Simply Nahala

Writer. Photographer. Soul Traveler.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Iron Mountain

Iron Mountain Trail is the most beautiful hike to the summit of an extinct volcano. It is located 34 miles east of Sweet Home, Oregon in the Willamette National Forest off of Highway 20. The trail is generally open summer-late fall. According to the National Forest Service, over 300 species of wildflowers can be found along the trail.

I was hoping to catch the alpine meadows in full bloom since early July is generally the best time to view wildflowers, but missed the colorful show due to unseasonably warmer temperatures. Consequently, blooms are occurring earlier than expected.

Regardless, there is much to observe. The Douglass-fir forest dominates the base of the mountain, while subalpine fir covers the top. Noble fir, Pacific silver fir, Mountain hemlock, and Alaska yellow-cedar can also be found along the trail.

The forest is dark, moist, and cool. After having weeks of very warm weather in Central Oregon, the forest felt so refreshing and peaceful. The wildflowers that inhabit the forest floor are nestled in among the dark green ferns and are white or light colored to attract insect pollinators.

There are many switchbacks on the trail, which makes for an excellent workout. As the forest falls behind, and you climb higher and higher, the terrain becomes more dry and rocky. The wildflowers at the higher elevations such as Yarrow, Indian Paintbrush, Flax, and Cinquefoil are well adapted to the dry, shallow soils.

There are two ways to access the panoramic summit: The Civil Road Trailhead and Road 15 Trailhead. The latter is the longer and more arduous trek with a nearly 1,500 feet elevation gain to the summit and a 3.6 total mile hike. If you start at the Civil Road Trailhead, there is a 600 feet elevation gain. You can also hike around Iron Mountain by starting on Civil Road Trailhead and connecting with Cone Peak Trail and Santiam Wagon Road. The loop is 5 miles total, moderate hiking conditions and takes approximately 3.5 hours to complete.

The directions from Sweet Home, Oregon to the Civil Road Trailhead: Travel approximately 32 miles east on Highway 20. Then turn left on Forest Service Road 035 and travel 2.6 miles to the trailhead. This is the quickest route to the top of Iron Mountain, which is a 1 mile hike from this upper trailhead. There are many open meadows on this trail that are great for viewing wildflowers.

The directions from Sweet Home, Oregon to Route 15 Trailhead: Travel east on Highway 20 for 34 miles to Forest Service Road 15 and turn right. The parking lot is located 1/4 mile down the road on the right. The top to Iron Mountain from this trailhead is a 1.8 mile hike. If you want to get a great cardio and leg workout, take this route.

Once you make it to the summit, there is a viewing deck with benches. The newly built deck also serves as a Forest Service fire lookout. You can sit, rest, rehydrate, and take in the gorgeous view of the Cascade Mountain Range.

This sweet chipmunk was so friendly and playful. Just wanted to visit and see if I had any snacks while I was resting on the deck. Chipmunk exudes the energy of adventure and exploration. I always pay attention to animals that cross my path as they often have a message to convey.

The hiking conditions are moderate-difficult due to the elevation gain. There are restrooms located at both trailhead parking areas. A $5 fee or federal outdoor pass is required for day use. Parking along Highway 20 is prohibited.

To learn more about Iron Mountain you can visit or contact Sweet Home Ranger Station at:
4431 Highway 20
Sweet Home, Oregon 97386
The station has a list of plant species found on Iron Mountain.

Happy Hiking!


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