- Your Public Lands
Umatilla National Forest (Walla Walla Ranger District), North Fork Umatilla Wilderness
- What To Do
Nine Mile Ridge Trail (#3072) is a 6.8 mile trail that starts at the Buck Creek Trailhead (lower trailhead). Three trails start at the Buck Creek Trailhead. Walk a very short distance from the trailhead to where the three trails split. The Nine Mile Ridge Trail is on the left and immediately climbs. The Buck Creek Trail (#3073) is the center trail, and Buck Mountain / Buck Rim Trail (#3075) is off to the right. We never officially found a sign but noticed not far up the trail a sign that points hikers down the mountain to the aforementioned trails. The trail ends at its junction with the Umatilla Rim Trail (#3080) 1.5 miles north of the Nine Mile Trailhead.
How To Get There
Please do not solely rely on Google Maps as their route might not always reflect what is maintained. To start at the Buck Creek Trailhead (lower trailhead) take HWY 11 for 21 miles to Athena, Oregon and turn left on Pambrun Road. Travel five miles and enjoy the farmlands as you enter the Umatilla Indian Reservation (Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla). Turn left onto Spring Hollow Road and go six miles. This road winds down the steep canyon and makes tight turns but offers a great view. 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 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.
To start at the Nine Mile Trailhead (upper trailhead), take HWY 11 south passing through Milton-Freewater, OR and continue for five miles then 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 three miles and turn right on NF-287 at the sign for Umatilla Rim Trail (#3080). There is a large parking area and a pond. Walk north along the Umatilla Rim Trail for 1.5 miles to meet an unmarked junction with Nine Mile Ridge Trail heading west into the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness.
When To Go
From the lower trailhead, the Nine Mile Ridge Trail is a perfect candidate for an early spring trail. Make sure to call the ranger station if flood conditions are mentioned throughout the valley. The road may close due to high water or danger of washout. The wildflowers in the spring make the effort worth it. The cooler temperatures don't hurt either. Come summer, the areas of exposed hillside might motivate an early morning departure.
What To Expect
Expect to climb up the mountain at a very doable slope. Our young children managed surprisingly well, and the thought occurred to me that trail running this area could be fun. A few drainage crossings make for slick conditions. The trail is not maintained regularly so be prepared to duck under a tree or two, push down brush, and navigate areas of slight wash-out on the trail. None of these obstacles should prevent an adventure. The trail is never lost. Whether conquering all 13.6 miles out-and-back in one day or going with where the day takes you, this trail will go down as memorable.
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 applicable to those within the , visit the Umatilla National Forest website.
Pack in and pack out. There are no vault toilets in the area. The nearest vault toilet is at Umatilla Forks Campground and Umatilla Forks Day-Use Area not far back down the road.
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.