After hiking down part of the Chico Trail and most of the Davis Creek trail a few weekends before I began wondering about other access points that my Wallowa Valley Ranger District Map showed. With the boys in tow and rainy weather forecast for the weekend, I decided we should do some day hikes and see if these other access points existed and whether they were any good.
My interest for the day centered on two spots. One was a trail labeled #1678B. It is one of those little side trails that I thought might only exist on the map, but you never know until you see for yourself. I wasn’t entirely sure that there would be roads open all the way to where the alleged trail began either. This trail drops off Miller Ridge and meets the Swamp Creek Trail about a mile upstream from where Davis and Swamp Creek run together.
My second point of interest was the road my map shows going down Swamp Creek and finally ending at “Swamp Creek Cow Camp” where the Chico Trail and the Swamp Creek trail meet. I really didn’t think that it could be true. That would just be too easy to start on the creek without any ridges to hike up at the end of a weekend.
The road going down Swamp Creek was closest and easiest, so we headed there first. We found the road that led down Swamp Creek. I also found a locked gate a mile or so down the road. It was too good to be true. From the locked gate it was another 6 miles or more until the trail started. The old road would probably make for a nice leisurely walk, but not a good starting point for hikes into Joseph Creek.
With the Swamp Creek road crossed off my list of possible starting points for Joseph Creek explorations we continued on to try and find the road that would lead to Driveway Saddle Trail, as it is called by the Wallowa Whitman National Forest website. Eventually we found our way to a ridge that was supposed to be the start of trail # 1678B. After getting out and walking down over the ridge a little ways I could see that the trail was indeed there. That is a good start I thought.
What did not look like a good start was the big rain cloud making its way down the canyon. It was literally about to rain on our parade, or hike rather. I had the boys bring their waders and rain jackets and told them to see how fast they could put them on. The kids got dressed just before the wind and rain got to us. With everyone sealed up against the weather we headed down the canyon with the wind, rain, and not much visibility through the rain.
The trail was easy to see and follow from the edge of Miller Ridge. It switched back once and made its way to the spring in the bottom of the draw. The trail is well worn although it is not a groomed hiking trail. It is more of a well used cow and game trail. It was much easier on my ankles than side-hilling. Once in the bottom of the draw there was a nice spring that came out of the rocks and the trail meandered along, the water sometimes running down the trail. I am always fascinated by springs. They seem almost magical the way they pop out of the ground. This particular one appeared, disappeared, and reappeared multiple times as we made our way.
After a little over a mile and a half and about a 1600 feet drop in elevation we were onto the Swamp Creek Trail. The Swamp Creek trail is a much better maintained trail than either the Driveway Saddle Trail or the Davis Creek trail. It appears that whoever has the permit to run cows down there keeps both the fence along the creek and the trail in excellent shape. After another mile of walking we were to the confluence of Davis Creek and Swamp Creek. We found an old stove near the trail.
I had given the boys sling-shots and they found no shortage of ammunition or targets along the way. There is a nice meadow between Swamp Creek and Davis Creek and after the boys played and explored in the meadow for a while we turned to head back out. We decided to walk up a ridge on the way back so we could get a little different view than following the bottom of the draw and it certainly gave us a little better scenery.
On the drive out there was a little bit of light left so we thought we would try to find the other end of the Chico Trail. We did eventually find it, the road leading there is not great and there were several trees across the road where people had driven around them. I had brought my small chainsaw for just such an occasion, but after spending thirty minutes trying to get it to run I gave up and drove around the trees like everyone has been doing. We had taken Forest road 4615 to get to Miller Ridge and the start of trail # 1678B, but decided we would try a different road, 4605, on the drive out. I strongly recommend 4615, especially if it is getting dark and you want to get home. Take Forest road 4605 when you are not in a hurry and are out for a Sunday drive.