This former stock driveway was maintained by sheep herders so they could drive their sheep to the beautiful sloping meadows of grass and flowers above the South Fork Trout Creek. After the 2003 Needle Creek Fire, the maintenance effectively stopped. So, until a significant effort is made to clear the tread, this is a very difficult trail to precisely follow.
After the snow melts, this challenging, inverted hike to open meadows is only slightly better than cross-country travel through the stark countryside. Don’t be fooled by the short distance, the trip will seem much, much longer. Very few hikers take this difficult route, so you’ll have plenty of solitude in the meadows along with good local views. While enjoying the solitude, imagine all the hiker traffic on the Pacific Crest Trail about 1000 feet above you.
The preparation and equipment for this route includes long pants, good boots, gloves, and very good backcountry navigation equipment and skills. For precise trail following, a high quality GPS device would be very helpful with waypoints that help in finding the trail tread.
As of 2019, the published maps provide a general indication of the trail location. The trail depiction on these maps is in error laterally by 200 to 400 feet. The only other navigation aids are cut logs in the brush of the silver forest, faint trail tread in the meadows, and obvious good tread across rockslides.
With that summary, here’s a description of the route:
The trailhead is the highest elevation for this trip. The first objective is locating the correct trail, as there are many paths radiating from the large campsite & fire-pit area. The most direct path heads southwest from the firepit and quickly becomes an easy to follow trail through the unburned forest for about 0.1 mile, where it crosses a small seasonal creek as it enters the first of many silver forest areas.
Shortly after the creek, the trail turns northwest and follows in a seasonal creek through the brush before topping out on a forested rise, which separates the Rattlesnake Creek and the North Fork Trout Creek drainages. The trail turns left and switchbacks down through the brushy pine natural reforestation and open slopes.
After the switchbacks, it re-enters the silver forest, where the easy travel and navigation ends. In 2019, it was waist to shoulder high brush with lots of downed logs. The trail roughly parallels the North Fork Trout Creek for 0.2 mile before crossing it.
The difficult travel continues for 0.4 mile with a descending traverse to the northeast side of the first slightly flowered meadow, which is 0.2 mile across. The trail gradually descends, going below the brush in the middle of the meadow, and reaches the first rockslide crossing.
The next 0.4 mile is relatively easy travel across rockslides and through brush. Generally, the trail tread is evident. The rockslides provide open views down the Trout Creek valley and up to the ridge crests.
After crossing the rockslides, the trail disappears into the brush. A couple of blackened trees with aluminum diamonds may be visible, but they are not on the trail. The trail generally traverses through the brush and rock, with a slight descent for the next 0.2 mile of difficult to discern trail tread.
The brush gradually thins out and the trail continues its traverse for the next 0.1 mile to a seasonal creek crossing.
From the seasonal creek, the trail is traversing a large sloping flowery meadow, with a few short brushy sections. Travel is easy, but the tread can be partially obscured by the meadow grass & flowers. From the meadow, the Cascade Crest, south of Grasshopper Pass, is visible to the west.
After 0.7 mile of mostly meadow travel, the views and flowers end as the trail reaches the edge of the unburned forest, at 2.7 miles from the trailhead.
For those wanting additional clues to the tread location, here are a few GPS waypoint (accuracy +/- 80 feet):
- Trailhead 48.6982, -120.6371
- North Fork Crossing 48.6942, -120.6428
- First Rockslide 48.6882, -120.6472
- Obscured Trail 48.6841, -120.6538
- Seasonal Creek Crossing 48.6839, -120.6598