Canyon Creek Meadows in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness of Central Oregon is a top destination for alpine wildflower meadows. The hike starts at Jack Lake and traverses through silver snags of burnt forest from the 2003 B&B Complex forest fire. The trail continues up through dense patches of green forest, alongside the pristinely flowing Canyon Creek, and ultimately through vibrant wildflower meadows up to the base of Three Fingered Jack. Here at the Upper Canyon Creek Meadow is where for a brief period towards the end of July and Mid-August, the meadow is filled with vibrant wildflowers with the craggy and lightly snow-filled peaks of Three Fingered Jack as a backdrop. The quality of the blooms vary each year and when the year is prime and the flowers are at peak bloom, there arguably is no finer wildflower display in Oregon.
The hike is popular for several reasons, the trailhead is just 45 minutes from Bend and the trail creates a moderate 6.5 mile loop hiking trip which is accessible to day-hikers or for backpackers who wish to camp near the base of the spectacular Three Fingered Jack mountain. Starting at the Jack Lake Trailhead at 5,130 feet, the trail follows the east side of the lake where it reaches a junction. To limit the number of people you encounter on the trail, the U.S. Forest Service asks that you hike the loop clockwise. So at this junction, you turn left and begin climbing through alternating strands of silvery burnt timber from the 2003 B&B Complex forest fire and lush green patches of hemlock and fir that were spared from the blaze. After two miles, you reach a junction at the Lower Canyon Creek Meadow at 5,520 feet where there is often an earlier in season display of wildflowers due to the lower elevation. This meadow makes for a popular picnic destination for day trippers. The landscape is very scenic with the cool waters of Canyon Creek running alongside the meadow. From here, you follow the trail another one mile and approximately 750 foot elevation gain to the Upper Canyon Creek Meadow. To return back to the Jack Lake Trailhead and create a loop, you retrace your steps back to the junction at the lower meadow and take a left following the trail along Canyon Creek and through the 2003 burn before reaching the trailhead.
The Upper Canyon Creek Meadow at the base of Three Fingered Jack has an expansive view of the area. The mountain creates a magnificent rock amphitheater around the landscape. There is also an option to continue the trail another half mile to an overlook above a small glacial cirque on the side of Three Fingered Jack. The trail is more of a scramble with exposed and steep scree which is very crumbly and unstable. It is a precarious path but is rewarded with a stunning view that stretches from Mt. Jefferson to the Three Sisters. However, despite the optional scramble that is difficult, you can easily follow offshoots from the main trail down to Canyon Creek and around the wildflower meadow to hillside perches that make for excellent camp spots in the trees. Backpackers must camp at least 100 feet from trails or water, so it important to avoid camping in the delicate meadow. The area is open and finding a path through the meadow is not difficult. The meadow is very wet from the snowmelt from Three Fingered Jack which creates a large breeding ground for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes in the upper meadow can be fierce. They do seem to in vary activity throughout the day and a drop off later in the evening.
The wildflower display at the Upper Canyon Creek Meadow can be absolutely beautiful when the timing is spot-on, with a scene filled entirely with flowers and the pinkish glow of Three Fingered Jack in early morning light. The types of flowers can vary year to year. However, blue arctic lupine, yellow rabbitbush, red mountain Indian paintbrush, and purple Cascade aster are often blooming. Canyon Creek runs alongside the meadow and the creek is fed entirely by snowmelt from Three Fingered Jack. You can walk to the base of Three Fingered Jack and view the source of the creek where there is a steep stretch of the mountain with the snowmelt running over rocks and boulders creating a small cascading waterfall. While the wildflowers in the upper meadow are the main attraction, it is this proximity to the base of Three Fingered Jack and Canyon Creek which makes this destination remarkable. This combination of wildflowers and mountain all in scene make it a prime landscape for photography.
At an elevation of 7,844 feet, Three Fingered Jack is located in the Cascade Range of Oregon between Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Washington. Since it is one of the oldest volcanoes in the Cascades, the peaks are heavily eroded and create what appears to be three distinct peaks which look like “three fingers”. The sole glacier is the unofficially named “Jack” glacier, located in a shaded cirque on the northeast side at an unusually low altitude for the Oregon Cascades. Three Fingered Jack is not accessible by road. It can be approached by the Pacific Crest Trail and the trail from Jack Lake to the Upper Canyon Creek Meadow. This upper high alpine wildflower meadow is a truly unique destination that has maintained a pristine landscape.
It is notable to mention the 2003 B&B Complex forest fire since it is responsible for dramatically changing the landscape of the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. During the summer of 2003, lightning strikes created two separate fires, the Bear Butte Fire and the Booth Fire. The two fires were reported on the same day and eventually burned together, forming a devastating single fire area that stretched along the crest of the Cascade Mountains between Mount Jefferson and Mount Washington, burning 90,769 acres of Douglas fir and western hemlock. Much of the area today remains scarred, with what looks like miles of ghost-like silver groves of dead trees seen along Highway 20. Despite, the regrowth of trees and native plants which is quite evident and strong, it will take decades for the forest to fully recover. Fortunately, much of Canyon Creek Meadows was spared. While the hike takes you through portions of burnout, the meadows were entirely spared and are an oasis amidst the burn.
Kid and dog friendly, the trail can get crowded on summer weekends. Popular for hiking, Oregon wildflowers, nature viewing, and photography, the trail does see high use. However, there are far fewer who make it an overnight backpacking trip to the upper meadow and a sense of solitude can be found during mid-week. Canyon Creek Meadows is a beautiful place to enjoy the splendor of Three Fingered Jack and a pristine high alpine meadow filled with vibrant wildflowers. For photography, the upper meadow is best at very early sunrise when the morning sun lights up the mountain with a pink glow. It is this unique combination of a wildflower scenery against a mountain backdrop that makes Canyon Creek Meadows a top destination in Oregon for hiking and photography.
For more pictures of Canyon Creek Meadows and Three Fingered Jack, visit www.photographyoregon.com.
To Get There:
From Sisters, OR take Highway 20 north for approximately 12 miles. Turn right on Forest Road 12. Follow Forest Road 12 for 4 miles until it veers left, turns into a dirt road and is now Forest Road 1230. Take Forest Road 1230 for about 2 miles until it splits, take a left at the ‘Y’ on to Forest Road 1234. Follow Forest Road 1234 for about 7 miles until it dead ends at the trailhead.
The road is fine for a passenger car, but does have deep ruts in spots and is very much a bumpy washboard road that can be tough on tires and suspension.
Oregon Photo Guide™ features the landscape photography of Michael Skourtes, Portland Oregon photographer and avid outdoorsman. I venture throughout the state searching for the top destinations for Oregon hiking, backpacking, camping, and photography. I share my experiences and photography of Oregon on my guide. I encourage you to explore Oregon and make your own outdoor adventure.
For picture galleries featuring Oregon photography, or to contact me, visit www.photographyoregon.com.