Copper Salmon Wilderness: Road 350

View from road 350 towards the Copper Salmon Wilderness
Normally when heading out to a Wilderness Area, I've got at least a vague idea of what I'm getting myself into. The Copper Salmon Wilderness wasn't one of these times. Located in southwestern Oregon and only separated by a forest road from the Grassy Knob Wilderness, Copper Salmon is an isolated place. Designated in 2009 there is only one official trail, which runs through the northern section of the wilderness. After reading that this trail was surrounded by previously logged forest, I opted to search for some old-growth. Spending quite a bit of time looking at paper maps I ended up turning to the internet and came across 3 Feet Ahead. They had several of the old roads listed that run through Copper Salmon and some cool elevation judging tools. If you love maps, you'll love their site. Finally settling on walking the now closed road 350 we set out for the trailhead from Coos Bay.
View of the trailhead for road 350 in the Copper Salmon Wilderness

View of the back side of the ditch that blocks road 350 on the north side of Copper Salmon Wilderness
As you drive along the Elk River it's immediately apparent why protecting the headwaters of this stream was so important. Not only is it incredibly beautiful but it's home to one of the healthiest runs of salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat trout in Cascadia. Along Elk River road, shortly before crossing Elk River you will come to Butler Bar Campground, it's looked like a great spot to visit in summer. Leaving behind pavement we climbed steadily in a rutted and fairly tore up road until we reached the trailhead. Not having a plan, other than walking until we hit some old-growth we set out down road 350.

Elk River near Butler Bar Campground
Douglas-fir along road 350 in Copper Salmon Wilderness

Manzanita along road 350 in Copper Salmon Wilderness
Road 350 transitions from being nearly open to choked with new growth from Douglas-fir, manzanita, pacific madrone and chinkapin. It's a fairly steady and steep drop towards the headwaters of Elk River. At times, the road opens to provide some impressive vistas. Shortly before turning west the road nearly flattens out. After this flat you will rapidly descend into some old-growth forest.

Large pacific madrones crossing over each other in Copper Salmon Wilderness

Native forest along a small underground stream in Copper Salmon Wilderness
Sadly we never reached the massive 10 foot diameter Douglas-firs that we had set out to find, but it was still a nice patch of forest to eat lunch in. Normally the Douglas-fir towers over most other trees in the forest, but in this area there were a few pacific madrones that came close in height. The Klamath Mountains are definitely a very unique and beautiful area.

Pacific madrone reaching for the sky in Copper Salmon Wilderness

Mixed old-growth forest in Copper Salmon Wilderness

After spending awhile looking around this area we decided to head back to the car. Sadly we only had a few hours to explore because of the long drive back to Eugene. Next time we're planning on backpacking for a few days until we find the massive old-growth that eluded us this trip.

The weather couldn't make up it's mind
 Directions from Port Orford: Take highway 101 north for 2 miles, turn right onto Elk River Road, follow for approximately 11 miles, pass Butler Bar Campground and cross Elk River on a wooden bridge, follow FR 5201 for 5.8 miles from the bridge, parking is on the left.

Trailhead Elevation:
Approximately 2,500 feet

Hike Distance: 2.8 miles according to Garmin Oregon 550

Hike Type: Out and Back 

Elevation Gain: Approximately 700 feet, all downhill, then uphill.

Highest Elevation: 2,500 feet.

Usage:
Light 

Difficulty: 3 out of 5

Fees: None




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