Wenaha River/Crooked Creek


  • Region: Eastern Oregon
  • Length: 40 miles round trip
  • Min Elev: not rated
  • Max Elev: not rated
  • Season: Spring/Summer/Fall

Submitted By: PDXHiker

Directions

There are two ways to get to this trailhead. Both start from Enterprise, Oregon on Route 3. Option 1, which is listed in Backpacking Oregon, turns left after 33 miles at a sign to Flora. This route descends to Troy via a steep, twisty dirt road. Option 2 is to continue beyond this for 16 miles down an incredibly scenic canyon to where the road crosses the Grande Ronde River. Take an immediate left at a sign to Troy and follow the Grande Ronde another 17 miles back. We took Option 2 on the way in, and it took two hours from Enterprise but was beautiful and entirely on paved roads. We decided to try Option 1 on the way back. The road wasn’t nearly as bad as we’d anticipated and it was much faster, cutting the trip back to Enterprise down to one hour (but it wasn’t as pretty). Turn in Troy at the sign for Pomeroy, and park at the trailhead a few feet down the road.

Trail Description

Our trip took place May 4 – May 8, 2009, and we believe the flowers were at their peak. Balsamroot, delphinium, prairie star, fiddleneck, blue-eyed Mary and ball-headed waterleaf dominated, but we saw a total of 45 flowers we could identify.

The trail rapidly descends to the Wenaha River, and then raises and falls as it follows along the canyon. The scenery is unrelentingly impressive along the entire length of the trail. There are many beautiful, park-like campsites along the way. At six miles the trail crosses the wilderness boundary, and at 6.5 miles it hits a crossing of the Crooked Creek. The Crooked Creek Trail heads north just before a very nice, sturdy bridge. The Wenaha River Trail continues over the bridge to the west. There’s a fantastic (and very large) camping area here at the confluence of the Crooked Creek and Wenaha River just beyond the bridge. We made it our Camp 1.

We’d planned to continue backpacking up the Wenaha River Canyon on Day 2, but wet weather caused us to decide to base camp for the week instead. So, on Day 2 we did a day hike up the Crooked Creek Trail. This trail is similar to the Wenaha River trail, but the canyon feels narrower and therefore more intimate. There are several good camp sites along this trail as well, particularly one at mile 4 where the Packer Trail branches off, crosses the Crooked Creek and heads up the opposite hill. The Crooked Creek was very high and fast, far too dangerous looking for our tastes. We chose instead to continue along the Crooked Creek trail, but were stopped at the point where the trail crosses the Melton Creek, also too fast & deep to cross. We turned around at that point, giving us an 11-mile day.

Day 3, we dayhiked along the Wenaha River Trail as far a Fairview Creek. It, too, was unbridged, high and fast. We returned to Fairview Bar, to a poorly-marked trail, and headed up the hillside. (I’ve seen it called the Weller Butte Trail, Smooth Ridge Trail, and Moore Flat Trail – take your pick.) Although it was another wet day, the views were incredible and well worth the effort. The trail topped out at a tree-canopied flat and then meanders on awhile. We’d hoped to get as far as the junction with Packer Trail, which meets it farther up, but didn’t make it that far. We headed back down for another 11-mile day. There are good campsites at Fairview Bar and at the Hoodoo Trail intersection. (The Wenaha River was definitely impassible here, so the Hoodoo Trail was out for sure.)

Day 4 we opted for a day hike along an abandoned trail up the hillside just opposite our camp. It soon petered out, but the multiple game trails made it easy enough to bushwhack to the top of the ridge. We had the best views of the week from here, allowing us to overlook both the Wenaha River Valley and the Crooked Creek Valley, all the way to the snow-covered mountains in the distance.

Interestingly, when we returned to camp, we were met by two horse packers, who had a backpack strapped to one of their horses. We didn’t get the whole story, but apparently two young guys had crossed the Fairview Creek (which we thought dangerous) and the creek after that. Something happened, though, as they tried to cross the swifter, deeper Butte Creek. The result was one guy was stranded on one side of the creek, and one backpack was swept out to the river, never to be seen again. The guy who made it to the Troy side of the creek went for help and returned with a rope & the horse folks. They were able to rescue the stranded person, and were taking the remaining pack to the trailhead for them.

On Day 5, we were out of time and so had to pack up & head home.

Interesting notes:

In addition to the 45 wildflowers, we saw:
- Three bears
- Several snakes, although none were rattlesnakes
- Many elk and deer (both white- and black-tailed)
- Lots of deer & elk bones, including some with meat still on them
- 20 bird species
- Three people all week (three whole days seeing not a soul)

We saw no sign of cougars, bighorn sheep or coyotes. There didn’t appear to be many small critters (mice, voles, squirrels). It was kestrel city, but larger birds of prey were scarce.

The trail was very, very muddy in many places, partially due to the rain, but also due to the horse traffic.

We saw no poison ivy at all going in, but saw a couple of starts on the way back out.

The weather was predictable. It would stop raining about 9:00 or 10:00 AM, clear up for awhile, then start getting cloudy mid-afternoon. Rain or showers (or, one day, snow) would follow on & off through the night. It really heated up fast when the sun came out, giving us the impression that this could be a hot, uncomfortable area in the drier months.

The flowers were at their peak when we started. They weren’t as prolific when we were on our way out. The lupine hadn’t even started blooming yet, nor were there lilacs as mentioned in Forest’s report.

There were no bugs until the last two miles of the last day, when we were swarmed by mosquitoes.






Comments

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05-30-2015
Super insightful. Thank you for all the details. Did you happen to hike Crooked Creek from Wenaha River? Wondering what that trail is like.

05-13-2009
Lucky you! The wenaha -tucannon wilderness is a great place to visit in the spring. It doesen't suprise me that you saw 3 bears. They like digging up roots and grubs in open meadows this time of year. I'm not sure where the sheep hide in the area. My guess is they winter in the canyons and folloe thw snow line up and later retreat to the canyons in the summer months. Any morels? The northern area should be crawling with them.

Scenery: 5

Difficulty: 2

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