Distance: 13 miles
Time: 2+ days
Difficulty: moderate to difficult (approx. 3000 ft. gain)
Season: July to October
Permit: Northwest Forest Pass required
Dog Friendly: Yes, the trail doesn’t have much for steep drop offs, there is regular water access, and plenty of shade (aside from a couple sections that seem unrelenting) Note: some sections are kinda rocky…so know your pooches limits…especially if they have sensitive paws. Our dogs were plenty excited for a post hike swim…and it was hard to keep them out of the water.
Pros: Wildflower filled meadows, multiple stream crossings for yourself and your furry friends, views of Mt. Jefferson, alpine lakes
Cons: Busy…tons of people…and what they leave behind. We ended up burning a bunch of TP…it seems many of Jefferson Park’s backpackers have forgotten the principle of leave no trace; there is also a fire ban usually util September or October. We hardly passed anyone on the South Breitenbush trail, but Jefferson Park was quite busy.
Jefferson Park is one of those fabled gems that my parents still speak fondly of…many, many years after their first visit. And it’s true, the scenery is absolutely stunning and so worth every ounce of sweat to get there. Following the South Breitenbush trail you’re graced with a rushing river, a damp forest, open vistas, meadows bursting with wildflowers, views of Mt. Jefferson, and crystal clear alpine lakes….what more can a backpacker ask for? Well, I guess some solitude would be nice too.
Most people take the Whitewater trail or the Park Ridge trail into the park, but we wanted a more challenging hike with fewer people, and that’s exactly what we got. There was only one other car in the parking lot and when we hiked out the next day there were only two other cars. I would definitely hike this trail again, but I am interested in checking out the other two as well.
Over the first 1 1/2 miles the trail passes multiple little creeks and begins gaining elevation pretty quickly. The trail continues on a generally uphill path for the next few miles. If you’re feeling inclined to punish yourself further at about two miles in there is a junction with the Bear Point trail…I’m sure there are great views, but we simply weren’t interested.
After the Bear Point junction the trail gets steeper, rockier and more exposed. If you’re game to leave the trail by a couple of dozen feet you might find a partial view of Mt. Jefferson.
Once you’re about 3 1/2 miles in you’ll stumble into a gorgeous meadow and you’ll forget all about the trudge up the hill. The trail meanders through the meadow, running along the streams and around little ponds.
After about three miles more you will finally enter Jefferson Park with it’s postcard perfect views of the mountain and it’s jewel toned lakes. There are three main lakes here: Russell, Scout and Bays. It’s important to note that camping is ONLY allowed at the spots marked by a post. The area has been loved to death by it’s biggest fans, so please tread lightly, leave no trace, and respect the wilderness. Park rangers are more than happy to fine those who build a fire (during the ban) and/or camp outside the designated spots.
To complete the hike, you simply return the way you came.
There are many options for daytrips from Jefferson Park and I think it would be worth it to stay an extra day or two. You could hike up to Park Ridge for the view of Mt. Jefferson, explore the many lakes, amble along a section of the PCT…you get the picture.