Saddle Mountain is the highest point of Oregon's northern coast range. A mere 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, views stretch for miles from it's prominent summit. But this peak's claim to fame isn't the views - it's the fabulous flower-filled meadows that line Saddle Mountain's grassy slopes, erupting into bloom during the months of May and June.
|Foggy, spooky coastal forest near the trailhead|
The last time I'd hiked Saddle Mountain was back in June 2015. Although the wildflowers at the time put on the best display ever, this particular trip was notorious because I injured my foot on the descent. Two pins placed in my big toe joint from a recent bunion surgery decided they needed to push their way out - immediately. Five days later I ended up in the doctor's office enduring an emergency procedure to have them removed. Needless to say this incident curtailed my hiking for most of the summer. I think the bad memories from that day explain my 6-year absence.
|Finally above the fog!|
Another reason for the long stretch between visits - Covid. Saddle Mountain and the surrounding forest are owned by the Oregon State Parks Department. Back in April 2020, when the virus was just getting started, the state of Oregon closed all of it's state parks. Saddle Mountain was one of the last state parks to reopen. It remained closed throughout all of 2020 and had only reopened about a month before my hike in mid-May.
|Chocolate tiger lily|
So you could say my revisit to Saddle Mountain was long overdue. When I heard the trail had finally reopened I decided to run up there on a weekday - not only to avoid the crowds, but because I'm retired now and can hike any day I want!
Although skies were sunny in Portland, by the time I'd driven west to Saddle Mountain I found it's lower base cloaked in a thick fog. Made the mossy old-growth forests near the trailhead look downright spooky.
However this hike is known for it's steep trail - 1650 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 miles. Zig-zagging through the lower forests, it didn't take long for me to climb high enough to get above the fog bank.
|Another shot of the spectacular fog-filled valley|
At one of the first open areas, I gazed at the spectacular sight of fog-filled valleys below. Nearby Humbug Mountain poked it's summit through the cloudy obstruction.
|Prominent rock about halfway|
About halfway up to the first summit, I made a brief photo stop at a prominent rock outcropping. Although it obscured most of the lower views, the fog layer did add some drama to this image.
The Oregon State Parks website explains that Saddle Mountain was formed when a huge lava flow of Columbia River basalt touched the sea. Steam explosions from the hot rock hitting the water broke the rock into fragments. This action created thin, rocky soil at high elevations. These unique soils support the abundant wildflower meadows on top of Saddle Mountain. It is believed Saddle Mountain served as a refuge for many plant species during the last Ice Age.
|I enjoyed the foggy views below|
Some of the rarest and oldest species of wildflowers, lichens and moss can be found atop Saddle Mountain. A few of the rare flowers are found nowhere else. One, the early blue violet, is the main food source for the threatened silverspot butterfly.
|Flowers and fog|
Because of the many rare flora and fauna found here, Saddle Mountain has the designation of not only a State Park but a State Natural Area. This classification designates the highest level of protection to the mountain and it's environs.
|Colorful flower field|
I was appreciative of everything Oregon State parks has done to protect this unique habitat as I passed through an open grassy slope chock-full of chocolate tiger lilies, and then further down the trail another colorful meadow sporting orange Indian paintbrush and yellow flowers. Although I spotted many wildflowers in bloom, things were just getting started. I was too early for the main flower show - it usually doesn't occur until mid-June.
Saddle Mountain has two distinct summits, with a curving saddle-like slope between the two (hence, how Saddle Mountain got it's name).
|The view behind me|
The saddle area is a huge grassy meadow, with tremendous views. Even with today's fog settling in the mountain valleys it was still an impressive sight. A ridge jutting out from the main trail creates a dramatic overlook.
|Tiny figures on an overlook|
Normally I'll walk down to the end of the ridge for the great photo ops. However, today the narrow ridge trail already had a group on it, so I stayed away. The people did give scale to the knife edge and made for a neat perspective. However, when I zoomed in on the people in the photo, I was disappointed to see instead of taking in the fantastic views, nearly all of them were on their phones!
|The last half mile is steep!|
Past the saddle the real climbing begins! A steep trails winds up the side of Saddle Mountain's second summit.
|Much of the trail is covered in chicken wire to prevent more erosion|
Because of steepness and overuse, many parts of this trail have been reconstructed with chicken wire tread. Not the greatest to walk over, but I understand why this material was used. The crumbly rock soil doesn't hold up well to thousands of visitors footsteps tramping up and down this fragile surface. The chicken wire adds stability and durability to this wildly popular trail.
|Mt. St Helens and Mt. Adams views|
The final summit push is always the hardest part of this hike. Gasping, I plodded along, making frequent stops to photograph the few flowers that were blooming (the main show in the summit meadows doesn't occur until mid-June). Nearby Cascade mountains can also be seen from Saddle Mountain's summit and I was happy to spot Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams, their white-capped peaks poking out of the fog.
|Looking back down Saddle Mountain's slopes|
After slogging the final hundred feet on loose, crumbly soil I was never so happy to reach Saddle Mountain's lofty summit! The thick fog prevented any ocean views, but after snapping a few quick photos, I was ready to just rest and eat lunch.
|The summit is in sight!|
The only place to sit is a three-sided bench at one end of the summit proper. Lucky for me, a group was just leaving, so I quickly plopped myself on one of the three boards.
|Cloud-filled valley views from the summit|
I'd been leap-frogging a group of four older ladies all morning. After I sat down on the summit bench, I noticed them approaching. Since there was still plenty of seating, after announcing I'd been vaccinated, I invited the ladies to join me. They ended up being great company. All the women were well over 70 - but still went on backpacking and ski trips together and had plans to visit all of the National Parks in the US. When one lady mentioned their plans included visiting South Dakota later in the summer, I gave them lots of information about the Black Hills and Badlands National Park.
|Orange Indian Paintbrush|
|This unique bloom is called "Prairie Smoke"|
In the woods between the saddle and the upper summit, dozens of pink fawn lilies bloomed profusely.
|Chocolate tiger lilies from the large bloom|
|Another chocolate tiger lily|
|Looking back down into the foggy forest|
But that's not why I hike. I'm not out to break any land speed records. I walk in nature deliberately to fully appreciate all the beauty I see. As John Muir famously once said - "People ought to saunter in the mountains, not hike!" I totally agree!
It was a great day to saunter up Saddle Mountain and reacquaint myself with the mountain's lovely scenery after so many years.
My 2015 blog post about Saddle Mountain can be found here.