|Vibrant huckleberry leaves|
The last day of September, I took advantage of dry, partially-sunny weather for a ramble in the forests east of Mt Hood.
The Badger Creek Wilderness boasts a wonderful trail network, traversing Mt Hood's drier eastern foothills. One of the best treks for fall colors is the Fret Creek Trail.
I'd hiked the Fret Creek Trail once before, eight years ago on another sunny autumn day. I remembered being blown away by the intensity of the huckleberry leaf colors in the forest. Overdue for a return trip, Fret Creek became the day's destination.
|Cute little Fret Creek|
Although it's a long drive to the trailhead, the journey is entirely on paved Forest Service roads. Parking near Fifteenmile campground, I admired a larch tree, it's needles turning gold, before shouldering my backpack and camera and beginning my trek.
Forest colors were terrific from the very start! Huckleberry leaves were in fine form, displaying shades of yellow, orange, and red. Good thing I cleared my memory card.
For the first two miles, this trail meanders through a lovely forest. Although climbing steeply at times, the scenery provides a good distraction.
|More forest shots|
Fret Creek burbles nearby, first down in a deep ravine, before the trail flattens out and crosses it several times on a couple of saggy log bridges that look like they've seen better days.
|I hit the colors at peak|
But the huckleberry bushes stole the show - at times so thick across the forest floor, they looked like a continuous yellow carpet.
|Yellow carpet under the trees|
Yeah - I'd definitely hit the peak of fall color!
|Bright color burst|
After passing by brushy little Oval Lake, my trail intersected with the Divide Trail. Trekking steeply uphill through a zone of brilliant red huckleberry leaves brought me to the cliffs of Palisade Point.
Palisade Point was a huge rock outcrop on the side of some steep cliffs. My first big viewpoint, the forests below Mt Hood spread out like a dark carpet. A worthy spot for a snack break!
|Loved these backlit fluffy pods|
Continuing on the Divide Trail, I headed east deciding to check out the views from Flag Point fire lookout. I'd hiked here from a different trail a couple of years ago and knew the views were worth the extra miles.
|Flag Point Lookout|
So onward I trekked, following a ridgeline that roller-coastered up and down a couple of steep hills. Fall colors were still doing well, and the huckleberry leaves were joined by a small forest of larch trees, needles just beginning their golden transformation.
|Fabulous view from the lookout tower|
After another mile I came upon the dirt road that led to Flag Point. From here it was an easy 3/4 mile walk before I glimpsed the fire tower rising above the trees. Happy to have arrived, I was looking forward to a nice lunch and views from the lookout cabin.
|Mt Hood framed in the tower|
In past visits, the tower had been shut up for the season. But as I approached, a man stepped outside, waved hello, and invited me to come on up.
|Lots of steps to get up there!|
It was a long trek up four flights of steep stairs, but arriving on top, I gaped at the fabulous views. The guy manning the lookout was very happy for some company and proceeded to talk my ear off.
|Golden larch needles|
The man told me he'd been stationed at this tower since early July. It was his seventh summer being a fire spotter, and although he enjoyed the job, it did get lonely at times. Showing me some stunning sunset photos he'd captured on his phone almost convinced me to volunteer for fire watching duty next year.
|My favorite color spot|
I appreciated the man's hospitality, but after a half hour, I was getting hungry. So I thanked my new friend for showing me around, and proceeded to climb back down. But not before I captured a few great shots of Mt Hood from up high.
|This way to the lake|
After a quick lunch break in the forest below, it was time to retrace my steps to the car. That also meant I'd see all those lovely fall colors a second time around.
Passing by Oval Lake, the afternoon light was much better for photography, and I captured a few shots of it's shallow, grassy banks. The lake and trail brought back memories of the last time I'd hiked here with my dog Bear. He'd had so much fun romping through the forest. A wave of sadness made me realize how much I missed my four-legged hiking buddy.
|Red huckleberry leaves are my favorite|
Descending back through the colorful forest again, I kept my camera busy capturing more lovely scenery I was sure I'd missed the first time around. Even so, I still managed to make it back to my car with enough time to hit happy hour at one of Hood River's fantastic brew pubs.
A fine start to the fall color hiking season, I looked forward to exploring more of my favorite trails in the coming weeks.