Elk Flat


Forest Service Trail #3241

Why? Views, entry into upper Wenaha River area.

Season: June Through October

Ease: Moderate to difficult, depending on how far you walk. It’s 4.5 miles and 2,100 feet down to the Wenaha River at Wenaha Forks, 21+ miles all the way to the Troy Trailhead of the Wenaha River.

The Elk Flat Trail ranks near the top when I remember wildlife sightings, but wildlife isn’t the only reason I like this trail. It, like the Three Forks Trail, is a fine place for looking over the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness. It’s a woodsy hike, a very quiet, sheltered and shady one. And it’s a good place to start a hike along the length of the Wenaha, or just visit the river’s west end and note the differences from what you see at its Troy end.

The trail is in good condition throughout, mostly dirt with a bit of rock and some needle-covered areas. Its first 3 to 4 miles are dominated by ponderosa pine. Have you ever stuck your nose into one of the wide cracks in the bark and inhaled deeply? Most people catch a delightful vanilla or butterscotch fragrance, especially when it’s warm and the tree is in the sun, though I know one who insisted it was chocolate.

But ponderosa isn’t the only tree, for there's sufficient variety in the vegetation to make it interesting. There are areas with closely packed slender trees as well as mixed woods with larger larch or fir. Some places have no underbrush, just needles under the trees. Others have abundant roses and huckleberries, or tall undergrowth that blocks the view. The scenery comes early, even on the drive to the trailhead. There's the Grand Ronde River as you climb the grade out of Troy, Oregon. Then come glimpses of the Wenaha valley and a panoramic view of Grizzly Bear Ridge and its surroundings.

During the hike there are frequent openings in the trees that show the area you're hiking into as well as the breaks and ridges of the Elk Creek and Wenaha Forks areas. Most of that land is tree-covered with only an occasional rock outcrop or open meadow, as opposed to the more open slopes seen to the east, on the north side of the river.

Everything you see is part of the Wilderness. Everything you see is quiet.

The wildlife highlight of my trip down Elk Flat was a noise. When I first heard it, I thought "bird" and looked up. But a glimpse of brown about 40 yards ahead brought my eyes down to a young elk running through the underbrush. A second brown blur turned out to be a cinnamon-colored black bear, so intent on the chase that he didn't sense our presence. The bear was out of sight when he stopped, but he reappeared in a few seconds snuffling around the underbrush. He shuffled up the trail to within 20 yards of where we stood before we talked to let him know we were there. He took off in the other direction so fast that I don't think he even looked up.

We also saw a mama grouse, puffed-up and hissing as she chased us down the trail. And mule and white-tailed deer and elk, some from the car and some on the trail.

Directions: Drive to Troy, Ore., and across the Wenaha River. Just out of town, take the road to the right signed to Elk Flat (Road 62). It's a narrow gravel road that's mostly in good shape, especially after the grade. Follow the sign to Elk Flat and turn right 2.3 miles from Troy. (At 4.6 miles in there is a public notice sign on the right that contains information about road closures. It is left over from the 1994 hunting season and indicates which roads hunters could and could not use at that time. It does not limit access on Road 62 or on the side road you use to reach the trail.)
Turn right at an unsigned road 21 miles in. The trailhead is about 0.7 mile farther, at the end of that road, where there is also a restroom but no water. (If you see a sign for Elk Flats at a meadow on the right, you've just missed the road.)

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

Maps: USGS Quad Map Wenaha Forks, Oregon; Forest Service Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Map.

Connections: If you leave a car at the Wenaha River Troy Trailhead and start hiking at Elk Flats, you have a fine, several day hike along most all of the Wenaha River. It’s my understanding that the other trails shown on the map at or near Wenaha Forks are not well maintained.