Chico and Davis Creek Trails


Forest Service Trails #1658 and #1660

Why? Fine stream

Season: June through October.

Ease: Moderate.

Walking Davis Creek is like walking the definition of the word “meander.” The creek is six to ten feet wide as it flows toward its junction with Swamp and then Joseph Creeks, and I don’t remember a straight stretch of more than 20 feet. It made me wonder about the relationship between the width of a stream or its water flow to how often and sharply the stream can bend to make meanders. I’m sure it’s related to principles of physics.

Getting to Davis Creek requires hiking 1 mile and 800 feet or so in elevation down. If the weather’s clear, there’s a smashing view of the Seven Devils right at the start. If you’re lucky and the Devils have fresh snow, the mountains will be totally white. A bit farther down, on the first real switchback, the Wallowas are visible up the creek’s valley. The angle is unusual, for Chief Joseph Mountain dominates the picture rather than being just that “little hill” in front of all the rest of the mountains.

Once you reach the creek, however, you’ll see mostly woods for a mile or so, then woods alternating with openings. They are nice woods, with good-sized trees including ponderosa and lodgepole pine along with Douglas fir. Some of these woods are part of the old growth reserve that there are signs for along the way.

A short section of the first part of the trail runs along a fence that protects an area adjacent to the creek. There are several of these “exclosures,” bits of land set aside to help improve stream-side health by reestablishing vegetation and improving wildlife habitat. It’s kind of odd, hiking along a fence, but nice to know that protecting these habitats is a priority.

Once the views open up, the mostly bare-of-trees slopes of Savage Ridge are visible across the creek. On the uphill side, there are occasional glimpses of a burned area between the trail and the highway. This is part of the 1986 Joseph Creek burn that roared through more than 100,000 acres and threatened the nearby Rimrock Inn several times.

When I hiked the trail, we started in an inch or so of new snow, with just buttercups and the sounds of a hawk overhead for relief. But the trail soon cleared of snow, and we saw many different flowers along the way. The highlights of the hike for me were some animals we didn’t see. In a muddy patch we saw clear prints of a mother bear and cub. Then when we stopped for lunch I almost sat on a large bear scat. In another spot we repeatedly heard a drumming ruffed grouse. Though we took time off from hiking to try to find him, we couldn’t. Maybe one day I’ll get lucky and actually see one of them drumming – it’s a lifelong wish to do so.

The only real disappointment in the few miles up and down Davis we walked was that we didn’t see much if any of Joseph Canyon itself. That would have required a much longer hike, or as my forest map suggests, a drive along a different road to a trailhead on Joseph Creek itself.

Trail Notes: We lost the trail several times during our hike, something I’d been warned of because there are well-used cow trails in area. But it wasn’t a problem, for we quickly realized when we were off trail and easily could find where we should have been. To save you time, however, when you gently turn right next to a small pond on the Chico trail, the trail takes a sharp right downhill. And along Davis, maybe 1½ miles down that trail, there’s a spot where it looks as if the trail crosses the creek. It doesn’t, though if the creek is shallow, it’s narrow enough to cross and re-cross a bit farther down. Instead, I advise bushwhacking along the left bank or heading up the hill to where the trail really is.

Directions: Turn left on the road between mileposts 22 and 23 on Oregon Highway 3, almost directly across from where Road 3035 goes off to the right. There are pit toilets on the right, and the road swings left and ends in a parking lot at the Chico Trail trailhead.

Information: U.S Forest Service Wallowa Mountains Visitors Services, Joseph, OR, (541) 426-5546.

Maps: USGS Sled Springs, Starvation Ridge (Roberts Butte), and Table Mountain, Oregon.

Connections: The #1658 trail does continue and connect with a trail along Swamp Creek, but I have not hiked past Davis Creek.