PCT: Santiam Pass to Olallie Lake

Miles 2000.9-2045.6 of the northbound PCT: Traversing the rugged slopes of Mount Jefferson and other volcanoes, through a wilderness shaped by ancient glaciers and recent wildfires.

Hiking Moderate

Distance
71 km
Ascent
2.5 km
Descent
2.4 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
1.3 km
High Point
2.1 km
Gradient
VIEW ON MAP
PCT: Santiam Pass to Olallie Lake Map

Description

Note: As of 2021, the PCT is closed “from the northern intersection of Trail 3440 north of Pamelia Lake (mile ~2027) on the Willamette National Forest to near Triangle Lake north of Olallie Lake (~mile 2048.7) on the Mt. Hood National Forest,” according to the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) This is due to the 2020 Lionshead Fire. There is no easy walk around, so the simplest option may be to skip this segment entirely, leaving the trail at Santiam Pass and rejoining somewhere to the north. Check the PCTA online for updates and possible reroutes.

On this stretch of Oregon Section F, the PCT crosses the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. It’s a complex landscape sculpted by successive volcanism and glaciation, then painted more recently by strokes of wildfire. The trail swings between rocky plateaus, elevated ridgelines, and wooded pockets filled with lakes. Mount Jefferson owns the horizon for most of the distance, rising in dark rock and glaciers to its height of nearly 10,500 feet.

From the road at Santiam Pass (NB mile 2000.9), the PCT proceeds northward through a burn area, where thick grass pads the space between skeleton trees. A steady uphill leads to more intact trees and some shade on the slopes south of Three Fingered Jack––an old volcano eroded into finger-like spires. You’ll get a great view as the trail rounds the shoulder of a ridge, then traverses the talus beneath cliffs of battered basalt. The best view is perhaps of the mountain’s north face, as the trail takes a few switchbacks on the panoramic north ridge (NB mile 2008).

Continuing on, the PCT traces the undulating crest of the Cascades, through a mosaic of burn scars and fire-thinned forest. The next water is a cluster of ponds near Koko Lake (NB mile 2010.6). Those nearest the trail may be stagnant by late season, so you could go farther off-trail to Koko, or detour on the trail to Wasco Lake in another half mile.

Climbing again from the Wasco junction, the trail meets another water source and good camping at Rockpile Lake (2014.8), which sits near the top of a mountain in a forested depression. From there, the trail continues to snake along the crest, on plateaus and ridgelines with scattered pines and frequent views to the pointed cone of Jefferson ahead.

As the trail nears the mountain, the scenery grows even more dramatic. You’ll want to pause at Shale Lake (2022.7) or nearby Coyote Lake for the image of Mount Jefferson mirrored on the water. Note that camping may be restricted in the Shale Lake area, but more sites near water can be found in a few miles.

The trail proceeds to zigzag through rocky forest in the gullies on the mountain’s west flank. Suitable camps may be the clearing near Milk Creek (NB mile 2027.9), a small pond in a burn area (NB mile 2029.9), or seasonal Jeff Creek (NB mile 2030.6). Next comes Russell Creek (NB mile 2031.9), which tumbles steeply through a ravine, and can be a dangerous crossing through mid-summer. Near Russell Creek is also where the PCT enters the burn zone of the 2020 Lionshead Fire, where trail conditions may be unpredictable, and the quality of water and campsites could be affected. The mountain views, however, are guaranteed to be sublime.

After crossing the outlet of Russell Lake (NB mile 2034.6) the trail pitches upward to climb Park Ridge, earning a vista of Jefferson’s north slopes and glaciers. Snow may be encountered on this stretch, especially when crossing the ridge crest and descending the north side. It’s mostly downhill until Breitenbush Lake (NB mile 2039.4) where there’s a dirt road, trailhead, and Forest Service campground nearby. From there, the trail climbs a rocky plateau with a little lake on top (NB mile 2040), then proceeds through a badly burned area, passing Upper Lake (NB mile 2043.2) and a few smaller lakes, all of which are in unknown condition following the fire.

The end of this segment is at the junction to Olallie Lake Resort (NB mile 2045.6), which is just a short detour from the trail. The resort has resumed operation since the fire, and when the PCT reopens they will likely welcome hikers as before. They offer a small general store, drinking water, and a campground.

Permits: Much of this segment is within the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, which requires the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit for camping, unless you already have the PCT long-distance permit. Section hikers who get the wilderness permit may also need the Northwest Forest Pass for parking at trailheads.

Sources: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/willamette/recarea/?recid=4213 https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7049/ https://pctmap.net/trail-notes/ https://pctwater.com/

Difficulty

Moderate

Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

June, July, August, September, October, November

Features

  • Wildlife
  • Historical
  • Picturesque
  • Dog friendly
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Family friendly
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Guidebooks in this area