Old growth trees, fall color, a scenic drive, and hiking in an unexplored area are what drew us to the Old Growth Ridge Trail a couple weeks ago. Have you heard of Old Growth Ridge? The trail head is located in the Whittaker Creek Campground not far off Highway 126 (roughly half way between Eugene and Florence).
To reach the ridge, hikers have the choice to take the shorter (and steeper) Old Growth Ridge Trail or the longer (and less steep) Armantrout Loop. On our way up, we chose the shorter trail, and I will tell you that it is steep. I had to take several opportunities to stop and catch my breath, which frankly wasn’t a bad thing because it meant stopping to enjoy the forest surroundings, the large Douglas fir trees, and the occasional signs explaining the history and ecology of the area.
When we reached the summit, I was breathing hard, and after all that work, I’ll admit that I was disappointed. With a name like Old Growth Ridge and the steepness of our climb, I was expecting spectacular views from the top. Instead, there were no views at all — the trail simply circles a tree.
For a change of pace, we took the longer Armantrout Loop trail, on our way down, and I’m glad we did. Not only was it easier to navigate, but it drops down into a riparian zone along Whittaker creek, which is a totally different experience than the steeper Ridge Trail.
All-in-all, I found this hike enjoyable, despite my disappointment about the lack of a view. The hillsides are covered with lush ferns and ancient stumps from old-time logging (in fact, the trail often reminded me of the local SwordFern Trail). The fall colors did not disappoint, the trees were huge, the loop trail provided variety to the hike, and the sounds of song birds often kept us company as we walked. And, with the campground closed, we basically had this 3.5 mile loop trail to ourselves.
The easiest way to reach the Whittaker Creek Campground/Recreation Site and the Old Growth Ridge Trail is to head up to Eugene and go out Highway 126 toward Florence. About 20 miles from the stoplight in Veneta, take a left onto Siuslaw River Road and follow the signs. In all, it is about a 1 hour drive from Cottage Grove. The campground is only open in the summer, so at other times you’ll have to park along the road and walk in. To reach the trail head, take the foot bridge over Whittaker Creek and head left, or follow the campground road clockwise from the gate. (While you are in the area, you might consider visiting the Wildcat Covered Bridge which is near by.)
Coming home, we chose to follow Siuslaw River Road south, past Clay Creek Recreation Area, past Alma, and through Loraine. It took us almost exactly 1 1/2 hours for this more scenic route, complete with fall color.
Finally, this handy brochure by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has a map of the campground as well as a map on how to reach the campground (https://www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/files/brochures/Whittaker_Creek.pdf)