Smooth Ridge


Forest Service Trail #3105

Why? Views and connections

Season: July through October

Ease: Difficult. The entire trail is 16.7 miles long with an elevation change of over 4,000 feet from Oregon Butte to the Wenaha River at Fairview Bar.

What arguably are the second best views from the Wenaha Tucannon Wilderness come along the Smooth Ridge Trail, if you concede that of course the Oregon Butte Lookout offers the best. You have to hike a long way to get them – at least 8 miles from Oregon Butte, which is itself 2.2 miles from the nearest trailhead – but the hike itself is worth doing, and the feeling of the place is a lot different than that at Oregon Butte. You’re more out there and alone, with no lookout building – and you’re on your own at identifying, with no fire locater map to help like the one they have at the butte.

Getting to the view spot is an up and down kind of hike, with some nice wilderness views and scenery along the way. There are wet, green areas as well as dry, basalt areas. The best of the latter is the saddle the trail straddles between Danger Point and McBain Spring. It drops off nicely on both sides, with views back toward the Teepee trailhead, West Butte and the ridges to the west. To the east, there’re the Third and Crooked Creek drainages with Wenaha-Tucannon high country beyond and to the north.

Beyond McBain, it’s a pretty standard high Wenaha-Tucannon kind of walk, alternating between open areas and wooded areas with big larch and Douglas fir, between views and no views. If it’s clear, you get the views. If it’s not, you still can enjoy the wilderness and what undoubtedly will be a very quiet bit of time.

The view spot is just past Weller Butte, along a ½ mile or so of trail that’s out in the open, just before the trail heads down to Twin Spring. In that ½ mile, you see the Seven Devils, the Wallowas, and the mountains near Pendleton - plus everything in between, which is amazingly flat. When you’ve views to the north and the east, you also see the wilderness, including Oregon Butte and it’s lookout.

The trail continues on down hill past Twin Spring and the top of one fork of Weller Creek, and becomes more decidedly downhill once past the junction with the Packer Trail to the east. It’s definitely in the woods most of the way, with small water crossings and now-and-again springs. Ponderosa pine dominate as you near the steeper downhill, and the undergrowth gets drier than what was in the woods higher up.

Once on the serious downhill, it’s open grassland until a final creek drainage before Fairview Bar and the Wenaha. Although that last drainage is steep, the rest of the trail is pretty well switched backed. And the creek drainage itself is a god spot for elk. I’ve seen them there more than once, and I’ve seen them on the next ridge over to west.

Trail Notes: There are several springs between Oregon Butte and the Wenaha. McBain is a well-worn trail off to the left once you come up off the saddle from Danger Point. Huckleberry Spring is a stream about 2 miles from McBain, and Retkowski Spring is a puddle, at least in the fall. Lodgepole is signed, and the water is down the hill a bit in a tub with a trail to it.

Once past Weller Butte, there are springs and water crossings fairly often. At Mud Springs, where there’s a log trough to the left of the trail, take the trail to the right up out of the spring area. To the left is just a big hunters camp.

Directions: The Wenaha end of the trail is 9.1 miles up the Wenaha River from the Troy trailhead, and the northwest end of the trail is 2.2 miles from the Teepee Trailhead at Oregon Butte, north and slightly east of the lookout.

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

Maps: USGS Oregon Butte and Diamond Peak, Washington, and Eden, Oregon: Forest Service Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Map.

Connections: The trail connects with that to Oregon Butte from Teepee , from Panjab or Rattlesnake or Mount Misery and, of course, the Wenaha.