Illahee Flat to Boulder Creek Wilderness

Sunset at campsite 2 over Boulder Creek
The Boulder Creek Wilderness is a 19,100 acre area in the Diamond Lake Ranger District. The area has been hit with two fairly large wildfires, one in 1996 and another in 2008. Though these fires have replaced climax (old-growth) forests in some areas, despite this, there are many living trees. Some of the areas that were burned most intensely now have seedlings of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, sugar pine and ponderosa pine repopulating the area. As much as I love dense old-growth forest, seeing what happens after a stand replacing fire is also interesting.

Boulder Creek trail as it traverses a catastrophically burned area
Sugar pine growing along trail in the picture above

Douglas-fir growing close by the sugar pine
Boulder Creek Wilderness is best known for a flat area known as Pine Bench. This large flat is dotted with massive ponderosa pines. These survive and out compete other trees because of relatively frequent fires. Ponderosa pines are very adept at surviving fire because of their thick bark. Atop Pine Bench one is treated to expansive views of the valley that holds Boulder Creek.

Three massive ponderosa pines along the Boulder Creek Trail atop Pine Bench

Large ponderosa pine with a trail junction sign

View northwest from Pine Bench over the valley that Boulder Creek flows through
The goal of this trip was to hike to the first ford of Boulder Creek and then camp there. Or backtrack to a campsite on Pine Bench if we liked the sites there more. Our route took us from Illahee Flat, along the North Umpqua River and up to Pine Bench. This hike takes you through a lot of different forest cover and terrain. The Illahee Flat trail is a 1 mile connecter trail to the North Umpqua trail. From there you will follow the North Umpqua trail for 2 miles. After Crossing Boulder Creek on a large bridge you will climb steeply up an old road bed to a trail junction. Follow the sign towards the Boulder Creek trail.

North Umpqua River

Eagle Creek along the North Umpqua Trail
Crossing of Boulder Creek along the North Umpqua trail
Trail junction after the steep climb up an old road bed
While following this section of road if you look you will notice many massive sugar pine cones, they are the longest pine cone in the world. As the road ends you will begin your climb to Pine Bench. At first the climb is fairly steep with many short switchbacks, but eases into longer and better graded switchbacks. Once you enter the wilderness you almost immediately walk under some power lines, which is very strange. I assume the boundary posted on the tree isn't exact. This unfortunate scar on the land extends in both directions for many miles, the location of the power lines puzzles me. Thankfully as you reach Pine Bench nearly all signs of humans disappear.

Two sugar pine cones along Boulder Creek Trail

Fire scarred trees line the Boulder Creek Trail as you ascend.
Recent snow fall had left small patches in the many open areas of Pine Bench. The snow had tracks from many different animals, including a cougar. As we walked north we also spotted large amounts of elk scat. It seems that the wildlife use this trail more often than humans. We rapidly approached the first campsite (campsite 1) atop Pine Bench, it's in a mixed forest and provides a small fire pit and a few places to sit. Our next goal was to find the spring that was listed on my GPS and map, it appeared to be only about 300 feet from this camp. Shortly after leaving campsite 1 we came to a trail junction which lead us directly to campsite 2 and the spring. This campsite provides a breathtaking view of Boulder Creek valley and is sparsely covered with pacific madrone. To find the spring, face towards the canyon and follow a small trail to the left of campsite 2.

Cougar track along the Boulder Creek Trail

Campsite 1 along the Boulder Creek Trail atop Pine Bench
Campsite 2 along the Boulder Creek Trail atop Pine Bench
Spring at campsite 2 along the Boulder Creek Trail
 Happy with campsite two, we sat around for awhile snacking and admiring the beauty of the area. But wanting to get a few more miles in and reach our goal, we threw our packs back on and headed north along the Boulder Creek trail. The next leg of the trail involved a much more intensely burned area than we had walked through previously. Some of the downhill stretches were very difficult because of erosion, caused by the loss of vegetation and elk. There was still a few patches of impressive native forest left, including massive sugar pines and because of the burn, epic views of the valley below. It goes without saying, but always be very careful while hiking in a burn area like this. There are many trees that are one gust of wind away from falling. This is the primary reason we didn't camp near the ford of Boulder Creek. There was a few old-growth sugar pines that could have easily fallen onto the campsite.

Steep and muddy section of the Boulder Creek Trail
Eddie looking out over one of the burned area along the Boulder Creek Trail
Boulder Creek below, looking north along the Boulder Creek Trail

Campsite at the first ford of Boulder Creek
The campsite at the ford seemed like it would be good, if there wasn't dangerous standing dead trees and it was warmer. Also, if one was looking to hike farther north along the Boulder Creek trail, it could be done, but the water looked about waist deep. It was much cooler along the creek, so after snacking and taking a water break we grabbed our packs and headed back to campsite 2.
Boulder Creek near the first ford along the Boulder Creek trail

Campsite 2 along the Boulder Creek trail
It had been a fairly cloudy day and with dark fast approaching we gathered wood and set up camp. Despite some of the wood being very wet the fire was easy to get started, with a little help from some dead manzanita. The leaves do not take much to go up and the wood burns intensely. While making some tea the sun finally made an appearance. This was one of the best sunsets I have seen since my time on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Me watching the sunset over Boulder Creek Wilderness

Eddie watching the sunset over Boulder Creek.
Sunset from campsite 2 in Boulder Creek Wilderness
Sadly we had to return to town the next day. After making some breakfast we departed for Illahee Flat. The Boulder Creek Wilderness is an incredibly beautiful place that everyone should visit at least once.
Open forest along the Illahee Flat trail

Directions from Glide: Follow Highway 138 east for 29 miles, turn left onto Forest Road(FR) 4760, follow for two miles, turn right onto FR 4760-040, towards the gazebo sign. Continue .1 mile. Trailhead is on the right, camping area is on the left.

Trailhead Elevation:
Approximately 2,160 feet

Hike Distance: 16.3 miles according to Garmin Oregon 550

Hike Type: Out and Back 

Elevation Gain: Approximately 1000 feet, a lot of up and down.

Highest Elevation: 2,700 feet.

Light in winter. 

Difficulty: 4 out of 5

Fees: None

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