- Your Public Lands
Umatilla National Forest (Walla Walla Ranger District), North Fork Umatilla Wilderness
- What To Do
Grouse Mountain Trail (#3081) begins at Zig Zag Springs Trailhead. Walk 0.8 miles along Lick Creek Trail (#3070) to the junction. At the junction, continue on Grouse Mountain Trail (the trail to the right) for 1.7 miles. This trail is out-and-back and follows the Grouse Mountain ridgeline. Thanks to the Blue Mountain Land Trust's Blues Crew, the trails and various features of the trails are well marked.
How To Get There
Please do not solely rely on Google Maps as their route might not always reflect what is maintained. From Walla Walla, take HWY 11 south through Milton-Freewater, OR. Travel another five miles and turn left on Winn Road. Follow this little backroad for two miles and then turn left to connect with HWY 204. Just past mile post 14, turn right on McDougall Road. Travel three miles on this gravel road to its end, which is Zig Zag Springs Trailhead.
When To Go
Late spring is a great time to start enjoying this trail. Even when Tollgate, Oregon receives fresh snow, this area is down the mountain just enough to skirt late season snow showers. Use your best judgement on the trail if it turns out there is snow present. As an example, we hiked this area late May and many areas are still quite muddy. Bring sunscreen for summer hikes and a good jacket in the fall. Most of the trail is exposed to the elements. This is a great trail to repeat throughout the year to take advantage of the changing season.
What To Expect
The Grouse Mountain Trail is a family-friendly hike. The views are big the entire trail, and there is little net elevation gain. There are a few abrupt ascents/ descents that will require effort and shoes with good traction, but for perspective our five-year-old was able to complete the entire trail. Typically, trails in this area start diving down the mountain to their lower trailheads near the Umatilla Forks Campground area. Traversing up and down a mountain with little ones is often challenging. In contrast, this trail stays on the ridge and overlooks the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness. The trail fades away into the landscape at its end, but if you follow the ridge to its point you get a view of the Umatilla River down below. Clocking in at under an hour from town and only three miles of gravel road, it really is a spectacular area to enjoy the Blue Mountains.
Because there is ample room at the trailhead, it is also a great place to bring family who might not be as mobile or trail ready. The views are fantastic without even stepping foot on the trail. Those wanting to stretch their legs for a few miles could enjoy the Grouse Mountain Trail, and other folks could bring a set of binoculars and be equally as entertained. There is a viewpoint less than 100 yards from the trailhead as well. Meet up for a picnic back at the trailhead, and everyone in the family can enjoy a day in the wilderness.
None required to park at Zig Zag Springs Trailhead.
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 shortcutting 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.
Pack in and pack out. There are no vault toilets in the area.
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.