I still can’t decide which is the more captivating: the stiff climb to Jefferson Park inside the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness Area or the broad alpine valley or the “park” itself. Consider the hike up. Stands of Oregon-lush mountain hemlock, cedar, and massive Douglas fir and ponderosa pine crowd the trail for long stretches. Suddenly you burst into a blinding, barren landscape of dark, sharp-edged lava frozen in weird, contorted shapes. Then it’s back into the forest tunnel, and back again onto a lava flow.
When your eyes adjust to the bright light, you see the source of these finger-shaped volcanic intrusions: ice-capped Mt. Jefferson. Not to be outdone, Jefferson Park features broad meadows and a half-dozen lakes at the foot of the 10,497-foot giant, Oregon’s second highest peak. Two of the mountain’s five glaciers, Russell to the west and Jefferson Park to the east, are in plain view. Like I said, it’s a tough choice.
For climbers gripped with summit fever, Jefferson Park and the surrounding wilderness are just a pleasant backdrop to the real work at hand. That’s too bad, because anyone content with a great trail system winding through spectacular alpine scenery will get their fill here.
Jefferson Park is a gateway to more than 160 miles of interconnecting trails, including a wonderful stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail that travels for 36 miles north-south through the wilderness area. Follow the PCT north and in three to four days you’ll arrive at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. Head south from Jefferson Park and you’ll gain access to Pamelia Lake (6.5 miles), Marion Lake (17.5 miles), and the beautiful Eight Lakes Basin (23 miles), which lies just west of 7,841-foot Three Fingered Jack. All three of these heavily wooded lake regions offer great views of the surrounding peaks.