I recently returned from my annual spring trip down to the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood area. As it usually happens, my plans changed during the trip based on weather during my visit. During my trip, I did spend about a day and a half exploring two of Oregon’s old growth forest stands, both of which are located in different parts of the Mount Hood National Forest.
I only learned of this location two weeks before I made my trip (thank you, internet!). Included in the relatively recent declaration of the Clackamas Wilderness in 2009, the Big Bottom area is one of five tracts of land located along the Clackamas River. An old logging road provides easy access to a grove of trees that are part of the Western Hemlock zone. Large tree diameters of 4-7 feet are common and diameters of 8-10 can also be found. It is also rumored that the largest Western Red Cedar in Oregon (approximately 13 feet in diameter) can be found in Big Bottom.
At almost 80 miles up the Clackamas River drainage, it’s location is near the crest of the Cascades. In fact, the forests begin to have much more pine trees only a few miles to the southeast of Big Bottom. Although the hike into Big Bottom begins in one of the last clearcuts before the designation, that doesn’t last long and soon enough, the forest surrounds you. Despite the relative proximity to a major Forest Service road (Road 46), the forest was fairly quiet and peaceful, save for the sound of the breeze moving through the canopy.
The forest isn’t a manicured park; the understory can be barren or a monoculture, and windfall is everywhere. It’s not my idyllic “vision” of what a Pacific Northwest old growth forest would look like but it’s still awe inspiring. It’s hard to imagine what it looked like when the logging road was still active but time has slowly started reclaiming the road. It really is an interesting area and one that I will surely return to in the coming years. Here’s a rough Forest Service Map of the Big Bottom area. I also found this blog post by Matt Reeder very valuable as well.
Old Salmon River
I have visited this spot before, although it has been a few years. Even with my first brief visit, I knew that I needed to return and devote much more time to explore this area properly. This year, I spent nearly five hours wandering the Old Salmon River Trail but *still* only managed to travel about a third of a mile! The Salmon River old growth IS quite close to my ideal old growth. Despite being the same Western Hemlock plant association as the Big Bottom grove (Western Hemlock / Swordfern), the understory is far more diverse and lush. A likely contributor to this is the 20 inches of additional rain that falls in the Salmon River area.
It’s incredible that this gem has managed to survive wedged between tracts of homes and a popular recreation road. I have read that this has deterred some from visiting. Please don’t let this be you! Accessing and hiking the forest is easy and well worth it..