Coffin Mountain: A Hidden Gem

Sunset at Coffin Mountain with alpenglow on Mount Jefferson

Sunset at Coffin Mountain with alpenglow on Mount Jefferson

Recently I revisted a location that I’ve always thought of as a hidden gem here in Oregon. It doesn’t seem to get the same publicity and ooh’s and aahh’s that Mount Hood, Crater Lake, or the Columbia River Gorge seem to accumulate. With that said, I think it may be one of the more spectacular payoffs for your time and distance hiked that you’ll get in Oregon’s Cascades. I first visited Coffin Mountain with my father 3 years ago on a whim a few days before my wedding. I had read in a hiking guide about a great short hike with 360 degrees views and possible wildflowers. The short description undersold the location – we were blown away. After my first trip 3 years ago I knew I had to return and photograph the mountain in ideal light conditions.

Bear grass covers the side of Coffin Mountain in July with a view of Mount Jefferson

Bear grass covers the side of Coffin Mountain in July with a view of Mount Jefferson

After coming upon information that the wildflowers were blooming in early July, I quickly made plans to visit. Unfortunately, nothing but bright blue filled the skies all around me. Take two: After looking ahead at the forecast I noticed a good chance of afternoon thunderstorms scattered throughout the Cascade range on the next Tuesday. It was go time. I arrived early anticipating a need to scout shooting locations and found several great spots with an array of wildflowers and blooming bear grass. Several cotton candy clouds slowly danced around the sky and I was ready for a nice sunset. What I didn’t anticipate was about 90 minutes prior to sunset all of the thunderstorms that built up to my east, built back and hung above me. I lost the light and everything went flat. Then it happened, the sun hit just above the horizon and just under the cloud cover. Purples, pinks, and oranges lit up the sky and covered Mount Jefferson in an alpenglow that rivals the best I’ve ever witnessed before. This is why I do what I do. Moments like this and being there to see it with my own eyes and to use my camera to frame and capture it are what fuel me to keep pursuing the passion of mine.

Here’s a little info on what to expect if you decide to visit Coffin Mountain. The hike starts out in a light forested section of trail, shortly revealing the open meadows of Coffin Mountain and views of Mount Jefferson to the northwest, Three Fingered Jack and the Three Sisters to the east. Once you approach the summit more trees begin to appear intermixed with bear grass when it’s in bloom. At the summit lies a active fire watch station that is manned. On bland weather days, expect a smile and a ‘hi!’ from whomever’s manning the station. From the top you can look 360 degrees, on clear days you can see as far north as Mount Adams and to the south Diamond Peak. The open meadows are a varying flower garden with colors of yellow, blue, red, purple, and white spread across the open hillside. Bear grass, however, is the show stopper. It grows throughout the area, thickly on the hillsides. Timing is everything though, I’ve experienced the bear grass bloom in early August and most recently early July. Total roundtrip is approximately 3 miles and a elevation gain of 1000 feet. It’s fairly steep and more exposed to sun than not so take plenty of water and take into consideration the weather outside. Dogs are welcome on the trail.

Here are a few of the resources I used to get info on this hike and many others:

Willamette National Forest

Oregon Hiking by Megan McMorris – Book by Foghorn Outdoors. Great info on Oregon hikes, good descriptions , and thorough directions

A last bit of light hits the clouds above Coffin Mountain. Bear grass covered slopes are just one of the highlights of this hike

A last bit of light hits the clouds above Coffin Mountain. Bear grass covered slopes are just one of the highlights of this hike

 

 

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