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.
- Map: Heart of Darkness - CalTopo (all mileages given on this page reference the Day 1 and Day 2 tracks on this map. These are my actual GPS tracks. The yellow track shows the trails as mapped, which is not completely accurate).
- Distance: 44 miles, including the Spanish Peak out-and-back.
- Elevation gain: 7500 feet
- Generai terrain: Rough and often rocky trails. Trails are faint in many places and have nearly disappeared in spots. Some extensive bushwhacking required. One creek crossing on day 2 requires wet feet.
- Permit: No permits required.
- Warning - trails are difficult to follow in many spots. Use of a GPX track is highly recommended. You can download my GPX tracks from the Caltopo link above.
- Warning - area is known for ticks and possible rattlesnakes.
- Rock Creek canyon - Miles 1-7
- Spanish Peak views - Miles 9-11
- Spanish Peak summit - Mile 14.5
- Black Canyon Wilderness - day 2
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.
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.
- Mile 4 - Fir Tree Creek
- 5.7 - Second Creek
- 7 - First Creek (possibly intermittent in the later part of the season). Load up here for a 15 mile carry.
- 22 - Back Creek (Buck Creek?)
- 25 - Cottonwood Creek
- 26 - Tin Cup Creek
- Day 2, starting at mile 6 - Black Canyon Creek. You will follow this for 6 miles.
- 13.4 - Owl Creek
- 16.2 - Rock Creek parallels the road back to the trailhead.
- Mile 0 - Leave the Rock Creek Trailhead. Go downhilll and cross a bridge over Rock Creek. Continue along the trail.
- 2.4 - The trail begins following Waterman Ditch, an old mining water diversion. Soon you are far above Rock Creek. Cross Fir Tree Creek, then Second Creek.
- 7 - Cross First Creek. Next water source is Back Creek in 15 miles, including the Spanish Peak out-and-back.
- 7.2 - Sharp hairpin corner Right is marked by a couple rocks sitting on a log. The trail looks like it continues straight (there's a campsite that direction) but you need to to run right and start switchbacking uphill. This is an easy corner to miss.
- 12.7 - Spanish Peak Road crossing. Drop pack, take the road to the summit area.
- 14.4 - Spanish Peak summit
- 16.1 - Back to the trail. Continue eastward. This trail is intermittently marked as the Ochoco Trail or Rim Trail.
- 21.1 - Trail curves downhill; I missed this turn and went off-trail before realizing my mistake, and my GPS track unfortunately reflects this. Continue switchbacking downhill.
- 22.2 - Cross Back Creek. The trail is nice here, but turns into a web of cattle tracks soon.
- 25 - Cross Cottonwood Creek, slightly tricky crossing to stay dry. Follow trail uphill.
- 26 - Campsite along Tin Cup Creek
- Mile 0 - Leave camp. Cross Tin Cup Creek.
- 2.4 - Cross road and continue on Payton Trail.
- 4.7-ish - This section switchbacks through a grassy area and trail is difficult to follow.
- 5.7 - Around here on my GPS track, I lost the official trail and headed straight toward the intersection instead.
- 6.1 - Intersection with Black Canyon trail. Turn right (upstream). This is the beginning of 4 miles of intense bushwhacking. The trail is very difficult to follow at times. Watch for a faint tread on the ground, cut logs, and other indications of an established trail.
- 10.5 - Intersection with Coffee Pot Trail. Stay straight on Black Canyon Trail. Conditions are much better from this point on.
- 13.3 - Right on Owl Creek Trail. Cross Owl Creek and proceed uphill to Boeing Field Trailhead.
- 13.8 - Boeing Field Trailhead. Turn Right on road. Remainder of route is on road.
- 15 - Turn Left at road intersection.
- 17.5 - Stay Left at fork.
- 18.3 - Finish