A blooming good hike.
The most challenging thing about the Tire Mountain Trail is getting there. It helps to have navigational skills or, even better, someone who’s been there before. It’s worth the effort, especially in coming days and weeks when wildflowers are still in bloom.
Our hike began on the west trailhead for the Alpine Trail, a route that offers possibilities for hikers and even more for mountain bikers. Located near Oakridge, which has been remaking itself as a mountain biking Mecca, the Tire Mountain Trail is just part of a larger network of trails that bisect the region.
My daughter, Molly, who’s familiar with the Oakridge region and the Middle Fork Ranger District, led the way with her pups, Ruby and Loki, happily trailing along. After a few zigzags the trail straightened as it cruised through an old-growth forest with scatterings of fairy bells, larkspur and other wildflowers. Best of all, forest openings provided expansive views, most dramatically of the craggy, ragged profile of still snow-covered Diamond Peak.
About 1-1/4 miles from the trailhead, a semi-hidden sign at a trail junction, we turned right towards Tire Mountain. Molly and her dogs pranced ahead on the trail, one that gently undulates with brief ups and dips as it passes through lush forests and along a series of steep sloped meadows.
Sometimes the trail was flanked with more wildflowers — yellow violets, bleeding hearts, trilliums, larkspur, varieties of paintbrush and, my new favorite, cats ears.
But it was further along, past several small meadows, where we reached a large meadow, one bursting with yet more wildflowers, especially profusions of yellow balsamroot and blue camas that brightly colored the trail and hillside.
Molly led the way as we climbed above the trail, winding up and through the meadow to a hidden overlook she had visited on a previous hike, one that revealed seemingly endless miles of forested backcountry and peaks.
After lunch, we weaved our way back down to the trail, resuming our way east toward Tire Mountain. In another mile, at a junction that switchbacks about a half-mile to Tire Mountain’s summit, we retired.
Molly, who previously visited the 4,329-foot summit, said views from the top are hidden by trees and thick brush, and that only a few boards remain from a long abandoned lookout tower.
We weren’t overtired, but because it was toasty warm, Ruby and Loki, who earlier in the day had been rambunctious and seemingly tireless, were dog tired.
On the way back we met other hikers who, knowing the summit offered little reward, also doubled back.
Further along we met oncoming mountain bikers, some who had used shuttles offered by Oakridge businesses to reach the trailhead. Some were pedaling along the Tire Mountain Trail to its west trailhead and beyond, while others we met near the Trail Mountain-Alpine Trail junction were doing longer loops along the Alpine Trail back towards Oakridge.
Why Tire Mountain? According to “Oregon Geographic Names,” it was named after an early military road along Tire Creek was built. “A traveler broke his wagon wheel. The wagon tired rolled to the lower side of the road and was abandoned in a small creek bed. It was there for many years and the creek was referred to as Tire Creek,” which led to the mountain being given the same name.
We didn’t reach Tire Mountain’s summit. Next time, dog willing, we’ll go the entire trail.