Browder Ridge to Heart Lake Trail

Edward looking out at the Three Sisters

Near the junction of Highway 126 and Highway 20 lies Browder Ridge. Old-growth western hemlock, Douglas-fir and Alaska cedar blanket all slopes of the ridge. One can hike this trail from west to east, east to west or arrange a shuttle. In my opinion this hike is best done from the eastern trailhead at Gate Creek. As we set out up the trail I was quickly reminded how steep this section of the trail is, nearly 1400 feet in just less than 2 miles. The impressive and ever-changing forest gives you the sense of being far from any roads and helps dull the pain in your calves.

Old-growth Douglas-fir and western hemlock line most of the lower section

Mount Jefferson looms to the northeast of Browder Ridge
    As you reach the first clearing the forest gives way to an impressive view of the new Cascades. During the early summer months there is a series of breathtaking wildflower displays that rival the more famous and nearby Iron Mountain. In the second meadow there is an epic campsite that would provide for an absolutely incredible sunrise. There are only two drawbacks to camping here, one being that there is no water, the other being that the area is a sensitive meadow. Not trampling vegetation as you make your way to the camp is definitely a challenge, but not impossible. This campsite is at approximately 3.2 miles from the Gate Creek trailhead. 

Wildflowers in the first meadow along the Browder Ridge Trail

Campsite about 3.2 miles in on the Browder Ridge Trail
  Beautiful vistas do not dramatically increase as you continue towards the Heart Lake trail junction. But it is well worth the time to hike up the Heart Lake trail because of a unique rock formation, impressive views, and a very strange mountain hemlock. Disappointingly enough the Heart Lake trail doesn’t appear to lead to its namesake, but the trail could have been obscured by snow still. As you make your way north on this trail there is an impressive and strange mountain hemlock that is split into 4 trunks near the base. This type of splitting is common on the coast redwood, but rarely seen on mountain hemlock. At the end of the Heart Lake trail there is another campsite, with less far less impressive views, but is on a more durable surface. There is a rocky outcropping nearby that is blanketed by hairy manzanita. We wanted to make our way to Three Creeks Brewery before happy hour ended so we turned around and made our way back to Gate Creek. Browder Ridge is a great alternative to Iron Mountain if you want to see beautiful wildflowers while having an incredible view of the new Cascades. As you make your way back Highway 20 there is a large campsite just south of the bridge on Hackleman Creek, this area is perfect for a post hike swim.

There was still a couple of small snow patches

Myself next to a really strange mountain hemlock

Directions from Sweet Home to Gate Creek Trailhead: Follow Highway 20 east for approximately 40 miles, turn right onto Hackleman Creek road. Follow for 1.7 miles, turn right onto Forest Road 1598, and follow for 2.8 miles to the signed trailhead.

Hike Distance:  8.2 miles round trip

Hike Type: Out and Back

Elevation Gain: 1800 Feet

Trailhead Elevation: 3600 Feet

Usage: Light

Difficulty: 4 out of 5

Fees: None

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