North Fork Middle Fork Willamette Trail: Segment Five

North Fork Middle Fork Willamette
Over the past 20 years both Oakridge and the Middle Fork Ranger District have dramatically shifted priorities from logging to outdoor recreation. This shift has lead to Oakridge becoming a world-class mountain bike destination. Some trails in the area are primarily used by mountain bikers, but all are open to hikers. After recently hiking the Shale Ridge trail, I thought it would be great to check out a section of the partially completed North Fork Middle Fork Willamette trail. Segment Five runs from Forest Road( FR) 1944 to the Shale Ridge trailhead. The Forest Service plans to eventually have a 35 mile trail that runs from Westfir to the Shale Ridge trailhead. But for now there are a few unconnected sections. I was short on time so the plan was to hike about 3 miles down the trail.

Trailhead sign along North Fork Middle Fork Willamette


Beautiful native forest along N.Fork M.Fork Willamette
The only decent parking is just after crossing the bridge across the N.Fork M.Fork Willamette. As we walked back to the trailhead it looked like we might be getting our feet wet, but the trail quickly veered away from the river and surrounding very moist riparian area. Normally this area would be under snow in early January, but because of our odd winter there was only a few icy patches of snow left. The large number of fallen leaves mostly from vine and bigleaf maples made the trail somewhat hard to follow in a couple of places. 

Short, but cold icy section along the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette Trail


Douglas-fir and western redcedar that have grown together at the base
Small campsite on the river bank
Although this trail isn't more than a few hundred yards from the paved FR 19 it feels like you are deep within a wilderness. Massive old-growth Douglas-fir, western redcedar and western hemlock line the majority of the trail, though there are sections of red alder, bigleaf and vine maple in sites that are frequently under water. Also we came across one sugar pine that had dropped massive cones all around. There are relatively few sugar pines in this area, so it's always fun to find them.

Massive Douglas-fir along the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette trail


 Greg holding a sugar pine cone

Red alder along the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette Trail
 Sadly because of the relatively long drive here and the impending storm we had to turn around at around 3 miles in, but found an awesome western redcedar to take a break under. After the snow begins to melt in spring I would definitely like to hike this trail from end to end. 

Massive western redcedar


Brewers' Union Local 180 is the best place to stop for awesome cask ale and food after hiking near Oakridge. 

Directions from Eugene: Follow Highway 58 for 27.5 miles, turn left onto Westfir road, continue along this road until it becomes Forest Road 19(Aufderheide) and follow for 27 miles, turn right onto FR 1944, follow for .25 miles until you cross the N.Fork M.Fork Willamette.

Hike Distance: 6 miles

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

Elevation Gain: 200 Feet

Highest Point: Near the turn around point, though it keeps climbing to the Shale Ridge trailhead

Usage: Light

Difficulty: 2 out of 5

Fees: None



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