- Your Public Lands
Umatilla National Forest (Walla Walla District), North Fork Umatilla Wilderness
- What To Do
Buck Mountain Trail (#3075) is accessed via the Buck Creek Trailhead (lower) or Lake Creek Trailhead (upper). The trail spans over seven miles, mostly within the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness. At the top, the Buck Mountain Trail, Lake Creek Trail (which terminates at its meeting with Buck Creek Trail), and Umatilla Rim Trail converge roughly half a mile from the Lake Creek Trailhead. At the Buck Creek Trailhead at its lower end, the Buck Mountain Trail meets the Buck Creek Trail and Nine Mile Ridge Trail. This rare intersection of so many trails keeps avid hikers busy changing up routes and creating loops throughout this spectacular wilderness area.
How To Get There
Please do not solely rely on Google Maps as their route might not always reflect what is maintained.
Buck Creek Trailhead (lower): From Walla Walla take HWY 11 south for 21 miles to Athena, Oregon and turn left on Pambrun Road. Travel five miles and enjoy the pristine views as you enter the Umatilla Indian Reservation (Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla). Turn left onto Spring Hollow Road and travel six miles. This road winds down the steep canyon and makes tight turns. It will be hard but necessary to keep your eyes on the road, but this is truly breathtaking landscape. After you cross the Umatilla River, turn left onto Bingham Road/ County Road 900, cross the railroad tracks, and follow Bingham Road/ County Road 900 for 13 miles.
A few miles after exiting the Umatilla Indian Reservation, you will reach the Bar M Ranch and the road becomes gravel. The road is fairly smooth with a few rough patches that all vehicles can pass. Note that Bingham Road becomes Forest Service Road 32 at the forest boundary. Once you reach the gravel, Umatilla Forks campground is roughly 3.5 miles down the road. Just past the campground veer left onto NF-045 (it is actually NF-30 according to Google Maps and the topographic maps) for about a quarter mile to the Buck Creek Trailhead at the end of the road. There is enough parking for about eight vehicles. Those bringing horses should park at the Corporation Trailhead. If you are camping, consider the short jaunt up the road from the campsite a warm-up.
Lake Creek Trailhead (upper): From Walla Walla take HWY 11 south passing through Milton-Freewater, OR and continue for five miles and turn left on Winn Road. Travel another two miles and then turn left onto HWY 204. Take HWY 204 east for approximately 27 miles and turn right on Summit Road / NF-31. Continue for five miles then turn right onto NF-3150 (sign for Lake Creek TH). Drive just over a mile and make a right onto NF-3150-035 (sign for Lake Creek TH). A small parking area is available on your right at the road gate. The trail begins just past the gate on your right.
When To Go
Like many trails in this area, explorers are treated to the best of both worlds. Lower access in the spring while winter still grips the upper reaches of this trail allows for early season exploring. Often in the heat of summer, one could wander the many trails converging 2,000 feet above the river under canopy and unaffected by the direct sunlight. Clocking in at an hour from door to trail (if accessing from the upper trailhead), this part of the forest feels close enough to visit often yet a world away.
What To Expect
If you want a hike the whole family can enjoy, start at the Lake Creek Trailhead. Follow the Lake Creek Trail for a half mile through dense forest to a multi-trail junction. Make a left to join the Buck Mountain Trail and continue through the forest while making a gentle climb. In just two miles, trade the forest for the open ridge line of Buck Mountain and spectacular views of Grouse Mountain, Umatilla Rim Trail, and greater North Fork Umatilla Wilderness. This is a good spot to take in the views and have lunch before making your way back to the trailhead. Otherwise, continue on another three miles following the ridge line to the wilderness boundary. The trail then descends 1,900 feet down to the South Fork Umatilla River to its end at the Buck Creek Trailhead.
If looking for a backpacking loop, the Buck Mountain Trail connects with several other trails including the Nine Mile Ridge Trail , Umatilla Rim Trail, Buck Creek Trail, and Lake Creek Trail. Keep in mind that conditions change rapidly in the forest--flood, slides, and fire to name a few. The lower section of all of these trails are subject to incredible understory growth and are not currently maintained, often making finding and navigating loops challenging.
Wilderness regulations apply in the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness. Such restrictions include no motorized equipment, bicycles, or hang gliders to name a few. Groups larger than twelve are prohibited as well as caching or leaving equipment or supplies for longer than 72 hours. Most applicable to hikers is the fact that short cutting a switchback on any trail is also a violation of wilderness regulations. For a complete list of wilderness regulations visit the Umatilla National Forest website.
We are all so fortunate to recreate in the Blue Mountains. So many opportunities exist to play outside whether in a national forest, wilderness area, on a Wild and Scenic River, and more! With these opportunities comes great responsibility to appreciate that we are mere visitors and should all take pride in being good stewards of the wild. Many animals call these protected places home, including moose, elk, bear, cougar, bobcat, and snakes to name a few. Take precautions to respect their home and understand the appropriate response should an encounter occur. Additionally, many plant species thrive in the Blue Mountains, so staying on trail is always good practice. Carry First Aid supplies to better respond to accidents or encounters, and always let others know where the day's adventure is taking you.
Navigation: Consider downloading the Avenza Map app. This app allows users to upload three maps (or unlimited with a subscription) to use offline. It can track your location offline and overlay GPS data from the phone onto the map. The vehicle use maps (for trails allowing motorized vehicles) are the easiest to use. Otherwise, Geo Tracker offers similar tracking capabilities and additional details about your adventure. If no service, Geo Tracker will at least show your location. The Blue Mountains and surrounding area offer a remote recreating experience, and knowing your location is paramount to staying safe. Always make sure to bring paper maps. Tell others where your adventure is taking you and when you expect to return.
Difficulty Level: Here is what we are thinking when we assign a difficulty level: Day Tripper--You don't have much experience in the area but want to get outside! Great for families of all ages. Adventurer--You know your way around the Blue Mountains and love a leisurely day outdoors. Mountaineer--You are ready for a challenge. Wild places excite you and sweat is the goal. Small children beware. Keep in mind some activities may apply to multiple difficulty levels based on usage.
Pets: In general, pets are allowed on a leash and under control throughout jurisdictions. The only restrictions we have encountered are around swimming areas. As a best practice, be mindful of riparian habitat in general. You never know where a precious spawning area might be located. Pack it in and pack it out applies to your furry friend as well.