Heart of Darkness

📘 Fastpacking

This is a remote, wild, and difficult 40 mile loop in the eastern Ochoco Mountains. This is a great early-season fastpack 1-nighter option.

For pictures and other thoughts, see my Trip report - 2022-07-03 Heart of Darkness Fastpack.




I like this as a 2-day route. The first day is more physically difficult. Start at the Rock Creek Trailhead and camp at Tin Cup Creek. The second day is slower due to long bushwhacking sections. Loop back to the start.

The first day begins with a long, slight downhill to mile 7 just past First Creek. This section moves through the Rock Creek canyon through old-growth forest and along an old mining water ditch. Take a hard-to-find right turn uphill to some great views of Spanish Peak and the surrounding area. The trail is faint and grassy, with plenty of rocks to negotiate. Don't roll an ankle. Continue rolling uphill through some interesting vegetation to the Spanish Peak Road intersection. Drop pack, head up the road, and tag the Spanish Peak summit, which is the second-highest point in the Ochocos behind Lookout Mountain. I highly recommend this little side trip. Get back to your pack and continue along the trail down to Cottonwood Creek, then uphill to the campsite at the Tin Cup Creek crossing.

Navigation can be tricky. Use your GPS track, follow white blazes or rock cairns when you see them, and keep your eyes open for cut logs and other signs of a developed trail.

On day 2, continue uphill and cross the road at the Cottonwood / Payton trailheads. Get on the Payton trail and drop into the Black Canyon Wilderness. This trail is difficult to negotiate and follow, particularly in the bottom mile where it gets quite grassy. Turn right on the Black Canyon trail and get ready for 4 miles of pretty intense bushwhacking. Your GPS device will be very useful here to follow the trail. After the intersection with the Coffee Pot trail, this trail will become easier to follow and moves through a beautiful forested section. Take the Owl Creek trail uphill to exit the wilderness at the Boeing Field Trailhead. Follow the road 4.5 miles back to your car.

Day 1 has the big views, but Day 2 is beautiful in the Black Canyon with the creek and sections of old-growth forest.

For more description, see my archive of the now-offline Heart of Darkness — Friends of the Ochocos page.

Driving Directions

Follow Highway 380 past Paulina for 58.7 miles. Turn left onto Beaver Creek Road and follow for 7.5 miles. Merge onto forest road 42 for 1.5 miles, merge onto forest road 3810 for 6.5 miles to forest road 38. Turn right, follow forest road 38 for 3.5 miles to the well marked Rock Creek Trailhead on the left.

Water Sources

Cue Sheet

Day 1

Day 2