Photos: To skip to the photos scroll to the end of this post. Click a photo to enlarge it!
Newbie Note: We chose this hike for our second backpacking trip for a few reasons, but, one important one being that the final destination, Wahtum Lake, is accessible by car and often hosts car campers. We thought it would be safer to go someplace somewhat populated and with a road on our second ever backpacking trip just in case something happened and we needed help. Another reason we chose this hike is the difficulty. If we could do this one we could tackle harder longer hikes.
Location: Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon
Length: 22.2 miles total round trip to Wahtum Lake and back (11.1 miles one way) We made it a 3 day/2 night trip.
(we added a couple miles by taking the Ant Hill Trail located about a mile before reaching Wahtum Lake. The signed Anthill Trail heads toward the south and climbs over Waucoma Ridge then continues to the Wahtum Lake Trailhead which take you then to the lake. This little trail makes the trip longer but you get to view Wahtum lake from the ridge and the view is beautiful! )
Date: Sep 8-10, 2014 (Sat-Mon)
Average gal rating (1-10, easy-brutal): I rate this hike an 8. Both days seemed to be straight uphill and pretty steep in some places. This makes for a long downhill hike the last day which, at first is great, but, after the first couple miles can get grueling. The waterfalls and beauty of the gorge and frequent small stream crossings where you can fill up your water and splash your face make the climb more tolerable. I definitely had to stop to catch my breath periodically throughout the hike during the first two days and on the way back downhill I was worried I’d lost both of my pinky toes. When we got back to the cars I checked, though, and they were fine! Not even a blister! The liars! I didn’t even lose a toenail. YOU CAN DO IT but you might have sore feet the last day. Give yourself plenty of time. This is another hike I’d also be cool with doing in 3 nights instead of 2.
Trail Head info: The trail head is above the campground so keep driving. There is a pit-bathroom here but no running water. (there might be some down at the camp site) I’d start out with some water on this trail as it is a bit of a climb until you get to the first stream. Plenty of parking spots at the trail head and some picnic tables. Have a gallon in the back of the car for when you are finished with the trip as there is no place to pump water here.
Wildlife Report: I saw a snowshoe hare near our Wahtum Lake campsite! Other than that just waterfalls, views, cliff-sides, and rock slides!
Other info: There were very few bugs out this trip! It was great! We wore bug spray for a hand full of mosquitoes both nights but I don’t remember getting one bite. Not buggy! I also only saw poison oak once or twice near the little stream crossings. Nothing near any of our campsites.
Group Size: Most of the campsites I remember along the way were on the smaller side some only one tent would fit and others 2 and MAYBE 3. The lake hosted a few larger campsites but I’d still keep the group to 4 max to be safe if you are camping along the way to the lake.
Get your rear ready to walk uphill! The first part of the trail is switchbacks to get you up over the hump of the Columbia River Gorge. (Almost all Columbia River Gorge trails start like this.) You will eventually stop the switchbacks and come to a clear beautiful area where telephone lines are and a trail crossing. Keep along the Herman Creek trail and get ready to climb some more. Luckily there are plentiful giant fallen trees and logs along the way to sit on to rest and you are mostly under tree cover the whole way. Take your time! Don’t get stressed! We camped about 6 or 7 miles in. We started seeing camp sites about 3 miles in and they were dispersed infrequently along the way. The camp sites were relatively close to the trail and easy to spot.
Tip: Don’t freak out about the climb if you aren’t used to uphills backpacking. Just sit down and take breaks! If you aren’t used to climbing and you are worried, make this a 4 day/3 night trip instead of a 3day/2 night trip and don’t stress! You have all day to hike!
Tip: Be careful when the trail occasionally narrows. The plant growth can hide holes on the downhill side that someone can easily roll their ankle if they aren’t careful.
Climb climb climb! The trail crossings can be a little confusing sometimes so bring a compass and a good map and you should be just fine. There are some really beautiful parts of this hike. About a mile or so before you start the descent to Whatum lake near the PCT junction the forest opens up a bit with lots of bear grass and it is just beautiful. This was my favorite part of this hike. You will go downhill eventually to the lake. Wahtum Lake has car access and a pit toilet. There are camp sites closer to the road as well as more rustic campsites all along the lake. Enjoy! The sun rise here was so peaceful and there are berry bushes all around the lake.
Tip: About a mile before the Lake you will see the option to take Ant Hill Trail. Only take this if you want to climb more. Look for the pic of the view at the end of this post to see if an extra 2 miles or so is worth it to you 🙂
We got up early to head all of the way back to the car. The first part of the hike will be a steep uphill from the lake. Keep your map and compass handy as there are a few side trails that can confuse you. Once up and over above the lake we hiked back downhill all of the way to the car. I had pretty sore feet at the end of this hike but I felt some serious satisfaction from finishing strong!
Tip: Band aids help downhill blisters! Try to have your shoes already broke in and hiking boots are a plus! Having support higher on the ankle can make a big difference with the rocky and sometimes steep downhills.
Overall: This was a difficult hike for me but not impossible and, in the end, worth it. I am pretty slow-going uphill so I would personally probably skip the ant hill trail next time and go straight to the lake to get some more time to swim and hang out. (we got there in the late afternoon and the sun was low so we didn’t swim) The views and old growth forest along Herman Creek are beautiful and the occasional waterfall was so refreshing! This trail is amazing and we rarely saw another person! It seems like Eagle Creek (near Herman Creek) draws most of the crowds leaving this trail a little more secluded.
Take a hike!