Bear Creek


Forest Service Trail #3135

Why? Fine views and an interesting change of greenery

Season: July through September

Ease: Difficult. It’s an elevation change of almost 2,000 feet from either side down to the Tucannon, and the total hike is just 6.7 miles.

The trail up Bear Creek is probably the most diverse trail in the Wenaha-Tucannon if your criteria for diversity is the trail-side landscape you’re hiking past. It’s also got one of the steepest bits of trail in the wilderness, a two-mile stretch that runs up 1,600 feet from the Tucannon River to the trailhead near Hunter Spring.

Which brings up a major decision if you want to hike the entire 6.7miles of trail,Hunter Spring to the Melton Creek Trail near Diamond Peak: the direction to do it in. Although the two miles up from the Tucannon to near Hunter obviously are work, it’s less elevation gain than you have hiking the other way, for the trail tops out at 6,235 near Diamond Peak. Hard call.

For the purposes of this writeup, we’ll start near Diamond, and to reach the Bear Creek Trail from there, you start hiking at the Mt. Misery trailhead near Kelly Camp. After a mile, give or take, the Bear Creek Trail splits off to the right. At first, it looks like most of the other Wenaha-Tucannon high country trails. Wooded sections alternate with open grasslands, coolness alternates with warmth.

From the open areas you’ll be able to see the Bear Creek drainage, deep and dark green with trees, and the “back side” of the Horse Ridge high-country area between Sheephead and Clover Springs. Later on, you’ll also be able to see down the Tucannon River. In total, it’s a nice combination of views. The open areas would probably be good places for wildflowers early in the season.

Eventually, however, the trail heads down to the Tucannon River, a drop of 1,800 feet in a couple of miles. But this elevation change seems less intense than the one to come, up the other side, perhaps because essentially all of it is switchbacked and not bad walking unless the trail hasn’t been cleared of downed trees.

The tree species gradually become those characteristic of the Tucannon River – Pacific yew and cedar - rather than those characteristic of the top country - Douglas and other fir and ponderosa pine.

The trail crosses the Tucannon via a combination of ford, logs and rocks. Then it parallels the river for a bit and crosses a small stream. It actually doesn’t junction with the trail up the Tucannon but with a short spur off it (see directions below).

The rest of the hike is that bit I mentioned at the start, and it’s not exactly well switchbacked. But much of it is through trees, especially big ponderosas, and for most of it you can hear the Tucannon River. There are plenty of big downed trees to sit on, something you may well need. If you’ve choose your resting spot well, you’ll have views down what seems to be the whole of the Tucannon until it turns at it’s confluence with Panjab Creek, or of the area next to Bear Creek you’ve just hiked and the backside of the Wenaha-Tucannon high country. So maybe this bit of the hike isn’t so bad after all, especially for me, now that I’ve done it and don’t have to do it again.

Trail note: Jelly Spring, located at roughly midway along the trail, is on a short spur to the northeast of the Bear Creek Trail, just before the main descent to the Tucannon as hiked from Diamond Peak. There is camping at Jelly.

Directions: The southern end of the trail is a short mile, give or take, from the Diamond Peak Trailhead on the Melton Creek Trail, and on the right. To reach the Hunter Spring Trailhead, take the road along Asotin Creek just before you reach Asotin and take the left fork 3 miles later onto the Cloverland Road. Turn right when the road ends at 29.8 miles after stopping for the great view of both the Wallowas and Seven Devils. Continue straight towards the Clearwater Lookout at mile 32.6, then go to the right on the 40 Road at 35.9 miles, then left at the sign for the Bear Creek Trail on Road 4000 6.4 miles later. The trailhead is 0.3 miles later, on the left.

To reach the trail at its Tucannon River intersect, head left at the end of the Tucannon River Trail and uphill for a few feet. Go left to head to Hunter Spring, right to head for Diamond Peak.

Information: Pomeroy Ranger District, UNF, (509) 843-1891.

Maps: USGS Stenz Spring and Diamond Peak, Washington; Forest Service Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Map.

Connections: The Bear Creek Trail intersects with the Tucannon River Trail and the Melton Creek Trail. A good, though long, through hike with a reasonable car shuttle starts at the Diamond Peak Trailhead and ends at Hunter Spring.