Badger Creek Wilderness Loop: Little Badger Creek and School Canyon Trails

Sunset in the rock garden in the Badger Creek Wilderness

Badger Creek Wilderness is located within a very interesting and strikingly beautiful ecosystem. Near the eastern boundary drought stunted Oregon white oak populate the grasslands, while the western portion is home to western juniper, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, and grand fir. Stunning views east to the 'Oregon Plains' along with beautiful and varied forest make this a great destination for early season backpacking.

A fairly large ponderosa pine along Little Badger Creek

Little Badger Creek along the Little Badger Creek Trail

After pouring over maps for a few days and endless web searches Caitlin and I decided to start our hike at the Little Badger Creek Trailhead. Since it was only going to be about 9 miles round trip we were unsure if we wanted to camp at the Rock Garden or along Little Badger Creek near the dilapidated cabin. The road to Little Badger Creek Trailhead is well maintained and could easily be accessed with a 2wd car. From the trailhead the trail starts to climb slightly while closely following Little Badger Creek. After about one mile you will enter into a lightly burned area that is rapidly recovering. There are also many Oregon white oak near the top of the ridge.

Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine seedlings quickly establishing themselves in a burn area

Nearly a pure stand of Oregon white oak along the Little Badger Creek Trail

Oregon white oak and ponderosa pine along the Little Badger Creek Trail

After walking along a ridge for about one mile you start to descend towards Little Badger Creek where there is an old mining cabin and a mine shaft. We thought about camping near the old cabin, but because of the stream and dense forest it was fairly chilly. There is also an incredibly steep .7 mile climb that didn't want to start the next day with. If you want to check out the mine walk about .1 mile along the well established trail west from the cabin.

Oregon white oak along the Little Badger Creek Trail

Early season wildflowers

Old Kinzel mine cabin along the Little Badger Creek Trail

Kinzel Mine entrance along the Little Badger Creek Trail
After making our way up the nearly 1000 foot climb in about 7/10 of a mile, we set out for the spring that is just passed the Rock Garden. We came across a few guys who were camped near the spring so we ended up camping at the old Helispot Viewpoint. From here we had about a 2/10 of a mile walk down to the spring and incredible views of the Rock Garden and east towards the plains. 

Western juniper along the Little Badger Creek Trail

Looking up the steep section near the old mining cabin

Campsite in the Rock Garden

View from the Helispot Viewpoint
Both sunrise and sunset were incredible from the Helispot. After a quick breakfast we set out east on the School Canyon Trail. I couldn't find any rational for why the trail was named this unfortunately. Areas that rapidly transition from one forest type to another quickly are always incredible to me. Portions of the School Canyon Trail have been burned, but the now open forest provides beautiful views to the north and east.

Sunrise from the Helispot Viewpoint in the Badger Creek Wilderness

Looking northeast along the School Canyon Trail

Clear view towards the northeast along the School Canyon Trail
As you make your way around Ball Point and begin to descend views of Mount Jefferson (Seekseekqua) and the Three Sisters appear to the north. The transition from conifer dominated forest to shrubby Oregon white oak is quick as you make your way across the flat near the School Canyon Trailhead.
Mount Jefferson (Seekseekqua) and the barely visible Three Sisters

Shrubby Oregon white oak along the School Canyon Trail
After reaching the School Canyon Trailhead we walked for about 3/10 of a mile and then turned south towards the Little Badger Creek Trailhead. The road walk along Forest Road 27 wasn't too bad, the gravel is relatively small, so it didn't tear up our feet. 'Bushwhacking' down to the trailhead turned out to be really easy with the exception of a short steep section. We ended up shooting slightly west of the trailhead and came out back on the Little Badger Creek Trail about 1/10 of a mile from the trailhead.

Caitlin 'bushwhacking' back towards the Little Badger Creek Trailhead

Directions from The Dalles: Follow Highway 197 south for 26.9 miles, turn right on to Shadybrook Road, follow for 1.1 miles, turn left onto Fairgrounds Road, follow for .6 miles, turn right onto Badger Creek Road/Happy Ridge Road, follow for 8.1 miles. The trailhead parking is on the left and the trail starts on the right side of the road.

Hike Distance: 9 miles round trip

Hike Type: Loop

Elevation Gain: 2,000 Feet

Trailhead Elevation: 2,100 Feet

Usage: Light

Difficulty: 2 out of 5

Fees: None

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