Ball Point - Little Badger Creek Traverse Hike
From Portland Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: School Canyon Trailhead
- End point: Little Badger Creek Trailhead
- Trail Log: Little Badger Creek Traverse Hike/Log
- Distance: 8.3 miles (9 miles for complete loop with bushwhack part)
- Elevation gain: 1650 feet (2,150' for complete loop)
- High Point: 4,100 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Seasons: Three Seasons
- Family Friendly: Yes, for older kids
- Backpackable: Yes
- Crowded: No
- Add-on Hikes Flag Point Add-on Hike
This hike explores two less-used trails on the east side of Badger Creek Wilderness. This area is located in the rain shadow of the Cascades, so it gets significantly less rain and snow then the west side of the mountains. In the first mile or so, there are White Oak forests and nice meadows covered with balsamroot, lupine, larkspur, and dozens of other flowers in May and June. Higher up (and along Little Badger Creek), there are Ponderosa pines, with a mix or firs and occasional juniper and oaks. There are some viewpoints to the east onto brown prairie of Central Oregon, which make a stark contrast with lush green mountains around you.
The traverse is described starting from a higher trailhead, and finishing 550 feet lower, which requires going down a very steep 0.7 mile trail section in the middle of the hike. I prefer going steeply downhill and gradually uphill, but you may choose to do it in other direction for that reason. If you add 1/2 mile off-trail hike through open ponderosa/oak forest and 1/3 mile road hike, you may connect the two trailheads and do a complete loop without a need for the second car.
School Canyon trail begins gently uphill on a wide ridge through a pine-oak grassland. There are views to the left all the way to Mt. Jefferson and Three Sisters. As you climb towards Ball Point (yes, that is the name), the trail becomes steeper and leads to a great 270-degree Saddle Viewpoint. Then the trail goes around the north side of Ball Point, through some recently burned trees, and enters more conventional fir/pine forest. After some more climb, steep at times, you head slightly downhill and before long come to nice plateau meadow with thin sparse pines and manzanita bushes. Here, you'll come to a well signed junction with Little Badger Creek Trail, your return route. For now, head straight 300 yards to an unsigned turn to Helispot Viewpoint (there is a sign on Helispot but not at the junction). You'll see Helispot 100 yards left from the main trail - it is flat, treeless area on the edge of the plateau, originally used by fire crews - head there. There are nice views east, up and down Little Badger Creek canyon, and towards Flag Point. There is an established campsite and fire ring at Helispot.
From Helispot Viewpoint, pick a path heading southeast and downhill, to see a "Rock Garden". This short trail goes among big rocks and rock spires rising high from the bottom of the canyon, very interesting place. There is another small campsite among the rocks, with probably more shade than the campsite at Helispot but far away from water source. After exploring the viewpoint and the rocks, go back up to the main trail.
If you are backpacking, you may choose one of the two campsites (just described) with a view, or choose one a little further up the main trail, with a lot of available firewood and a water spring nearby. To locate the spring, go about 100-150 yards more uphill (west) on the main trail, and veer on a side trail on your left. If you pass a campsite on your left, you've gone too far - head downhill through a camp and find a trail heading west. The spring was running good in the middle of July 2011; I don't know if it dries in August/September on a hot summer. The main trail continues 3.7 miles to the lookout on the top of Flag Point.
For your return, head back to a junction with Little Badger Creek Trail, and take it right. It is one steep trail! In just over half a mile you'll lose 800 feet. Down at the canyon bottom there are some historic structures. First, do miss the lower switchback - head straight at this switchback a short way on a side trail, to what looks like a giant burrow. It is Old Kinzel Mine. The mine looks stable and safe (it's carved in a solid rock, with no evidence of ceiling collapse or cracks), so you may check it inside with a headlamp. It is about 80 feet deep and in the back it curves like a "J". There were some mice in the end of the tunnel.
After exploring the mine, head back on the main trail. Soon you'll pass the Miners' Cabin on your left and the last good campsite on your right. You may get more water from Little Badger Creek here; the trail will go way above the creek for the next couple of miles.
After the camp, the trail goes way above Little Badger Creek, even gains elevation a bit for the next mile or so, before starting a gentle descent to the creek again. You'll pass more oak grassland, and some recently burned areas (most of the trees have recovered well). Look for patches of sweet strawberries if you hike there in late June or early July. When you'll get back down to the creek, you know you're getting close to the lower trailhead. There is another flat area suitable for camping at the creek, about 1/2 mile before the lower trailhead.
Side Trip Options
1. It's possible to make a loop out of this traverse hike (see the map). Once you reach the lower trailhead, you may either hike/bike 3.6 miles of the road (2.1 miles paved) between the two trailheads, or you may take a 1/2 mile bushwhack from the lower road (#2710) to the upper (#27) and then hike 1/3 mile of upper road to get back to your car. The 'bushwhack' is not really a bushwhack - the forest has very little undergrowth and the hill is not steep. If you have a compass, keep N or NNE, if not - just hike uphill and then keep your direction when the terrain flats out until you reach road 27, then turn left on the road.
2. You may add a hike from Helispot Viewpoint up to Flag Point and visit a historic lookout. See Flag Point Add-on Hike for details.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Columbia Wilderness and Badger Creek Wilderness
- Link to Google Topo map
- Search Trip Reports for Ball Point
Related Discussions / Q&A
- Search Trail Q&A for Little Badger Creek
Guidebooks that cover this hike
Hiking Mount Hood National Forest by Marcia Sinclair
100 Classic Hikes in Oregon by Douglas Lorain (School Canyon Trail only)