Willamatte National Forest Classic: French Pete Trail

Near the start of the French Pete Trail
The forest that surrounds the French Pete drainage is definitely the star of this hike. There are massive Douglas-Firs and Western Red-cedars that line this watershed. Thanks to the hard work of many conservationists this valley was added into the Three Sisters Wilderness in 1978, saving it from being clear-cut. While walking through old-growth native forests like this, it's always difficult for me to imagine that some people can't see the beauty of such places, only the monetary value of it. Those of us who value incredible places must be vigilant, because those who see dollar signs are always at work to undue the work conservationists have done.  Recently French Pete Creek has made it's way back into local news.



In 2003 day-hiker, Daming Xu went missing not long after the search started part of  the guidebook he had was found along the upper portion of French Pete Creek. There was a massive search for him and still nothing was ever found. June of 2012 James Dutton went missing, but a search didn't begin for nearly 6 weeks. Though they might not have ever found Mr. Dutton, the fact that he didn't leave his itinerary with anyone greatly delayed the search. I always like to text where I'm going to be and when I'll be done to several family members, so they have a 'written' form of it and aren't trying to recall what I told them if I went missing. Don't count on the Forest Service to check the trailhead registration cards/logs.  Despite the somber reminder of the dangers, the light sound of the flowing creek and the rain pelting the branches high above quickly transformed my mood.

Shoes of choice: FiveFinger KSO Trek

Impressive nurse log that spans the trail
Though this hike connects to many other trails further upstream we only hiked a short distance past where the officially maintained portion ends, which is at the first crossing of French Pete Creek. It's a fairly straightforward hike that closely follows French Pete Creek. There are several campsites both before and after the first creek crossing. The Forest Service says that usage of this trail is high, but on the first rainy Saturday of autumn we only came across one other person. I'm sure that most of the fall and winter the trail is lightly used. If you don't mind the rain camping along the stream would likely provide solitude.

Fall color along French Pete Creek


Tall and straight primarily Douglas-Fir forest

Crossing French Pete creek this early in the fall wasn't too bad, it was about nearly knee deep, but not that fast moving. If you're unsure about crossing a creek definitely don't go beyond your skill level.

A good friend for standing still in the cold water of French Pete Creek


Lush green moss blankets the forest floor in this area

Great campsite after the crossing of French Pete Creek
The French Pete trail is an outstanding gateway to the western half of the Three Sisters Wilderness, also nearby is the Rebel Rock Trail, which offers a longer but much more difficult hike. There are many backpacking trips that could begin at the French Pete trailhead, I suggest the McKenzie River Ranger District map for this area. Below is a map of the route that we followed, if you have a smartphone or GPS you can download the tracks by clicking on the map.

Directions from Eugene: Follow Highway 126 for 40 miles east, turn right onto Forest Road 19, follow for 11 miles, trailhead is on the left at the 'French Pete Campground' sign.

Trailhead Elevation:
Approximately 1,840 feet

Hike Distance:
5.0 miles according to Garmin Oregon 550 GPS 

Hike Type: Out and Back

Elevation Gain: Approximately 1,000 feet

Usage:
Light, only saw one other hiker

Difficulty: 1 out of 5

Fees: None

French Pete Trail at EveryTrail
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