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The Peak View – Sierra Club

The Peak View

Marys Peak Group – Sierra Club

P.O Box 863, Corvallis, OR 97339


 Marys Peak, the highest point in Oregon’s Coast Range at 4,097 feet, is also one of the state’s premier wildflower sites.   Here we’ll concentrate on the flowers; see the “Practical Information” at the end if you’re a newcomer or need a refresher about how to get there and where to hike.

The next several weeks are the time to see these flowers at their best, especially in the outstanding “rock gardens” near the top.   I was there in mid-May, when the phlox was already blooming, with touches of Indian Paintbrush and others opening.  Given our strange, often dry weather this year, it’s difficult to say just when the flowers will peak and how good they will be, but the top of Marys Peak is worthwhile for the views as well as the flowers.  On a very clear day, you may see a hint of the ocean to the west; to the east, snowy peaks from the California border into Washington.  The very top does have a set of communication towers, but you can turn your back on those and feel the wildness of the area.

The rock gardens are just below the summit, a moderately easy walk from the upper parking lot.   As in many subalpine wildflower areas, the weather here is abusive – winter storms, high winds that blow off the snow and some of the soil beneath it, harsh summer sun.  Soil is thin and gravelly.   But for a few weeks in June, the rocks are draped with a colorful collection of flowers, some of them not usually seen at lower altitudes.

While on the road, be sure to look on the downhill side as well as uphill.   Flowers below the road get slightly less weather abuse, so they bloom a little earlier and sometimes more plentifully.   The meadows at the very top are at their best a little later, in late June or very early July.   A week or two after that, they are studded with Columbia lilies or tiger lilies (Lilium columbianum).

Please don ‘t step or climb in the rock gardens.   Restoration work is ongoing after past abuse.   It can take decades for plants in such harsh conditions to reach maturity.

We’ll talk below about a few of the special plants you may see.  For more information, go to Steven Carpenter’s book, Wildflowers of Mary’s Peak Meadow and Rock Garden, or to this Native Plant Society of Oregon detailed guide: https://www.npsoregon.org/kalmiopsis/kalmiopsis19/4maryspeak.pdf

Spreading Phlox (Phlox diffusa):   This low, pale lavender mat is the first major rock garden flower to appear.   It hugs the ground, like many plants that grow in harsh alpine environments.  This one has been found at close to 14,000 feet, more than three times as high as Marys Peak.   So it’s tougher than it looks!

Harsh Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida):  This very striking plant generally is not found higher than about 5,800 feet.  Plants this large and showy are unlikely to grow in high alpine tundra, where most plants hug the ground.   The colorful “flowers” on Castillejas are not flowers:  They are colorful leafy brackets, just below an inconspicuous little white real flower.  Like poinsettas!   All Castillejas are semi-parasitical, meaning that they need a close relationship with another plant.   Unlike full parasites, Castillejas have green leaves and can photosynthesize their food, but they take in ­water, minerals, perhaps some other substances from a host plant.

Cardwell’s penstemon (Penstemon cardwelii):  This rock-hugging purple penstemon is named after Dr. James R. Cardwell, a horticulturalist who emigrated to Oregon by wagon, made valuable studies of plants in his new home state, and established the first dental practice in Portland.   Blue and purple penstemon are especially attractive to pollinating bees and the wasp Pseudomasaris vespoides, a penstemon specialist.   High mountain penstemon are usually mats like this; varieties in kinder lowland environments may taller and upright.

Others you’re likely to see in the rock gardens or the top meadows:   scalloped onion (Allium crenulatum), yellow Cascade desert parsley (Lomatium martindalei), small larkspurs and lupines, round-headed bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata), four-petaled golden rough wallflower (Erysimum capitatum), and yellow daisy-like Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum).  And many more.

Enjoy your exploration!

Practical Stuff:   Roads, trails, weather, recreation pass, maps etc.    Maps and much important information are in this brochure: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd552237.pdf   Also see https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/siuslaw/recreation/recarea/?recid=42311 

To get to Marys Peak, drive HIghway 34 about 9 miles west of the junction just beyond Philomath.   Turn right on the Marys Peak Road.   This will take you to Conners Camp, start of the moderate East Ridge Trail, and to the large Observation Point parking lot, with views and a few picnic areas.   From there, the top is a walk of less than ½ miles, climbing about 340 feet.   It may be much colder and windier than the valley.  The difficult North Ridge Trail starts on Woods Creek Road, about 7.5 miles of gravel from Highway 20.

Once the Marys Peak Group is allowed to resume offering and conducting outings (by the National Office of the Sierra Club and by Governor Brown’s phase-in levels), would you be Interested in Becoming a Leader for Sierra Club Outings?  If you enjoy sharing Oregon’s incredible outdoors with others, then we hope you will become an outing leader for the Marys Peak Group (MPG), the local group of the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, having new leaders is critical to MPG’s goal of getting people out into Oregon’s outdoors. We’d love to have you!  Doing so will add to the number and variety of hikes and outings we offer.

Having a love of the outdoors is the essential characteristic of an MPG leader. The purpose of MPG’s outings is to share parts of Oregon that you have discovered and enjoy. A background or interest in any of the natural sciences is a wonderful plus but not necessary.

What are the Advantages of Becoming an Outing Leader?

  • Provides an incentive or motivation for you to find new trails in Oregon
  • Opportunities to share those or your favorite trails with others
  • Sharing your pleasure & joy will help get people out enjoying nature
  • Meeting and interacting with other lovers & enjoyers of the outdoors
  • Chances of learning new insights from participants on your trips
  • Strengthens your organizational skills

Ken Fitschen, Assistant Chair, Jules Moritz, Outings Chair, and Robert Verhoogen, Chair Emeritus, will make the process as smooth as possible. Contact one of them via e-mail if you are interested in finding out more about becoming an outing leader:

– Ken Fitschen’s e-mail = kenfits@comcast.net

– Jules Moritz’s e-mail = mpg.outings.chair@gmail.com

– Robert Verhoogen’s e-mail = rverhoogen@mac.com

Meanwhile, back at Covid-19:  COVID-19 UPDATE!

Posted on: 05/28

It certainly has been a tough year. We extend a big thank you to all of you for following our mask and physical distancing guidelines. By doing so, you have played a crucial role in making the Research Forests a safe, accessible, and healthy outlet for all of us during this turbulent pandemic.

Due to the recent updated guidelines issued by Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the updates to the OSU policy on face covering and physical distancing, we are happy to announce that face coverings are no longer required outdoors on Research Forest property. However, if the outdoor setting is crowded, or physical distancing cannot be maintained, then you need to continue to wear your mask.

The Research Forest will continue to comply with all OHA and OSU guidelines. We will keep you informed if any of these policies change and how that may affect your visit to the Forest. Stay safe out there friends – and enjoy the sunny weather ahead!


The OSU Research Forests will conduct an herbicide application as early as Tuesday, June 1, 2021*.  Exact dates are dependent on weather conditions and contractor availability. Click here to view a map of the spray locations.

We will spray all treatment units on the McDonald and Dunn Forests using backpack sprayers.  Spray targets vegetation only (not road or trail surfaces).

During application, staff will be at roads and official trails leading into spray areas to keep people away.  Please see the on-site signs for re-entry times associated with each chemical.

Signs will have the date of application, name of the chemical used, and the industrial re-entry interval posted at entry points into each treatment area. Signs will remain in place for one week.

The purpose of the herbicide application is to control the growth of non-native plant species and competing vegetation in recently harvested areas. All herbicide applications are conducted in compliance with State and Federal regulations and under a licensed pesticide applicator’s supervision.

**Two small spot spray treatments will occur at the Society of American Foresters Tree Farm (520 Road) and Woodlot (524 Road). These sprays may be conducted as early as May 29th. Note that these locations are not indicated on the full-scale map. Signage will be posted on-site.

NOTE:  There will NOT be any Peak View mailings UNLESS there is new information to report from OSU Forestry, the Sierra Club National office, or the Governor’s Office about the opening up of recreation areas, or from our Executive Committee.

1)         Newcomers to MPG outing events, please view the new GENERAL OUTING POLICY on our MPG website by clicking on copying and pasting <http://oregon2.sierraclub.org/marys-peak/outings > and then clicking on < Get Outdoors/Outings and Policies > before pre-registering for or attending an outing.

2)         Carpooling: Given the changing gas prices when car-pooling, take a moment to ask the leader for the suggested reimbursement rate per passenger per hour of driving for the outing.

3)         Contacting Marys Peak Group:  Marys Peak Group contact information is obtainable at  https://oregon2.sierraclub.org/marys-peak/contact.  Listed are the Executive Committee members and the Administrative and Program Coordinators.

4)         Facebook: Marys Peak Group – Sierra Club is on Facebook.  Check out MPG’s Facebook page to view pictures of past hikes and events, and learn about upcoming opportunities.  Post pictures from hikes and outings you participate in! Copy and paste the address  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Marys-Peak-Group-Sierra-Club/159377960779

5)         Minutes of the MPG Executive Committee can be viewed at the aforementioned website by clicking on the About Us/Ex Comm Meeting Minutes tab or by clicking on https://oregon2.sierraclub.org/marys-peak/minutes  for the minutes of the virtual meeting.


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