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home : columns : columns October 15, 2018


10/1/2013 2:03:00 PM
Scott Trail offers history and scenery
From the Scott Trail, Collier Glacier can be seen between the North and Middle Sisters. At right, 7,810-foot-high Little Brother can be seen touching the sky in front of Middle Sister. photo by Craig Eisenbeis
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From the Scott Trail, Collier Glacier can be seen between the North and Middle Sisters. At right, 7,810-foot-high Little Brother can be seen touching the sky in front of Middle Sister.

photo by Craig Eisenbeis

By Craig Eisenbeis


It's always a treat to hike new trails, especially one as scenic and close to home as this one. I don't really have an excuse for how I happened to overlook this excellent hike for so many years, but the important thing is that I finally hiked it; and you should, too.

This section of the Scott Trail takes off east from the McKenzie Highway, just a few miles west of the pass. It makes an excellent alternative to the more popular Obsidian Trail, which it parallels, just a couple of miles to the south. Plus, unlike the Obsidian Trail, no advance special-use permit (with an extra fee) is required on the Scott Trail.

Scott Lake, Scott Mountain, Scott Pass, and Scott Trail itself are all named for Felix Scott, Jr., who was instrumental in pioneering an east-west route through this area in 1862. At the end of this five-mile stretch of this historic trail, his route turned north along what is now part of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) toward Scott Pass.

When Scott pioneered this trail, he traveled with a thousand head of stock and nine big freight wagons. Existing roads at that time extended only as far east as Vida, about 20 miles east of Eugene. As a result, Scott's party had to hack their way through the dense forest on the western slopes of the Cascades, and it took them several weeks to do so.

Historical records indicate that he used as many as 52 oxen to haul a single wagon up the steep west side of what is now called Scott Pass. Once atop that ridge, his crew tied trees to each wagon to prevent a catastrophic descent. Once over the crest, however, Scott took advantage of the more open spaces on the eastern slopes and released most of his crew.

Scott Pass itself (which is not included in today's trail segment hike) is a steep, narrow ridge set between red cinder cones near the Matthieu Lakes. At 6,000 feet in elevation, it's no wonder that future travelers sought better - and lower - routes. Even so, Scott brought another herd over this same route a few years later. I was glad we didn't have a herd of cattle to contend with on our trip.

The hike begins at a trailhead that is actually on the west (or north) side of Highway 242. The trail crosses the road and heads due east toward the PCT. The forest, at the beginning of this hike, is principally lodgepole pine but turns to mostly hemlock at higher elevations. Some firs also appear as the elevation increases.

About 2.5 miles east of the highway, the trail crosses in and out of lava flows and cinder deposits, and the hike becomes a window to the volcanic history of our region. Along the way, sweeping views of the mountains open up, and the trail also offers a good look at Collier Glacier, which has been rapidly retreating up its glacial valley over the last century. I remember that, 50 years ago, it looked twice as big from this angle. The trail also provides a rare perspective from which 7,810-foot-high Little Brother is not totally overshadowed by his much taller Three Sisters.

Collier Cone, Yapoah Crater, and Four In One Cone are other prominent features seen from this trail that are not on the usual visual menu for residents of Sisters. My hiking companion, who has backpacked all of Oregon's PCT (and more), remarked that this area has the best scenery of all.

Having started at an elevation of about 4,800 feet, this hike tops out at 6,320 feet before descending into a huge, gorgeous meadow, where the trail joins up with the PCT. This area is a real wildflower hot spot in the summer, although the flowers are long gone by this time of the year. In fact, even last month, we noticed that the colors in the meadow were already changing to fall hues. Since then, the mountains have already picked up some new snow; but hiking should remain feasible in this area for a little longer.

A small seasonal stream in the meadow was dry, but the spot was still a nice place for a lunch break. Although the total elevation gain is a little over 1,500 feet, the grade is most often fairly gradual, making this a very pleasant 10-mile round trip that is well worth the effort. The scenery is unsurpassed.

To enjoy this hike, take the McKenzie Pass Highway (242) west from Sisters. From the pass summit, continue west for another 5.6 miles and turn right (west) at the Scott Lake turnoff. There is a sign advising of the approaching turn, but there is an intervening turnoff, as well; so wait until you are abreast of the brown Scott Lake sign before turning off. Once off the highway, the Scott Trail parking lot is the next immediate right.

I did not see any signs indicating that this is a fee-use area, so a parking pass is not required; and, unlike the Obsidian Trailhead, just another half-mile down the road, no advance reservation, special heavy-use-area permit is required. Almost the entire hike, however, is within the Three Sisters Wilderness boundary, so wilderness permits are required and are free at the trailhead kiosk. Always be properly equipped for wilderness travel, and remember that weather conditions can change rapidly in the mountains - especially at this time of the year.









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