There is something about an alpine meadow filled with wildflowers with craggy mountain peaks as a backdrop that gives me a sense of peace. Beautiful cascading creek? Check. Craggy peaks? How about Three Fingered Jack? Alpine meadow? Hit it in late July and you’ll have abundant wildflowers. Optional scramble to a saddle with even bigger views? Yes, this hike to Canyon Creek Meadows in Central Oregon’s Mount Jefferson Wilderness fits the bill. And if you’re lucky, you might even spy mountain goats, like we did!
Getting to the Jack Lake Trailhead
This hike begins at the Jack Lake Trailhead, and part of the adventure is getting there. The trailhead is about a 85 minute drive northwest of Bend, Oregon. From Bend, head west on Highway 20 33 miles, turning right on Suttle Sherman Road. In one mile, turn left onto paved Jack Lake Road (NF-12) for 4.4 miles, then turn left on one-lane Road 1230. At the end of the pavement, fork left onto NF 1234 , following it as it twists, turns and climbs over a washboard gravel surface for the next six miles. There were plenty of sedans at the trailhead, so high-clearance isn’t absolutely required, but expect to go slowly and carefully in some of the rutted areas. Get turn-by-turn directions via Google Maps.
Hiking to Canyon Creek Meadows
Find the trailhead for Canyon Creek Meadows and follow it around the east side of shallow Jack Lake. Shortly after you reach a junction with Trail 4014. For now, keep left (the Forest Service recommends this to reduce crowds) and continue up the ridge and in the shade.
After a mile of climbing, the trail dips down into Canyon Creek Meadows and begins to follow roughly parallel to Canyon Creek.
The trail continues climbing and passes through several meadows. Even in August there was still plenty of wildflower color to be found. You’ll find blue lupine, red paintbrush, and many other wildflowers.
Two miles in, the trail connects with another trail coming from the right. Stick left to follow the canyon uphill, but make a mental note of this junction. You’ll take this other trail on the way back for a change of scenery.
Along the way, there are a couple of wilderness campsites. While the trail is quite popular on weekends, you could come here on a weekday afternoon, and after a short hike have a beautiful spot for a quick getaway.
At roughly 2.5 miles, the maintained trail ends. This makes a fine spot to stop for a break, and if you’re hiking with kids, probably turn around for the return trip. In our case, we decided to continue to the junction, with a bit of exploring beyond.
It’s readily apparent that the trail is not maintained. It’s loose with scree, and it climbs higher towards the saddle, becomes a spiderweb of trails criss-crossing the steep incline. Trekking poles are extremely helpful.
As you climb, stop to take in the views of what once was the Canyon Glacier (now just a snowfield) with craggy Three Fingered Jack looming above.
From the saddle, there are views of the Three Sisters to the south, and Mount Jefferson to the north. Not pictured, but definitely felt were the strong winds. We were glad to have a shell to cut the brutal, chilling wind.
You might be able to spy someone climbing Three Fingered Jack (we did not). We opted to explore to the north east where social trails wandered to a little plateau, exploring a bit before heading back down. On our way down, we did see two mountain goats, and even caught one in the photo below.
Heading down we turned left at the junction at the lower meadow to follow the creek and form the “loop” portion of this hike. At the junction with the trail from Wasco Lake, keep right. There are several beautiful cascades to enjoy before the trail head back toward Jack Lake through the new forest growth sprouting up from the 2003 fire that burned this area.
Canyon Creek Meadows Trail Map & Elevation Profile
Canyon Creek Meadows Resources
- Late July/Early August is the peak time for wildflowers. See what’s blooming there now.
- Depending on the season’s snowfall, there can be snow on the trail to the upper meadow even in late July. Flexibility and preparedness is key.
- Stay off the meadows (stay on the trails) and collect only photos of wildflowers, abiding by the seven Leave No Trace principles.
- Backpackers must camp 100 feet away from trails and water, and only on durable surfaces (not on a meadow).
Originally hiked on August 4, 2018 with Joan and Daniel.