[Wildflower Hikes and Trips in Grant County, OR]

Wildflowers of the Riley Creek Trail #216A to Riley Mt. or McClellan Mt.

Malheur National Forest

Stemless Goldenweed: Stenotus acaulis

Stemless goldenweed: Stenotus acaulis

The Riley Creek Trail #216A allows access from the east to the crest of the Aldrich Mountains with McClellan Mt. as a reasonable destination for a day's hike. Riley Mt. is another destination which can be reached cross country from the trail in a short distance. Both peaks afford near 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside, with views south to Snow Mt., west to Aldrich Mt., east to Canyon and Strawberry Mts., and northward to both the Greenhorn and Elkhorn Mts. Numerous forest and meadow wildflowers should be visible along the trail, while many species to be found on rock outcrops and scree slopes can be found atop the peaks. South- to southeast-facing slopes are generally open rock gardens, while the ridgetops tend to be open subalpine grasslands. The peaks should attract many butterfly species in July when they can be viewed spiralling upwards into the sky as part of their mating displays.

Examples of wildflowers to be seen along this trail include several buckwheats (Eriogonum sp.), creeping silverback (Luina serpentina), Sierra onion (Allium campanulatum), and stemless goldenweed (Stenotus acaulis).

Access: Drive south of John Day, OR on US Highway 395. At the north edge of Bear Valley, turn right (west) onto Grant County Road 63 (the Izee-Paulina Rd). Drive west about 5 miles until reaching the junction with FS Rd 21. Turn right (north) onto the paved but single lane (with turnouts) FS Rd 21. Look for wild horses along this route, although cattle are more likely to be encountered. After about 5.5 miles, turn right (north) onto the gravelled FS Rd 2190 and drive up the drainage about 4.5 miles to the Riley Creek Trailhead. Riley Creek Meadows (south of the trailhead) may be worth exploring for wildflowers and butterflies depending on the season. There is room for several passenger vehicles at the trailhead. Vehicles with trailers will need to park at the junction of FS Rds 2190 and 2190.589.

Hiking, equestrian uses, and mountain biking are allowed on the Riley Creek Trail. ATV use is prohibited. The trail is accessible from June into November and is moderately used. The trail is fairly easy to use (although with several small creek crossings) but if one strikes out cross country to access the summit of Riley Mt., it would be rated moderately difficult.

Trail #216 Length: 2.2 miles (one way). Rated easy for the 4.4 mile round trip, moderately difficult if hiked to Riley Mt. or McClellan Mt.

Elevation Range: 4500-4700' (The high point would be 6248' if one climbs cross country to the summit of Riley Mt., or 7043' if hiking to the summit of McClellan Mt.

Trail Description:

From the trailhead, the Riley Creek Trail #216A follows Riley Creek downhill to the north through ponderosa pine-douglas fir forest with some forest openings for about 1.25 miles, losing about 100' in elevation. Near a point where Dead Horse Creek joins Riley Creek from the east (and Packsaddle Canyon Creek joins from the west), the trail begins to wind uphill into Packsaddle Canyon before turning north again and climbing the slopes to the east of Bear Flat. Western juniper becomes more evident on the drier slopes. As the trail reaches the open southeastern slope of Riley Mt., the trail turns westward again and passes between the summit of Bear Flat and Bear Flat Springs at an elevation near 5600' and about 3 miles from the trailhead. The trail trends west-southwest as it climbs the southern slopes of McClellan Mt, then winds again across the upper slopes of Packsaddle Canyon before climbing north again to the crest of the Aldrich Mountains at about 6400' and about one-half mile west of McClellan Mt. Someplace on the climb from Riley Creek, the trail becomes the McClellan Mt. Trail #216 which follows the ridgetop west to Fields Peak, but at this point, I don't know where the change from Trail #216A to Trail #216 occurs.

There are numerous alternate cross country routes one can follow. These include:

a) hiking the open southeast slope of Riley Mt. to its summit from the trail to the northeast of Bear Flat.

b) hike the open grassland to open forest slope past Bear Flat Springs to the ridgeline between McClellan Mt and Riley Mt. Hike north through open fores to Riley Mt or hike southwest along the ridgeline to the summit of McClellan Mt (an elevation gain of about1200' on mostly open rocky to grassy slopes.

c) hike west from the trailhead along an old road that follows a small stream into a canyon that climbs uphill to the west. When the road ends, trend uphill in the forested canyon towards Packsaddle Gap, then follow the mostly open ridgeline north until reaching the crest of the Aldrich Mts (and Trail #216) to the west of McClellan Mt.

d) Follow the Riley Creek Trail #216A downstream for about one-half mile before turning west uphill into a canyon with unamed vernal creek. At about 5400', the route becomes open and one can select the best route to traverse uphill to the south or west of the summit of McClellan Mt.

All 4 of these routes require the ability (and comfort level) to navigate cross country. I'd advise using computer contour mapping software (like National Geographic Topo) to print off a map of the area to help negotiate this terrain. I'd also download several GPS readings of the route into a GPS, or at least write them down on the map to help one's navigation.

Plant Lists:

Partial Flora of Riley Meadows and the Riley Creek Trail #216A:

Partial Flora of McClellan Mt and Riley Mt.: Not available at this time.

Partial Flora of Fields Peak: Fields Peak is about 4 miles west of this part of the Aldrich Mountains and should be fairly representative of the flora of this region.

June 4, 2011: Riley Meadows and the Riley Creek Trail #216 A (from Riley Meadows and the first mile of the trail to the crossing of Riley Creek). The road in is bumpy in places with shallow potholes filled with water, but can be done by low-slung cars with care. The road is currently closed by trees down over the road between Riley Meadows and the trailhead for the Riley Creek Trail #216A, but this is just an addition of a 10 minute walk to reach the trailhead.

Paul Slichter