Jefferson Park, located on the north side of Mt. Jefferson, Oregon's second tallest Cascade mountain, is a hidden gem with stunning views, pristine alpine lakes, and beautiful meadows full of wildflowers during the mid summer months. Two years after the lighting caused Whitewater fire closed the most popular access trail to Jefferson Park, the Whitewater Creek trail opened this month. Last Saturday we hiked the trail to this popular destination.
The Whitewater Creek trail head is at the end of a 7.4 mile gravel road off Hwy 22 ten miles east of Detroit. The area was burned during the fire and while loggers have removed much of the dead trees around the parking lot, there are still slash piles which impact the number of cars which can safely park. We arrived just before 9:00 am, but shortly after we parked, several cars came and the available parking was already gone.
The first 4 miles of the hike to Jefferson Park is in an area hard hit by the fire which burned roughly 25 square miles. Acres of burned old growth trees are abundant, but signs of life are returning with ferns, blackberry, Oregon grape and other plants growing among the blackened tree trunks. Very young seedling trees are starting to emerge from the soil, but it will take decades for the area to fully recover.
Shortly after you leave the burn area and cross Whitewater Creek, you join up with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which runs through Jefferson Park itself. Once you reach the park, several side trips provide access to Bay, Scout, Park and Rock lakes, all clean and clear alpine lakes with sandy bottoms with many camping areas nearby. We hiked to Russell Lake, the furthest lake, and enjoyed our lunch on the shore. The hike back to the Whitewater trail head went relatively quick, allowing for stops to make way for the campers coming up the trail, and we arrived back at the parking lot with plenty of time to get back to Bend before evening. This hike is sure to become one of our favorites and a "must do" for many summers to come.