Canyon Creek Meadows

Hike: A relatively easy 4½-mile loop with 400 feet of elevation gain reaches Canyon Creek’s lower wildflower meadow with views of the east face of Three Fingered Jack. A challenging 7½-mile loop with 1,400 feet of elevation gain reaches a glacial lake and the upper meadow’s viewpoint.

Season: Mid-July through October

Directions: From Bend, drive U.S. Highway 20 about 12 miles northwest of Sisters. At a Mount Jefferson Wilderness Trailheads sign, turn north on paved Road 12 for 4.4 miles. Turn left on one-lane Road 1230 for 1.6 miles to the end of pavement, and stay left onto Road 1234, which climbs 6 miles to the Jack Lake Trailhead.

Fees: Northwest Forest Pass or $5 day pass

The rocky, exposed trail became increasingly steep as we worked our way up toward the shoulder of Three Fingered Jack.

Nearing the viewpoint, we had to use our hands to negotiate the tricky terrain. Once we reached a flat area near the peak — about as far as we could climb — we took in the views of the Three Sisters and Mount Washington to the south, and of Mount Jefferson to the north.

The craggy, spired north face of Three Fingered Jack was just a few hundred feet away, towering over a glacier that was beginning to melt in the midsummer sun.

My 9-year-old son Mason and I had started the Canyon Creek Meadows hike knowing that the trek would become more and more difficult as we climbed above the wildflower meadows and got face-to-face with Jack.

The extra effort allowed for the 360-degree alpine vista in the heart of the Cascade Range and up-close views of the eroded summit pinnacles of 7,841-foot Three Fingered Jack. And as we descended the somewhat treacherous trail, we glanced at the cliff side to the south and noticed four mountain goats taking an early-afternoon nap. We watched as they got up and walked slowly down the rugged slope to feed on some plants.

Diverse wildlife, incredible mountain views, and abundant, colorful wildflowers make the Canyon Creek Meadows loop one of the most popular hikes in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness.

While certain trails farther north within the wilderness — including all access points to Jefferson Park and about 30 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail — are currently closed due to the Whitewater Fire, the Canyon Creek area and Jack Lake Trailhead remained open as of Wednesday, according to the Deschutes National Forest’s Sisters Ranger District. For updates on the fire and trail closures, visit and click on “Whitewater Fire Update.”

The hike along the Canyon Creek Meadows Loop to the lower meadow is just 4½ miles with only 400 feet of elevation gain, making it ideal for families and kids. The option to hike to the upper meadow and the viewpoint saddle where Mason and I terminated our ascent make the trek much harder: a 7½-mile hike with 1,400 feet of elevation gain, including the steep, rock-strewn path up a glacial washout plain to the shoulder of Three Fingered Jack at 6,500 feet.

For those capable, the 3 additional miles are well worth the effort for a chance to get close to the eroded core of the extinct shield volcano.

Last month during a camping trip on the Metolius River, Mason and I made the 20-minute drive from our campsite to the Jack Lake Trailhead (about one hour from Bend).

The unpaved road leading to the trailhead (Forest Road 1234) is rough washboard most of the way, so the drive is fairly slow going.

The trail starts out at Jack Lake and climbs gradually into the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. A bonus of this loop hike is that the U.S. Forest Service asks hikers to walk the loop clockwise, thereby limiting the number of trail users encountered. Indeed, we saw only a couple of other hikers until we reached the out-and-back trail through the upper meadow.

The early part of the hike climbs through a section of wilderness still recovering from the 2003 B&B Complex Fire, then descends through deep woods to the lower meadow. It seemed odd to be descending during the middle parts of the hike, but we soon arrived at the green meadow — dotted with gold, red and violet wildflowers. The jagged spires of Three Fingered Jack dominated the horizon and jutted into the blue sky, and Canyon Creek gurgled through the colorful meadow.

The trail blazed a ribbon of singletrack up through the green grass toward the peak. There, the climbing became much steeper and the trail turned from dirt to rocky shale.

Climbing up there along a precipitous, rocky trail proved arduous, but we made it, as I stayed behind Mason in case he slipped. At the top of the ridge, the melting snow glimmered a bluish green about 100 feet below, right at the base of the craggy peak. The drop was nearly straight down, and I made sure Mason knew to stay back.

From there, we continued on just a little farther to the viewpoint saddle and the panoramic view.

The hike back on the loop included intricate beaver dams along Canyon Creek and a picturesque waterfall before the trail descended back through the burned snags.

We grew hot and tired as the trail took us out of the forest canopy and back into the burn area. Without shade, the last couple of miles became a sweaty slog to the trailhead.

After about four hours of hiking, we made it back to Jack Lake, pretty exhausted but filled with memories of mountains, meadows, glaciers and goats.

— Reporter: 541-383-0318,