Waldo Lake Wilderness: Shale Ridge Trail

Forest Road 19 runs between Highway 126 and Highway 58, providing access to some of the most incredible old growth Douglas-fir forest left in Oregon. Leaving from the northern end of Forest Road 19 are the French Pete trail and Rebel Rock Loop. Both of those hikes lead you around the incredible McKenzie River watershed, but the Shale Ridge trail meanders along the North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette.

Nearly flat section of the Shale Ridge Trail
Given the name of the Shale Ridge trail, one would except to be hiking along a ridge, or at least some shale, but for the first 2.5 miles it's nearly flat and leads through some incredible forest. There are towering Douglas-fir, western redcedar and western hemlock, while understory vine maple provide some good fall color. As you make your way down the trail you can hear the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette, but won't see the river until crossing it near 2.5 miles in. Just before reaching the river there are some exceptional western redcedars and a small camp.

Massive western redcedar along the Shale Ridge Trail

Looks like this western redcedar was hungry

Small camp near the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette along the Shale Ridge Trail
The river consists of many channels at this point making for a swampy and fairly tricky crossing. Someone was nice enough to tie pink ribbons to some trees through this area, but finding a safe crossing and relocating the ribbons can provide difficult. I believe this is why many people who hike this trail turn around here, it makes a perfect spot for lunch and the hike is well worth it to this point. Though I continued on for a few more miles past the river crossing.

Western redcedar along North Fork Middle Fork Willamette river

North Fork Middle Fork Willamette along the Shale Ridge trail
After crossing the many channels of the river the trail climbs dramatically along what appears to be a game trail until it reaches a small clearing that provides views of the densely forested valley below.

From here the trail is often difficult to follow and very rugged. I had a very dangerous fall when a boulder slipped from under my foot and nearly trapped one of my legs under as it rolled. Situations like that are why it's so important to let a few good friends or family know where you're going and when you'll be back, because even a couple hours past dark during this time of year could be fatal. The trail continues along the southern bank of the river, though this section is only one fast moving channel. 
North Fork Middle Fork Willamette along the Shale Ridge Trail- Waldo Lake Wilderness

 North Fork of the Middle Fork Willamette along the Shale Ridge trail- Waldo Lake Wilderness
  After enjoying a little bit of sunshine I decided to make my way back to the trailhead in order to have dinner at Brewers' Union Local 180. The Shale Ridge Trail is a great place to enjoy beautiful old-growth forest and to walk near the headwaters of a tributary of the mighty Willamette.

Directions from Eugene: Follow Highway 58 for 31.5 miles, turn left onto Westfir road, continue along this road until it becomes Forest Road 19(Aufderheide) and follow for 30 miles, the trailhead is on the right, marked by a hiker sign.

Hike Distance: 8.7 miles

Hike Type: Out and back, but could be a one-way shuttle.

Elevation Gain: 600 Feet

Highest Point: Just after the crossing of the Middle Fork Willamette

Usage: Light

Difficulty: 3 out of 5

Fees: None

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