Surprisingly lush canyon with towering ponderosa pines in the Blue Mountains of SE Washington
Distance: 8.0 miles round trip (we hiked 11.3 miles round trip in our search for the Cabin Gulch Trail)
Type: out and back or loop option with Cabin Gulch Trail
Difficulty: easy – moderate with a steady but gentle climb (we climbed 1,450′ on our adventure)
Best season: April – November (access road is gated through the winter)
Thanks to Mary Aegerter’s website Hiking From Here, we had a great 1/2 day hike on Feather Creek on Saturday. Mary was a professor of mine many years ago and she maintains a great website of hikes in our area (SE Washington, NE Oregon, and north central Idaho). We were wanting a full day hike, not too far away from home, and preferably one we had never done before for Sunday.
Jason found a couple possibilities on Mary’s site. Both were close to Asotin Creek which is an off season favorite of ours. The first was a 5.0 mile round trip hike up Cabin Gulch. The second was a 8.0 mile round trip up Sheep Gulch on the Foredyce Trail. Mary’s description of Sheep sounded much more beautiful to me, so we focused on that one. She also described the possibility of connecting the two trails via an old forest service road. We decided to head up Sheep Gulch and attempt to loop the two trail together if we could find the upper reaches of Cabin Gulch trail.
We grabbed our gear and hit the road. It had rained all night, but conditions were mild that morning. Temperatures were in the 50’s and we supposed to top out in the mid-upper 60’s. We even had some sun for the drive up, but windy conditions were predicted to arrive by late morning with a chance of rain.
We drove from our home in SE Washington to the Fordyce Trailhead using Mary’s good directions. The Foredyce Trail up Sheep Gulch started with a crossing of Lick Creek which is dry for much of the year. We detoured a short distance upstream to a makeshift footbridge where we were able to cross with dry feet.
From there we walked through tall grasses a short distance before hitting the tree line. At ¼ mile we passed thru a hiker’s gate. The trail made a gentle climb for nearly the entire journey up Sheep Canyon. Once in the trees, the canyon quickly transitioned to a lush forest climate. We were impressed with how green and dense it was. Huge ponderosa pines towered above while wildflowers like paintbrush, lupine and columbine hugged the forest floor.
It was somewhat slow going as we made our way up the trail. The trail was narrow enough and through dense enough forest that I felt like we weren’t making very fast progress. Still, we were enjoying ourselves much more than either of us had anticipated.
At 2.0 miles we came to Red Fir Springs which was right alongside the trail and is piped into an old trough.
From there the trail zigzagged back and forth across the mostly dry gulch floor before crossing to the right side and making a short climb up and out of the bottom of the gulch. From here, it was roughly another mile up to the road. This stretch opened up into tons of wildflowers- red and orange paintbrush and purple and yellow lupine were everywhere.
At 4.0 miles, we hit the old logging road. We took a snack break here before continuing right up the road in search of the Cabin Gulch Trail. After 0.3 miles we passed through a gate blocking the road. We hiked the road for approximately a mile as Mary described.
After about a mile, we came to an old road to the right. We turned onto that and followed it out a distance until we realized we were not on the right trail. We backtracked to the main road and continued down it. We walked a ways while watching the GPS and searching for the head of Cabin Gulch. Our mileage was starting to add up. We backtracked and made out a very faint path. We were pretty sure that was the trail, but it was so overgrown with grasses and flowers that we quickly lost it. Our mileage was really adding up for the day, so we agreed to cut our losses and return the way we came.
The hike back down Sheep went quickly since I didn’t have new scenery to photograph. We arrived back at the Jeep around 3:30 after 11.3 miles of hiking and about 1,450’ elevation gain. It had been a great day up a trail that far exceeded our expectations. We’re determined to go back and follow Cabin Gulch from the bottom up to make the loop hike.
Directions to Fordyce Trail (Sheep Gulch) Trailhead: From Clarkston, Washington, travel south on highway 129. As you enter Asotin, take the first right onto Baumeister Drive which turns into Asotin Creek Road after a short distance. Travel 2.9 miles and take a right at the Y (continuing on Asotin Creek Rd). At 5.5 miles the pavement ends and the road transitions to dirt/gravel surface. This road is suitable for all vehicles although it may have numerous potholes and/or be washboard. At 14.2 miles take a right at the Y onto Lick Creek Road. The Fordyce Trailhead up Sheep Gulch is 5.7 miles up Lick Creek Road. This stretch of road is more narrow and has more potholes, but should be passable to all passenger vehicles. A WA Discover Pass is required at the trailhead.