I’m a Californian, but if I had to name a single stretch of Oregon’s PCT that draws me up north, it’s Mt. Jefferson. It’s so outstanding, I’ve been three times.
On my thru-hike, I had to skip to the northern end of the region due to a wildfire. The next year, I returned with help from my mom to close the gap. Unfortunately, I’d planned poorly and there was too much treacherous snow still on the ground. We sat for a few days in the Breitenbush hot springs instead. Finally, a few years ago I walked from McKenzie Pass to Ollalie Lake, taking my time and greatly enjoying myself. I can’t wait to go back.
Towering above Ollalie Lake, Mount Jefferson, at 10,497 feet, is Oregon’s second highest summit. It’s snow-capped peak is a classic Cascade destination.
Hiking the whole PCT across the Wilderness is well worth it. If you don’t have that much time, I’d head to Jefferson Park, a relatively flat garden-like area of lakes, meadows and streams below the epic mountain.
You can walk in from a few different places, but I recommend hiking south on the PCT for 7.5 miles (with a 1,500-foot gain in elevation) to get into the heart of Jefferson Park. Once there, if you have a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit, consider setting up a base camp and then exploring some of the many side trails to scenic lakes.
On my last trip to the area, the mosquitoes were bad. Go prepared and remember to swim (they won’t bite you if you’re under water).
If you’d like to explore more, the entire 36 miles of PCT in Mount Jefferson Wilderness are sweat worthy. Continue south from Jefferson Park and you’ll reach Pamelia Lake in 6.5 miles or continue on to Marion Lake or Three Fingered Jack (another volcano in the chain).
Distance: out-and-back. 7.5 miles each way.
Trailhead driving directions:
Park on Skyline Road (Forest Service Road 42) at the Jefferson Park trailhead near Breitenbush Lake. Be warned—after passing the Olallie Scenic Area (worth a stop in its own right) Skyline Road becomes very rough, narrow, and slow.
Agency jurisdiction: Willamette National Forest, Detroit Ranger Station
Permits: Permits are required. For more information, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/willamette/home/?cid=fseprd688355&width=full.
Special regulations: Dogs are allowed but they must be on leash.
Region: Central Oregon; Section F