Distance: 4 miles round trip, 5.32 miles using extended route
Walk duration: 3 hours, or less
Travel time to trail head: 55 minutes
Driving directions to the trailhead: From downtown Portland drive north on US 30 to Scappoose. Turn left opposite the gas station on Bonneville Drive and then an immediate right on to Old Portland Road that parallels US 30 passing behind Scappoose. Turn left on Dutch Canyon Road, and follow this gradually west entering into the South Scappoose Creek valley. Follow this road all the way back to the bridge near the very end of the Dutch Canyon Road.
Cross the bridge and immediately thereafter the pavement ends. Follow this dirt road upwards (blue line) for just under over 3.64 miles miles until you crest the ridge and arrive at a three-way intersection. If you continue straight forward you will be entering Dixie Mountain Road (green line) that will lead you back to Dixie Mountain and Rocky Point road. But today we will turn right and commence up Smoke Ranch Road for another 1.34 miles to where it ends at the begining of the Wilderness Road. As you proceed uphill and over the top of the ridge you will pass under the power lines and then pass two homes on the left (the last of which has a school bus parked near the homestead). From here on the road narrows and gets more rutted, but its gravel base makes it passable even in wet weather. About 50 yards beyond the last house (where dogs are apt to come out to “greet” you) Smoke Ranch Road ends at a “T” intersection. The left hand option leads immediately to a locked forestry gate. The right hand option marks the beginning of the Wilderness Road (red line) which we will be traversing for most of this hike.
You can park your car at this intersection (all the mileage statistics are based from this point). But I typically try to proceed up the Wilderness Road its the intersection with Tupper Road – another quarter mile along.Tupper Road approaches the Wilderness Road from the right side and just beyond that the tall trees come to an end. The farther slope is dominated by 25 year old growth – thick and full of game. I would recommend parking at the edge of the tall timber (elevation 1755 feet) or at the Tupper Road intersection.
Elevation change: highest elevation 1854 feet; lowest 1657 feet just before the side spur that leads to the Shorter Loop.
Conditions: mostly graveled logging road, some portions with rougher grade stone, but dry and hard all the way. The return route along the top of the ridge has been degraded by ATV traffic creating muddy bogs and slippery conditions in wet weather. I have been able to circumvent most of the flooded portions of the road even in wet weather. Walkable in “most” weather.
Brief summary: This logging road is a solitary upper branch of the logging road network that serves the western slopes of Buck Mountain and the headwaters of Rock Creek, Panther Creek and the east Fork of Dairy Creek. It connects with a trail that will lead you to NW Pumpkin Ridge Road – as described in the trail guide. This area is not currently being logged.
Ok, now that we’ve parked the car we’re ready for a great hike into one of the more remote reaches of Washington County. To begin we will follow the Wilderness Road out of the tall timber to the edge of the younger growth . Ahead of you is a well maintained logging road – this is the route we will follow down into the Rock Creek watershed. But as we emerge from the taller timber into the younger growth, you will note a rough track emerging from the woods on our left. Despite its rough condition this is actually the continuation of the Wilderness Road that began at the end of the Smoke Ranch Road. While it retains its appealing name, time has treated it harshly and it’s preeminence as THE route through this vastness of remote woods has been superseded by the well maintained logging road ahead of us. But, don’t despair for our return route will be along this older and sadly mistreated sylvan route. But for now let’s not linger too long mourning the demise of the “Wilderness Road”, but let’s proceed down the windy logging road ahead of us. Let’s try to keep our voices hushed and eyes peeled since it is very possible that we may spot wildlife in this area. The thick young growth is a favorite habitat for deer and elk. If your dog is apt to run after animals, leaving you to cool your heels for the better part of the afternoon, you would be well advised to put your occasionally unfaithful friend on a leash. My dog, Loki, has long ago learned that playing with deer and elk can be hazardous to your health. He came away somewhat worse for wear when a SHARP cloven hoof neatly flayed one whole side of his body. He did survive, but since then he considers large quadrupeds as a potential spectator sport and not a participatory game.
At various points on this descent it is possible to see Mount Rainier framed to the north above the ridge line that carries the high tension power lines. From this vantage point Mount Rainier is quite separate from Mt. St. Helen’s which typically obscures Mt. Rainier if observed from Portland.
About 4/10th’s of mile along, you will encounter the first side-spur heading off to the right. This spur ends almost immediately, but a boggy track does permit access to the slope beyond and to trails along the base of the Power lines heading north to Buck Mountain – but that’s another trail, for another day…
Another half mile along is another side spur to the left, but this one ends without any connections. From there the road continues to descend down to an elevation of about 1650 feet, before it begins to curve northwards to wrap its ascending path around the promontory called Rye Hill.
At this point, about 1.5 miles from the Tupper Road intersection, we come to a left had spur that leads uphill from the main route. This route is clearly not as heavily used as the road we’re on. The side-spur sports little tufts of grass and moss covering some of the rocky base. But this is the route we will want to take to access the “shorter loop”.
Follow this hard gravel logging road up 2/10 of a mile, bypassing another right hand side-spur along the way. The access road leads you up into a “bowl” just below the crest of the ridge. Above you a line of tall timber marks the other side of the ridge line, and extending northwards the ridge rises slightly (to 1872 feet in elevation) marking the summit of Rye Hill.
At the end of this logging road examine the uphill side until you’ve spotted the rough access trail beaten through the Scotch broom by ATV’s and hunters. Follow it up and within 10 yards you will find yourself on the Wilderness Road that traverses this ridge line. From here the Wilderness Road will take us to the left and back towards where we left the car.
But before we head back, take a minute to orient yourself and walk westward (to your right) into the line of tall timber. Circumvent the big puddle in the road (see picture alongside) by using the side trail that parallels the road on the right. Almost immediately you come out into a big open clearing that marks the convergence of four tracks (see picture below).
The route leading in from the north (to the right of the track you used to enter the intersection) connects with a road that winds around the side of the hill and eventually crosses Rock Creek to lead up to the Power line road – but more on that when we describe the “Longer loop”. If you want to reach the summit of Rye Hill, take this route and climb up to the summit where the ATV’s have blazed their way to mountaintop glory.
Straight ahead are two parallel tracks (one of which is the Wilderness Road) that lead down into a warren of ATV trails that crisscross the western approaches. If you follow the Wilderness Road (or its twin down), staying generally to the left, this historical road will lead you down to NW Pumpkin Ridge road, which eventually leads into North Plains.
But our way leads back the way we came, back up the Wilderness Road, past where we ascended from the “bowl” and along the ridge line towards the Southeast. This older route has been badly abused by the ATV’s with huge mud holes, and swathes of muddy landscape surrounding the road for much of the way. I was able to circumvent much of the carnage, and enjoyed the forest-scape with its hanging mosses and the deep solitude. The road drops slightly and after about a mile you emerge back at the intersection where we began, and beyond it the crossing at Tupper Road. While I would not recommend this route in the wettest weather, I have found the Wilderness Road track passable under most circumstances.
The “Longer Loop” wraps around the end of Rye Hill and ascends from the west. It’s about 1.3 miles longer and involves a short bushwhack, but it also offers views into some pretty remote country.
To take the longer loop, by-pass the side-spur that leads up into the “bowl” and continue walking down the Wilderness Road for another third of a mile. At that point the road splits. Take the left-hand option and the road quickly crests the ridge coming to a stop at a scenic cul-de-sac. The other road also terminates very shortly, and slightly down slope from the upper spur. It is, in fact, possible to drive all the way to this point, and it is one of my favorite remote spots for getting away from it all.
If you look northwards across Rock Creek you can see the back sides of Buck Mountain and over to the Panther Creek watershed. In the distance, hills wrap around from the east to the west. The road connecting the Buck Mountain and Dutch Canyon come together on those distant ridges. From there it’s possible to connect with the forgotten hamlet of Bacona or push on through all the way over Hoffmann Mountain to Top Hill on US 47. This is the rugged endless backbone of the Coastal Range: dark jutting timber stands silhouetted against somber green mountains and misty blue ridges receding into the distance.
Below on the opposite slope you can spot one of the more isolated ranches that still operate in this area. Access to these farms is via Dersham Road, thence north from Snooseville, up the east Fork of Dairy Creek – clear up to Greener Road and the Burgdorfer Flats.
But let’s look closer in. Take a minute to walk out to the edge of the slope so that you can see down to the Rock Creek. Down slope and slightly to your right you may be able to observe that a road crosses the creek and begins to ascend the slope you’re standing on, winding its way up and around the summit of Rye Hill. This road does not connect with the road system your currently on. But if you work your way upwards to the left along the edge of the slope, you’ll see that it’s easy to bushwhack down through the knee high brush and connect with the road as it passes below the point your stranding on. It’s a pretty easy bushwhack and it’s only a little more than 1/10th of a mile with clear visibility of the road all along.
Having reached the road, we now ascend and curve around the western end of Rye Hills passing by the muddy ramps that our ATV cowboys have erected to exercise their testosterone. A number of trails lead off downhill from the main trail into the warren of tracks they’ve carved out of the thickets. The map below shows most of the major tracks, but I would recommend staying on the uppermost trail until it finally reaches the ridge and connects with the other trails at the muddy clearing described in the Short Loop.
From here we turn left and exit the trees into the clear cut above the “bowl” and follow the Wilderness Road along the ridge and back to our starting point at - about a mile from the muddy clearing, and 5.32 miles for the entire “Longer Loop”.