Fisherman’s Trail Section – North Fork Clackamas River Lost Trail
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
An exploration of part of a lost trail along the north fork of the Clackamas River near Estacada, Oregon.
Trail Area: North Fork Clackamas River – Day Use Area (by the culvert swimming area) Access: Unnamed Trail/Footpath Distance: 1.40 miles (round trip) Elevation Range: 650′ to 768′ Ascent/Descent: +101 ft / -113 ft Trail Type: In and out Trails: North Fork Clackamas River Trail (Unnamed and classified as a lost trail) Note: Trail was very muddy. Had to be careful with steep drops and not sliding off due to mud. Date hike was done: 2-24-21
One Saturday a few weeks back my family went for a drive down to the North Fork Reservoir when we had snow and ice on the ground. We wanted to see what the river was looking like. Turns out it had broken ice covering it, which was something I’d never seen before. We’d stopped at the culvert swimming area and got out to explore a bit. We were the only ones there. I saw what looked like a trail, so we wandered down it just a little ways then went back to our car. But I wanted to come back and see where the trail went.
So on a sunny Wednesday, my mom and I went out to go on what I thought would be a short, easy hike. Boy, was I wrong! Snow hides a lot of things… especially mud.
I’d tried looking up information on the “trail” beforehand, but I couldn’t find any trace of it online. It wasn’t on any maps I looked at either. I just sort of assumed it was a fisherman’s trail that ran along the edge of the fat portion of the North Fork and that was that.
We started our trek, which from the get go was wet and muddy. It proceeded to get muddier and muddier the farther we went. We quickly reached the point we couldn’t avoid the mud and had to just walk through it if we wanted to keep going. It was slippery and would try to suction our shoes off.
The trail followed along the water at the top of a steep bank, so accessing the water would be difficult without a rope. The water was a beautiful light blue-green color and looked really opaque. There were two wider sections along the trail spaced a little ways apart that had pretty views of the water.
We saw and heard ducks in the water floating along. We started to hear racing water. We were rather curious and it kept us traipsing through the mud. There was one part where a stream was running down the trail and we pretty much just had to walk through it to keep going.
The trail descended slightly, but there was still a good steep bank down to the water. We discovered an off trail that wasn’t as perilously steep as the ones before had been. We could see the water at the bottom and decided to hike down. We were standing right by the loud rushing water that we’d heard earlier (0.44 miles to this point one way).
A river was what was feeding the large calm body of water we followed along from the beginning of the trail. There was an island splitting the river into two veins. We walked across a large fallen tree to reach the island. I was rather excited about exploring the entire island. We could tell people had been there before, but there wasn’t anyone else on it when we were there. There was a smaller river/stream running through the middle of the island. It was very easy to cross.
We explored the south part of the island first. There were a lot of tiny deciduous trees that looked like feeder trees (the weed version of trees). There were a pile of logs in the water and the ground was a little mushy. The water was calm and it was cool to see the large body of water we had been walking next to from a different view.
We then went to explore the north end of the island. The water was a lot louder and more turbulent. The water was fed by two veins up stream from the island. There was another large pile of logs in the water on the north end that looked a lot more beat up than the logs on the south side.
We crossed back over the the river and decided to explore farther up the trail since it kept going. It started to ascend in elevation and continued up the hillside. We could still hear the water and see it on and off. The trail was more sketchy. The trail would be at a slant, covered in mud, and there would be a steep drop down to the water. We had to be pretty careful where we stepped so we didn’t slide off the edge.
We came to a point in the trail where it looked like it had been washed out a bit. There was a large drop off and the the trail was narrow. We were able to traverse it okay. The worse section was where there was a very steep slant, the trail was caked in mud, and there had been a fallen tree. There were large loose branches along the upper edge of the trail that allowed us to walk more stably. We passed through that section just fine, but it made a pit in my stomach just looking at it.
The whole section of trail we followed had a steep embankment down to the water and on the other side was a hill going upward. The hill part was obviously burned during the Riverside Fire and came right up to the edge of the trail, but it never crossed the trail.
The trail kept going uphill. We came around a bit of a corner and suddenly the trail just kind of disappeared. When I looked a bit harder, I was able to see where it went. There were tons of downed trees and brush that made it difficult to see straight off. I decided we should just turn around at that point since I had no idea where it continued on to. We had expected a shorter hike, and had plans that required it stay that way. My curiosity was definitely sparked.
From where we turned around back to the parking lot was 0.54 miles one way. Counting the in and out as well as the side excursion to the island we totaled 1.40 miles round trip. The trek back was fine, a few of the sections were a bit more difficult to traverse in the mud since it was downhill, but we made it through without any falling or accidents. My shoes were covered in mud and my pants had mud clear up to my knees on the back. It was a fun outing.
Research into lost trail
Later that night I finally typed in the right words to my web browser to bring up information on the trail! I was ecstatic. I found it mentioned on two websites: AllTrails and the OregonHikers Forum. It’s labeled as a “lost” trail and it’s name is unknown. It’s unofficially called the North Fork Clackamas River Trail so that’s what I’m going to call it on my website. Both places are good for information about the trail. The trail goes to a waterfall located on a tributary that connects into the North Fork Clackamas River. The waterfall is called Fall Creek Falls. Two things to note that I read on the websites:
AllTrails gives a disclaimer that states: “Please note: The trail all the way to the falls involves cliff scrambles, off-trail, multiple washouts, and overgrown with thorny brushes.” It also is stated multiple times that the last mile or so near the falls there is no trail so it’s full on bushwhacking.
On OregonHikers someone responded to the post with a picture of a 1938 map that actually shows the trail, still no name, but it shows it used to be a “trail.”
I hope to attempt to hike the whole length of this trail at some point, maybe when it’s drier and less muddy, like end of summer. It’s definitely not a trail for the faint of heart and sounds like it requires good navigational skills and scrambling skills. I called this post the fisherman’s section because it goes along the lake-like section of the water. When I had been looking online before hiking the trail (and even after) I couldn’t tell what the land along the North Fork Clackamas River was considered (private, BLM, national forest, state park, etc.) We didn’t see any no trespassing signs and it’s not within the “closed” area due to the fire so we hiked it. It’s just something to be aware of.
Day-Use Area Gate: 45.23376, -122.25421
Start of trail: 45.23345, -122.25323
Pretty view of water along trail: 45.23398, -122.25217
2nd pretty view of water along trail: 45.23418, -122.25152
Path down to river: 45.23656, -122.24892
River crossing (to island): 45.23654, -122.24870
2nd river crossing (on island): 45.23638, -122.24861
Upper end of island: 45.23684, -122.24809
Where I decided to turn around on trail: 45.23790, -122.24688
There are multiple areas to park: On either side of the road along Highway 224 and in the day-use area when the gate is open.
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