for pollenators to spot in the shade) flowers on the forest floor under the tall canopy. Soon you will pop out onto the first of several rocky, treeless outcrops that are packed with flowers of many kinds. The trail begins to level out a bit after the first outcropping as you continue into larger and larger open areas. Flowers and views stretch in every direction up here, so you will likely not be moving very fast because you will be compelled to stop to look around frequently. (I spent 3 hours going up and only 45 minutes hiking back.) After about 2.5 miles, there's a faint junction with a user trail on the right, leading up to a cinder ridge and then on up Cone Peak itself-this ridge makes a great snack and water stop, with several as yet unseen new flower species. If you want, it's also a good place to turn around and head back. If you choose to continue on you can make a full circle via Iron Mountain, including an optional climb to the summit viewing platform (and yet more new species). This climb is a steep mile or so up, and back down, but the view at the top of Iron Mountain is one of the best in the Cascades. You can skip this climb though, and continue down to the highway, cross it, and hike 1/2 mile or so back up to the car. The full loop is about 7.5 miles or so, including the summit climb.

Getting there:

Take Highway 20 west about 38 miles towards Sweet Home (past both the Detroit and Eugene turn offs). You will be passing many towering trees along the way, including the amazing Hackelman Old Growth Grove with its short looping trails under monster trees. Continue climbing up towards Tombstone Pass, and just before the summit you will see a big yellow sign warning of a steep downgrade ahead-this is right where the actual Cone Peak trail starts, but there's no safe parking there. Continue to the summit where there is a rather small parking area on the left, and an outhouse. Because this trail is super popular, go on a week-day and try to get there early (before 9 a.m. at latest) or you might not find parking. From the parking lot, look for the connector trail leading east (downhill) back towards the Cone Peak trailhead-about 1/2 mile back, across the highway. Don't forget the Ten Essentials, including layers, plenty of snacks and water, and for this trip a good field guide to flowers is invaluable.

This is a regular feature The Nugget will run periodically. If you have a favorite hike or trail, send it along in about 500 words to [email protected] using the following format, including a photo.


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