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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Feb. 21, 2024

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Saddle Dam trail a good trek no matter the season

Saddle Dam Park may be closed, but trails open year-round

4 Photos
Hikers who follow the wet-season route for Saddle Dam trail will pass this 109-year-old chestnut tree.
Hikers who follow the wet-season route for Saddle Dam trail will pass this 109-year-old chestnut tree. (Allen Thomas for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

CHELATCHIE — Saddle Dam trail, along the shore of Yale Reservoir, is little-known, thus little-used.

But the route has many redeeming qualities.

To wit:

  • It is close. The trail starts at Pacificorp’s Saddle Dam Park on the North Fork of the Lewis River. That’s only about a 45-minute drive from the urban parts of Clark County.
  • It is relatively long. From the trailhead at Saddle Dam Park’s equestrian parking lot, the trail extends 4.3 miles to its end where Speelyai Canal joins Yale Reservoir. That makes for an 8-mile-plus round trip.
  • It is low in elevation, thus usable almost any day of the year. The trailhead is a 487 feet elevation and the high point tops out at 822 feet.

Saddle Dam is the 1,600-foot-long, 40-foot-tall earthen wall that works in conjunction with Yale Dam to create Yale Reservoir.

Saddle Dam Park is open from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day, however the equestrian trailhead and trails are open year-round.

To reach the trailhead from the south, follow state Highway 503 north to Frasier Road, then turn right and drive a mile to the equestrian trailhead parking lot.

The trailhead for the Saddle Dam trail starts at the equestrian parking lot. And, that’s a fine place to start during the dry season.

However, in winter, it’s recommended to follow the main road toward Saddle Dam Park for 0.3 mile, then go left at the “Frasier Homestead’’ sign through the meadow and past Chestnut Pond for another 0.3 mile to the trail.

Turn right, walk, pass Cedar Grove Pond and arrive at the north end of Saddle Dam. Total distance so far is 0.97 mile.

Saddle Dam trail begins its one noteworthy climb just beyond the bridge crossing Saddle Dam Creek, gaining slightly more than 300-feet elevation in 0.75 mile. Most of that elevation is given back in the following 0.4 mile.

From the Pacificorp boundary sign at 2.03 miles to the trail’s end at Speelyai Canal at 4.19 miles, the path is mostly level. Small portions of the route overlap roads.

Speelyai Canal is a steep-sided ditch at the trail’s end.

Pacificorp does not recognize the Saddle Dam trail from the dam to Speelyai Canal as a formal trail, said Pampi Chowdhury, a Pacificorp communications specialist.

Part of the route is on state land managed by the Department of Natural Resources.

“Pacificorp does not maintain trail sections or support the use of trails on non-Pacificorp land,’’ Chowdhury said. “This includes the trail from Saddle Dam area to Speelyai Canal.’’

Indeed, a sign at the Saddle Dam Creek bridge labels the trail as “unmanaged,’’ and warns about hazards such as falling trees, slippery slopes, etc.

Streamflow from the upper Speelyai Creek watershed is routed through the canal into Yale Reservoir.

Speelyai Hatchery gets better quality water for rearing fish from springs and small tributaries in the lower end of the Speelyai Basin, so the flow from the upper basin has been diverted into Yale.

Pacificorp is planning a seismic retrofit of Saddle Dam. Saddle Dam Park is not anticipated to reopen until June 2024.

Cougar-to-Beaver Day trail — A shorter winter hike is the 1.7-mile Cougar-to Beaver Bay trail adjacent to the upper end of Yale Reservoir.

Finished eight years ago, the trail passes through trees, under a power line easement and skirts 35-acre Beaver Bay wetland. The trail has five bridges as it crosses several small creeks.

While the trail only has about 50 feet of elevation change between the two parks, there are 290 stair steps scattered along its length.

To access the Cougar-Beaver Bay trail, park along state Highway 503 a bit east of the exit road for Cougar Park. Walk down the exit road into Cougar Park, then veer left at the informational sign and head toward the reservoir. At 0.5-mile from Highway 503, there is a sign for Beaver Bay trail.

Beaver Bay campground is under renovation and will be closed in 2024, Chowdhury said.

“People looking to hike this trail are asked to access it via Cougar Park and to please stay out of Beaver Bay Park for their safety during active tree felling and construction,’’ she said.

Cougar Park is closed for the season and the east end of the campground loop is under construction.

Chowdhury also asked hikers to stay out of the east end of the campground loop and when parking to not block road gates.