It’s springtime, and that means wildflowers are blooming in the gorge! Knowing when to go and what trails you want to take can be overwhelming. Here’s two good resources.
Oregonwildflowers.org, is created and maintained by flower superfan and photographer Greg Lief. The exhaustive site collates recent trip reports from wildflower wanderers. Follow links to discussion groups and “up to the minute bloom conditions” as well as links to further information including handy wildflower databases and local plant lists.
ReadySetGOrge.com, a clearinghouse maintained by local partner agencies. ReadySetGOrge offers complete information — maps and directions; trail lengths, elevations and difficulty levels; facilities and required passes — for all 181 recreation sites in the Gorge.
You may have heard Mailbox Peak Trail mentioned in hushed tones, the kind reserved for stories about some legendary storm or a bad accident. What inspires such reverence?
The original trail proceeds more or less straight up a ridgeline to the summit, gaining a jaw dropping 3,800 feet in two and a half miles. After a short flatter section, there is nary a switchback in sight as it climbs and crosses an open talus field. Until the Department of Natural Resources built a new, much gentler trail to the summit, accidents and rescues of wayward hikers were a fairly regular occurrence. Most of the old trail remains, marked for much of its length by a string of white reflectors nailed to trees – an earlier step DNR undertook to keep the uninitiated from losing their way in the most confusing parts of the trail.
While it might not be the most scenic of trails, it is definitely one of legends. It reminds me a lot of the Heartbreak Ridge trail on Table Mountain. It is so steep as to be a near scramble up, or requires using the trees to descend without tumbling. Heartbreak climbs 1650ft in 1.2 miles – which is almost the same pitch, but only half as long.
Gold Butte Fire Tower survived wildfires in unique way
Detroit Oregon and the surrounding area was ravaged by wildfires in 2020. However, one of my favorite fire towers, Gold Butte, survived thanks to the inventive protection of wrapping the entire building.
In 2010, Forrest Fenn hid a treasure chest containing gold and other valuables estimated to be worth well over a million dollars. The only clue to its location was a 24 line clue-filled poem.
What followed was a decade of treasure hunters searching, trespassing, harrassing, breaking into Fenn’s home, suing each other, going bankrupt, and even dying in pursuit of the treasure.
Yet on June 6, 2020 an unassuming 32-year-old Michigan native and medical student named Jack Stuef finally solved Fenn’s poem and found the treasure in Wyoming – after only 2 years of searching.
He has tried to stay anonymous and has kept the location secret in the post-finding madness. He says it is almost certainly what Fenn would have wanted – which shows the lengths he went to understand Fenn himself.
Which lends itself to the most fascinating aspect about his search technique:
The key was really just understanding Forrest Fenn. Stuef hunted solo, never discussed his search with others, stayed away from the blogs after his initial looks at them, and tried hard not to get caught up in any groupthink.
To read about Stuef’s search, the best way to find the treasure was to simply get to know the man. Which might have been Fenn’s whole goal – to have someone else really understand him. The final goal of a 90 year old man before he made his own departure shortly after the treasure was found.
Besides hiking down in the canyon itself, I also found a really good article by Annemarie Kruse from REI Adventures. We only had time for our Phantom Ranch hikes, but there are many different trails that can be even more amazing at the right seasons and times of day. She gives her expert opinion and list of trails – along with the best seasons and times to do them. I found them so good, I wanted to include them here too in case the article goes away.
Cape Royal Viewpoint
Where: North Rim (open May 15–October 15 only) Distance: 0.6 miles (round-trip) from the parking lot Best time to do the hike: Sunrise, especially from July to September (monsoon season) for incredible cloud drama Highlight from the trail: Sweeping views to the eastern edge of the Canyon, and out toward the rocky badlands of the Painted Desert and Navajo Nation Best for: Beginners who want an easy win with memorable sunrise views
Kolb Studio via the South Rim Trail
Where: South Rim Distance: 2.5 miles one-way from the Grand Canyon visitor center (check to see if the free shuttle is operating so you can take it back to your car) Best time to do the hike: Mid-September, when air conditioning at the visitor center offers a respite from the heat and the Grand Canyon Conservancy, the park’s nonprofit partner, typically kicks off its annual Celebration of Art. Nearby Lookout Studio (pictured) also affords views, and a gift shop, naturally Highlight from the trail: Passing through the Trail of Time with its geology exhibits en route to the perilously perched Kolb brothers’ photography gallery built in 1905, now a hub for artists exhibiting works inspired by the Canyon Best for: Beginners with a penchant for art and human history
Grand Canyon Lodge via the Transept Trail
Where: North Rim (open May 15–October 15 only) Distance: Four miles round-trip Best time to do the hike: September–October to walk amid changing, fiery-colored aspen groves Highlight from the trail: Hiking directly from the popular lodge to the edge of the Canyon, alternating between dense woodlands and killer cliffside views of the Transept tributary and Bright Angel Canyon Best for: Beginners looking to get their feet wet hiking at North Rim’s high elevation
Where: North Rim (open May 15–October 15 only) Distance: Two miles round-trip from Tuweep Campground Best time to do the hike: May to June, before the muddy monsoon season Highlight from the trail: Backcountry vibes off the tourist map and the chance to stare down the edge of an abrupt gorge and a 3,000-foot sheer drop, the tallest in the Grand Canyon Best for: Any level of hiker craving a rugged, remote option and prepared for the rough drive (a high-profile vehicle is a must)
Ken Patrick Trail to Point Imperial
Where: North Rim (open May 15–October 15 only) Distance: 5.4 miles round-trip Best time to do the hike: June for spring wildflowers Highlight from the trail: Hiking through a wooded alpine climate to the highest overlook point on the North Rim at 8,803 feet Best for: Intermediate hikers who prefer minimal elevation changes
Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden Campground
Where: South Rim Distance: Nine miles round-trip Best time to do the hike: October to December for minimal crowds, color-changing cottonwoods, and a festive finish with holiday cocktails outside on the veranda of the historic El Tovar Hotel Highlight from the trail: Descending into Native American history with rock pictographs en route to the turnaround point of Indian Garden campground, a lush, creek-fed oasis once farmed by the Havasupai Best for: Intermediate hikers who want a solid introductory descent into the canyon
South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point
Where: South Rim Distance: Six miles round-trip Best time to do the hike: November–October (though it’s good anytime but April, when high winds can overcome this exposed hike) Highlight from the trail: A quick, switchback-laden descent opening up to a ridge and 360-degree panoramas with views to the North Rim, across the river corridor, and then, from Skeleton Point, a rewarding perch about 1,000 feet above the rarely spied Colorado River Best for: Experts looking for jaw-dropping views of the canyon and the river below
Grandview to Horseshoe Mesa
Where: South Rim Distance: Six miles round-trip Best time to do the hike: September–October and March–May for comfortable, snow-free temperatures on a challenging hike Highlight from the trail: One of the most remote trails from the South Rim, this rugged backcountry route doesn’t lead to Phantom Ranch or take you from rim to rim, but does offer an uncrowded option through signature Grand Canyon scenery, deep into the desert and high up to a forested mesa sprinkled with pioneer mining history Best for: Experienced hikers with between a few hours and a half day to explore
Grand Canyon Rim Trail to Hopi Point
Where: South Rim Distance: Five miles round-trip from Bright Angel Trailhead Best time to do the hike: June through July, when shade under the pines offers respite from a blazing summer sun Highlight from the trail: Accessibility may be the draw, but sweeping views of the West Rim from the wide Hopi Point promontory will impress every level of hiker Best for: Beginners and those who’d rather trade elevation for a flat, well-maintained trail
I was aware and visited the warming hut at Teacup near Mt Hood on several occasions, but little did I know that the Willamette National Forest has winter shelters maintained by volunteers for use by winter sports enthusiasts. Some of the shelters even permit overnight stays; some are warming shelters only. There are also three winter cabin rentals available by advance reservation. How cool is that?
List of shelters with information, recent condition, and trail links.
A good GPS can save your life out in the wilderness. I always carry one with me when heading out climbing or hiking. But GPS units are somewhat notorious for being expensive, heavy, burn through batteries, and often have clunky UI’s and features. Some units charge you money for map updates. Things are getting slowly better.
I currently own a handheld Garmin Oregon, but had a friend who has the Fenix 5x watch. I was amazed how well the interface worked and the quality of the GPS. The Fenix 6 was just announced, and older units went on sale. I recently saw the Fenix 5X on sale for $299 during an early Black Friday sale and couldn’t pass the opportunity up.
The next question is – how are the maps for hiking. The default watch now comes with Garmin’s excellent maps and are upgraded regularly for free. My well-healed hiking friend says he has yet to find a trail in the Pacific Northwest that’s not in the default maps.
I was even more happy to learn that the Fenix 5X allows you to upgrade your maps yourself – including open map packs and systems. I tried out the maps on GMap – which include more details and topo features than the default maps. Using the free Garmin BaseCamp software package, you can copy the free maps from GMap into the tool’s list of maps, then load those maps onto your watch. I found the process to be really smooth and worked without much fuss.
About 30 miles south of Niagara Falls, just below the Canadian border in northwestern New York, inside Shale Creek Preserve about a half-hour drive south of Buffalo, lies a hiking trail with an unusual payoff, if you can find it: Eternal Flame Falls, a waterfall tucked away in a grotto that contains a natural “torch” about 8 inches high.
The ground at the base of Eternal Flame Falls emits a steady supply of natural gas, which rises from deep below the surface up through fault lines and into the open air. This, in turn, is what lights the flame, found on the waterfall’s right-hand side about 5 feet up from the creek bed.
The flame is visible year-round, but the waterfall can run dry in the summer and often is only fully flowing in the spring. If you go right after there’s been some decent rainfall, you’ll get to enjoy the waterfall’s full effect.
The flame stays lit on its own, but bring a lighter just in case — occasionally it goes out, in which case it’s your duty as a good citizen to relight it. It ignites quickly, with a distinct “pop,” so maybe try one of those extra-long candle lighters if you’re nervous.
I absolutely love maps and visualizations. I’m always on the lookout for cool new creations.
Scott Reinhard combines contemporary land elevations with historic maps to create three-dimensional environments of a specific region, city, or state. To produce the digital maps, he pulls elevation data from the United States Geological Survey, which he then embeds with location information and merges with the original design of the old maps.