All week long the local hiking websites and social media had been buzzing about the fantastic mid-June wildflower bloom on Saddle Mountain (practically guaranteeing that everyone and his dog would go there). So I'm not sure what possessed me to visit that following Sunday.
|Sunshine breaks through the forest
Maybe it was the fantastic weather forecast, promising sunny skies. Maybe it was the lure of colorful wildflower-filled slopes. Maybe it was the fear of missing out on the yearly bloom. Whatever the reason, I woke up that morning and after a bit of hemming and hawing (do I really want to brave the crowds?) finally pointed my car west towards the Coast Range.
About 10 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, this lumpy, saddle-shaped mountain is the highest point in northwest Oregon. On clear days, views stretch wide from all directions, encompassing the ocean, Columbia River, Nehalem Bay, and several Cascade peaks, from Mt Jefferson to Mt St Helens. From May to June Saddle Mountain's high meadows are a wildflower lover's paradise.
A steep 2.5 mile path takes hikers to the mountain's summit. Because if it's relatively short length, this trail gives a lot of bang for the buck, and is therefore extremely popular.
|The views begin
Due to my at-home idling, I didn't reach the trailhead until well after 9. By then all open spots in the State park's tiny lot were filled, and vehicles were beginning to line the entrance road. Having driven 45-odd miles to get here (plus a windy 7-mile entrance road) I wasn't about to turn around and head home. So I carefully maneuvered by Subie onto the entrance road's narrow shoulder, making sure no part of my car was sticking out into the blacktop.
|Field of pink
Right from the trailhead, I found myself behind a group of young people. I followed them for a short distance before becoming captivated by a lovely sunburst breaking through the dense alder forest. Stopping to capture the moment, I had a few moments of solitude before another large group tromped by.
This trail begins climbing right away, and it wasn't long before I reached the first set of switchbacks. Already I'd passed several groups, and had stepped aside to let a few other hikers get around me. A group of women in their late 60s to early 70s caught up to me while I was taking a photo and they zipped on by like I was standing still! Throughout the rest of the day we leapfrogged each other. I'd pass them during a break, only to have those uber-fit ladies catch up and leave me in the dust every time.
|Can you see the people way out there?
After a mile of climbing, my efforts began to be rewarded with stellar views. Rounded foothills and summits of nearby mountains extended out to the horizon. This being the Coast Range, many of the hills were patchworked with bare spots from clear-cut logging.
|First look at Saddle Mtn summit
Not only great views, I began to see bunches of wildflowers dotting the trailsides. Columbine, Larkspur, and wild iris were abundant in the lower elevations. There were also huge patches of a small fuzzy pink flower, of which unfortunately I didn't know the name.
|Curvy path to the top
About two miles in I came to the "saddle," a broad dip in between the mountain's two summits. From this vantage the upper summit and the winding path to get there were laid out before my eyes. At the saddle's apex, steep cliffs dropped away sharply. I could peer straight down for a bird's-eye view of the parking lot, 1200 feet below.
|Flowers growing everywhere!
Due to heavy use, erosion has taken a toll on the trail system here, especially Saddle Mountain's upper reaches. To keep soil in place on these steep slopes, chicken wire has been installed over the pathways to the upper summit. Posts and cables lining the trail attempt to keep people from straying into the fragile meadows.
|The never-ending climb
At the saddle, the trail narrowed to a one-way path. The huge volume of people heading in both directions led to a traffic jam, and I ended up waiting several minutes for things to clear.
Then I got behind a conga-line of people slowly trudging uphill. The final half mile summit push is the trail's steepest part. And it is steep! It was interesting to watch the different hikers traverse this last leg. Some folks marched right up like it was no problem (mostly younger and fitter ones). Then there were people that looked like they never hiked (wearing non-hiking footwear and clothing, no backpack, and maybe carrying a water bottle) that appeared to be having a hard time. I spied many families with younger kids, and some of the little ones weren't very happy.
|Lots of eye candy
Luckily, the adjacent meadows were putting on a colorful show to distract hikers from their uphill misery. I took advantage of the beauty and pulled over for many "photo" (ahem-rest) stops.
|Can you spot the ocean?
A final climb up steep steps and I bounded onto Saddle Mountain's summit. And boy, was it crowded! People stood everywhere. I'd hoped to claim a seat on the summit benches but they were full (the older, uber-fit hiking ladies had commandeered all of the available spots). So I stood next to an open area by the railing and marveled at the panorama spread before me.
I'd lucked out with a clear day. The Pacific Ocean was a hazy blue line to the west. I could see the town of Astoria, and it's long bridge spanning the Columbia River. Adjacent green forests and patchwork-quilt clearcuts spread out below. To the east, snow-capped summits of Mt St Helens and Mt Hood were visible.
I ate a quick snack, and watched a continuous stream of people arrive at the summit. It was getting crowded real fast. And noisy too. No quiet solitude here today! After about 15 minutes I decided enough was enough. Time to get out of here.
|Lovely pink flower
The first steep stretch of trail from the summit was a tough descent. I had to keep the brakes on (via quads and knees) and lean into my poles to keep from sliding onto my rear. But once I'd reached the saddle again, it was an easy downhill trek from there. I met tons of people climbing up, even more than earlier. Good thing I hadn't waited any later in the day to do this hike.
|Lots of butterflies, but I only managed to capture this one
By the time I reached my car, vehicles lined the entrance road for a half mile from the trailhead. As I stowed my pack and removed my boots, passing cars eyed my parking spot. High time to leave this madhouse!
Despite the overabundance of people, I was glad I'd made the trip. The views were stellar and the wildflower show gorgeous as ever. And although crowds on hiking trails can be annoying, I try to look at it this way - it's good that so many people are outside, getting exercise, and enjoying the great outdoors.
Stats: 5.2 miles round-trip, 1600 feet elevation gain