When you need a little peace of mind, there’s nothing better than a backcountry trek. But on my first hike in Oregon’s Bull of the Woods Wilderness, I started feeling slightly schizophrenic when I found myself alternately wanting to shout with exuberance, then whisper.
My shout-out-loud side was inspired by mountaintop views that stretch all the way from the Three Sisters in central Oregon to Mt. Rainier in central Washington, with nearby Mts. Hood and Jefferson scraping the sky. My silent side came out in the overpowering stillness of the wilderness’s old-growth forest. Add steep ridges, summer wildflowers galore, nearly a dozen trout-filled lakes, and three clear-water rivers, and this 35,000-acre Cascade Range wilderness has something to satisfy all of your moods.
Though Bull of the Woods is relatively close to Portland, it’s one of the Cascades’ best-kept secrets. An interconnecting trail system allows you to create various loops, most of which eventually lead you to the site of the abandoned Bull of the Woods Fire Lookout, where the view may prompt you to let loose a shout or two.
For an old-growth drainage tour, Bagby Hot Springs Trail is hard to beat, but in good weather it bustles with backpackers and bathers. During the summer, I prefer the quieter Pansy Lake Trail, which puts you on a fast track to the heart of the wilderness. After a humbling encounter with the forest’s large-diameter, centuries-old hemlocks and Douglas firs, the route climbs east past Dickey Lake, then gains a ridgeline with access to the high country. From Bull of the Woods peak, various trail options allow hikes as long as a 40-mile loop poking into the most remote wilderness recesses.
As summer progresses, July rhododendron blooms give way to the creamy floral stalks of beargrass. Thunderstorms scrub the air clean. And deep in the old-growth quiet of the Cascades, a few hikers can usually be found wandering around, getting in touch with their silent side.