Ochoco National Forest: Payten Trail to Big Ford

Looking down into Black Canyon Wilderness
After several trips out to Ochoco National Forest last summer I was determined to get back again this year. One of my favorite sections of the Ochoco Mountain Loop was down the Payten Trail to Big Ford. The relatively high starting point of the trail means that you will be walking downhill nearly all the way to camp, which is a blessing and a curse. 

Campsite near the Payten Trailhead

Lupine is everywhere in the Black Canyon Wilderness
The Black Canyon Wilderness is an incredibly beautiful place and being that it is several hours from any major population centers, you will likely find yourself alone out here. Because we ended up going out on Memorial Day weekend, we came across two other backpackers and two local day hikers. It was only a short 4 miles or so down to Big Ford, so in the morning we weren't in a hurry. There was one other vehicle near the trailhead, but they didn't seem to be into hiking.

Edward looking down the nearly flat start of the Payten Trail

The first glimpse of the Black Canyon

Edward and I near the Black Canyon Wilderness entry sign
This trail is still only somewhat built and as you descend there are many wood stakes the were placed to mark the future trail. It seems somewhat tacky to leave them out for over a year and not finish the trail. There are some fairly steep and rocky sections  before you reach the open switchbacks just above Black Canyon Creek. 


Lindsay looking at some of the wildflowers

View of the Black Canyon Wilderness on along the Payten Trail

Edward looking down Black Canyon towards the John Day River
Once you reach the open meadows you're very close to the junction with the Black Canyon Trail, which bisects the entire Black Canyon Wilderness. It is 13.7 miles from Boeing Field Trailhead to the John Day River. Big Ford is a relatively shallow crossing of Black Canyon Creek, that provides access to the 5.5 mile long South Prong Trail. This trail is similar to the Payten Trail, in that it drops steeply into the Wilderness after a short flat portion. When we hit the junction with the Black Canyon Trail, we ran into the other two backpackers. They were as surprised to see us as we were to see them. Thankfully they had already set up camp several miles up Black Canyon Creek and were just exploring for the day.

Big Ford along the Black Canyon Trail

Lindsay hanging out in camp at Big Ford

The view south near Big Ford along the Black Canyon Trail
The remainder of the day we just wandered around in every direction from camp.  There were many things to be seen, including wildflowers, large game and Paiute rock carvings. 

Looking east towards the John Day River

Indian paintbrush is also commonly found in the Black Canyon Wilderness

Looking north near Big Ford

Beautiful flowers abound in the Black Canyon

Kincaid lupine along the Black Canyon Trail

Park-like stands of ponderosa pine near Big Ford in Black Canyon Wilderness
We sadly only had one night out, so we headed back to the Payten Trailhead in the morning. Clouds threatened rain briefly in the morning, but only produced a few sprinkles here and there.

First trip with the new backpack

Caitlin, Edward, and Lindsay hiking up the Payten Trail
Directions from Paulina: Follow Highway 380 for 3.5 miles, turn left onto Beaver Creek Road, follow for 7.5 miles, merge onto FR 42 for 1.5 miles, merge onto FR 3810 for 6.5 miles to FR 38, turn right, follow FR 38 for 10.5 miles to the well marked trailhead on the left.

Hike Distance: 8 miles round-trip

Hike Type: Out and back

Elevation Gain/Elevation Loss: 1,800 feet

Trailhead Elevation: 5,300 Feet
Usage: Light

Difficulty: 4 out of 5 

Fees: None

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