Clackamas River Trail

  • Date: March 5, 2017
  • Location: Mount Hood National Forest
  • Start: Fish Creek Trailhead
  • Distance: 15.4 miles (when done as an out-and-back and including Pup Creek Falls side trip)
  • Duration: 3 hours 46 minutes (breaks not included)
  • Elevation gain: 3100 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Oregon Hikers

Finding new places to explore while simultaneously getting in long miles has been difficult this winter, especially with the amount of snow on the ground at higher elevations. We toughed out the conditions on the Ornament Trail and at Smith Rock, but now that we’re trying to increase our mileages to 15+ on our weekend runs, we’re kind of leaning towards snow-free trails to train on. Thankfully, the Clackamas River Trail fit the bill: we’d never hiked/run it before; the trailhead is open and easily accessible (even during winter months); and, after searching recent trip reports, the trail appeared to be free of snow!

We arrived at the trailhead just after 8:30 am. The parking lot was completely deserted, which meant we’d have the trail all to ourselves that morning. Yes! Long, solitary runs in the wilderness have really become our favorite type of weekend adventure these past few months. At 15+ miles, this would be our longest adventure run yet. Knowing that unsettled me a little bit. The fact that we couldn’t complete the Arch Cape route the previous weekend due to me spraining my ankle was still eating at me. I was nervous that something would cause us to cut out early from this run as well, but I did my best to suppress my paranoia once we hit the trail.

Last weekend it was tree roots. This time it was rocks. So much for a cushiony soft surface trail. We started out low, next to the river, looking out at faraway hillsides dusted with snow. However, within the first five minutes, we found ourselves gaining some serious elevation, made all the more difficult by the unforgiving rocky terrain and several downed trees. Cassie has gotten quite comfortable effortlessly hopping over these blowdowns even while she’s on leash. I wish it was that easy for us. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the solitude. We only saw one other person: a trail runner who passed us early on, then passed us again on his way back to the trailhead.

View of the Clackamas River
There were numerous blowdowns
Zip line platform
Traversing a rockslide area

Despite the aforementioned challenges, we entered my favorite section of the entire trail less than three miles in. After a couple more roller coaster-like hills, the trail drops into an old-growth cedar grove. Ancient trees draped in moss tower high above the path, and the forest floor is covered in a lush blanket of sword fern and Oregon grape. It brought back memories of our time spent in the Hoh Rainforest nearly a year ago. For a few moments, the initial fears (about not finishing, making my ankle injury worse, etc.) that had been plaguing me washed away as I stood in wonderment of this little known paradise. Our stay here was brief though. We still had 4-5 miles to go until Indian Henry Trailhead (and then another 7.5 miles once we turned around and headed back).

My favorite section

Our goal was to keep moving until the junction with the Pup Creek Falls side trail, but we ended up pausing for pictures at a few more spots. The creek crossings pictured below were particularly interesting and worth capturing in my opinion.  We especially loved the humorously massive stepping stones placed on Steppingstone Creek! Cassie was a bit confused about how to rock hop. I got a kick out of watching Mack try to guide her across.

Crossing Steppingstone Creek on stepping stones!

Just under four miles in, we reached the marked post that designates the side trail to Pup Creek Falls. We followed this short path back into the woods, switchbacking up, then dropping down to Pup Creek so we could take in the full scope of the majestic, two-tiered waterfall before us. At less than half a mile round-trip from the main trail, this is definitely a worthwhile side trip to make when hiking the Clackamas River Trail. After getting back on the main trail, we reached Pup Creek where it intersects the CRT. There was no means of crossing (bridge, stepping stones, dependable log) that would guarantee us staying dry, so we tromped right through it. Unlike our hiking boots, our trail runners thankfully air out relatively fast, so the heavy amount of (very cold) water didn’t slosh around in them for too long. Of course our feet were soaked and soggy for the rest of the run.

Pup Creek Falls
Crossing Pup Creek
Washed out trail right after crossing Pup Creek

We didn’t stop very much after the Pup Creek Falls side trip. My anxiety was starting to kick in again, especially after I looked at my watch and realized how much time had gone by already because of our previous photo op breaks. Over the next four miles, we only paused a couple more times to capture the main highlights. First came the Narrows, where the Clackamas flows through a constricted passage between large, basalt formations. A spur trail leads out to one of these protruding formations. If we had done this trail as a hike and packed a lunch, this would’ve been a fantastic spot to stop. The view of the river is phenomenal!

Closer to the end of the trail, we marveled at another fascinating geological formation known as Half Cave, a moss covered cliff where the trail is etched beneath the overhang. If there had been a waterfall plunging down from the top of the cliff, it would’ve seemed just like the caves you walk through at Silver Falls State Park (which take you behind some of the falls). The trail continued into the forest. The sound of cars rushing by on the paved road below us meant we were almost to the trailhead. After a few more ups and downs through the forest, the trail spit us out directly into the parking lot. A wave of relief rushed over me when I saw the signboard for Indian Henry Trailhead and realized we’d traversed the entire CRT. There was no way we could back out now!

Looking out over the Narrows

Half Cave

We stopped for a few minutes to eat a snack, get some electrolytes in us, and hydrate and feed Cassie. In that moment, another realization hit me: this would be Cassie’s longest run ever! So far she was crushing it, too. The run back seemed to go by much more quickly. I stopped every once in a while to take a few more pictures of the section between Pup Creek and Indian Henry Trailhead this time around. I also had Mack and Cassie run ahead of me so I could carefully navigate some of the more technical terrain and protect my weak, still tender ankle. The rolling hills were a lot more tiring on the return. I’d made the effort to run as many as I could on the way in, but now that I’d logged 42+ miles at this point (that’s including the miles I’d done earlier in the week), I didn’t feel guilty power hiking most of them. My quads were shot. I watched enviously as Mack (who had run about the same number of miles as me) continue strong up most of the hills.

Swampy section

We experienced a little bit of rain and hail on the return trip, but it passed quickly and the sun came out in full force. The emerald green hue of the Clackamas shone brighter than ever, which made a nice distraction from the roughness of the trail. It wasn’t until we passed Pup Creek that I remembered how rocky the first three miles are. We passed a few people on the trail now that it was early in the afternoon, but I was pleasantly surprised that we didn’t see more. I imagine it probably gets a lot more crowded in the summer, but at the same time, I hadn’t even heard of the CRT until a couple of weeks ago. Maybe it’s more of a hidden gem, secretly tucked away in the expansive Mount Hood National Forest.

We got back to the car feeling elated that we’d successfully completed our longest adventure run yet. Finishing this run was especially meaningful to me after the previous weekend’s failed attempt at the coast. I had now logged the most miles I’d ever run in a single week! What a perfect way to end the week and the season for winter adventure runs. Hopefully we’ll be able to log even more trail running miles in the wilderness once all this snow melts!


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