The Clackamas River and Roaring River Wilderness Areas are part of the Mt. Hood National Forest located around Oregon Highway 224 between Estacada and Detroit. The Clackamas River starts at the foot of Olallie Butte, the river’s tributaries yield some of the wildest trails in Oregon, and the Clackamas Wilderness is divided into five areas.
The Clackamas River Wilderness is over 9000 acres along the wild and scenic Clackamas River preserved by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. It’s bordered by the 36,000 acre Roaring River Wilderness to the east, which was also dedicated in 2009. Lupine and Indian paintbrush are common wildflowers in summer. Lakes in the area include the Rock Lakes and Serene Lake, while Cache Meadow is one of the many alpine meadows. Old Growth cedar and Douglas fir protect the watershed that provides much of the Portland metro it’s drinking water. It’s home to many animals including spotted owls, black bears, cougars, elk, and mule deer.
The Clackamas River is a popular place to kayak, fish, and camp. On a hot day, HWY 224 will be dotted with several recreational users looking to cool down in the snow run-off that makes up the river.
“It’s a little tough to narrow the scope of the trails out here,” says Estacada resident and trail runner Steve Schieberl. “But when you’re talking about the Clackamas / Roaring River area, there are definitely some standouts.”
Clackamas River Trail is the most well-known trail in the region. It follows the Clackamas River for close to eight miles and has a little offshoot trail that leads to Pup Creek Falls.
Dry Ridge Trail starts at the Roaring River Campground on Highway 224 next to the river. It’s a great trail to get some vertical climbing as the first three miles are almost 2500 feet. The snow is usually melted by late April, so it’s a great way to get some vertical training before the Columbia River Gorge is snow-free.
Serene Lake-Rock Lakes Loop is a classic loop in the Rock Lakes Basin in the heart of the Roaring River Wilderness. With an out and back from Shellrock Lake Trailhead, this route is close to 12 miles with 2700 feet of climbing. The loop is highlighted by Cache Meadow at the Cripple Creek Trail junction, where wildflowers bloom in the heart of the summer. Another route in Rock Lakes Basin is Mount Mitchell from Cottonwood Meadows. On a clear day, several Cascades Peaks can be seen from Mount Mitchell.
Schierberl offered a few more of his favorite routes for the more adventurous trail runners.
Cripple Creek to Dry Ridge via Rock Lakes Basin is a 21-mile one-way scramble through some rare trails and beautiful views of the Cascades, Cache Meadow, and several mountain lakes.
Riverside Trail is an oft-overlooked 3.7mi trail that links the Rainbow and Riverside Campgrounds at the end of HWY 224. It’s short, but scenic and an absolute blast to run. It makes a great out-and-back on a lower mileage day, as well as a perfect trail run for youth and beginners.
Fish Creek Mountain/ High Lake is an 8-mile out and back with 2500′ ascent in the Clackamas River Wilderness. To get there, drive past the Indian Henry end of the CRT, find the unofficial trailhead for Fish Creek Mountain. Once parked, head up a few hundred feet of steep switchbacks and take a nearly vanished road to the old, official start of trail #541. The trail is a ridge runner’s delight. It follows the narrow spine over two high points with an out-and-back to High Lake. The true summit yields only evidence of an old fire tower and obscured views, but there are plenty of breaks along the way which peer into the distance from the prominent ridge,
NOTE: The route on Gaia is hand drawn as it is not on most maps. It’s a good enough approximation to follow and the trail is obvious once you’re on it.
While not a trail, Memaloose Rd is worth checking out for its wonderful views and closed course feel. In 2013, the 36 Pit Fire resulted in the closure of Memaloose Road. While the road is being repaired, the lower four miles remain closed. As one of the steepest, sustained paths around, it’s a great place to gain or lose vert fast. It also provides access to Memaloose Lake and South Fork Mountain, Wanderer’s Peak, and Dead Horse Butte.
While there are no trail races in the Clackamas River and Roaring River Wilderness, there are some races close to the area.
Vortex 10k and Half Marathon from Run Wild Adventures is in Milo McIver Park in Estacada.
Timberline Half and Full Marathon is a race that loops around Timothy Lake, just east of Roaring River Wilderness.
Mt. Hood 25k, 50k, and 50-mile races from Go Beyond Racing are also centered around Timothy Lake and other trails, including the Pacific Crest Trail.
Mountain Lakes 100 mile race starts at Ollalie Butte near the head of the Clackamas River. The race takes place on several trails just east of HWY 224 and north to Timothy Lake.
Trail Running Groups
The COVID-19 pandemic has halted races, group runs and having a post-run beer. The things we love most about trail running. JT Lehman started Alpenflo as a way to connect fellow trail runners and other adventurers. So we asked JT how he and Alpenflo are still relating to the community.
The Grind Coffee House in Estacada is a place for coffee, tea, smoothies, bagels, pastries, and more.
Estacada’s Planet Cup of Joe is a drive-through coffee stand for those in a hurry.
Rivers Runs is a small corner store above the marina in Detroit that may not have the best coffee, but the homemade lemon bars are to die for.
Fearless Brewing is a Viking themed brewery in Estacada known for brewing with Clackamas River water. It’s Scottish Ale has won several awards. Fearless offers burgers and sandwiches with vegan options.
Carver Hanger is located right on the Clackamas River in Carver. It’s a great place to have a beer, food, and watch a game after a long outing on the trails.
Korner Post in Detroit is known for its chicken and also its biker crowd. Stop by for a beer and home-style food for those exploring from Bend or Salem.