Ninemile Ridge Trail

Hike Rating: Moderate
Hike Length: 7.6 miles roundtrip (variable)
Elevation Gain: 2,140’
Trailhead Elevation: 2,430’
Best Season: May-June and September
Driving Access: Any vehicle

Plus Points
• A premier view hike, starting at the river bottom and climbing to the ridge tops
• Hike is cow-free and entirely within the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness Area
• Trail alternates between grassy, south-facing slopes and forested, north-facing slopes
• Wildflowers are abundant in Spring, including purple larkspur, paintbrush and lupine
• Lots of elk sign in saddles along the ridge, with possible elk sightings if stealthy
• Successively higher viewpoints on the ridge offer a choice of hike destinations

Minus Points
• Hike can be brutally hot in mid-summer, so plan to start in early AM on hot days
• Afternoon thunderstorms present a lightning hazard on the exposed ridge tops
• Rattlesnakes are a possibility throughout the summer, so be aware

Download (PDF, 606 KB): Photos of Ninemile Ridge Trail
Download (PDF, 849 KB): Topo Map for Ninemile Ridge Trail
Download (PDF, 806 KB): Road Map for Ninemile Ridge Trail

Trail Notes
Map of Ninemile Ridge Trail
The hike begins at the Buck Creek Trailhead and follows the Buck Creek Trail for about 75 yards before branching off to the left (north) on the unsigned Ninemile Ridge Trail. This trail then climbs up the hillside, steeply at times, through douglas fir and ponderosa with a thick understory. At 0.5 miles, the trail turns east and begins a long, gradual traverse through open, grassy slopes and moist draws filled with thick shrubs (thimbleberry, spirea and maple). In Spring, wildflowers are abundant on the open, grassy slopes. In Fall, look for bear sign in the shrub thickets.

At 1.4 miles, the trail switchbacks abruptly to the north and begins another long, gradual traverse to the ridge top. From this switchback, one has wide views south over the Buck Creek watershed to Buck Mountain beyond. The route to the ridge top has a nice diversity, passing through thick fir forests on the northern exposures and grassy slopes on the southern exposures. At 2.3 miles, the trail gains the top of the ridge at Point 3618, where one has sweeping vistas west to Graves Butte and Bobsled Ridge beyond and up the South Fork Umatilla River canyon.

From Point 3618, the trail again turns east and ascends along the spine of Ninemile Ridge. Soon, there are wide views north into the North Fork Umatilla River canyon. The trail up along the ridge has a few steep climbs leading to open, rounded viewpoints, but also flat or even descending sections into broad saddles. Look for elk sign along the tree line in these saddles. At 3.1 miles, one comes to Point 4121 and panoramic overviews of the Wilderness. This can make a good hike destination, as the views are only marginally better higher up. However, those wanting to reach the summit of the ridge can continue another 0.7 miles up to Point 4568.

Road to Trailhead
From Hwy 84, about 7 miles east of Pendleton, OR, take Exit 216 for the Wildhorse Casino. Drive about 2.1 miles north to a flashing red light, then turn right (east) onto Mission Road. Follow Mission Road for 1.7 miles, then turn left onto paved Cayuse Road and drive for about 11.2 miles east along the Umatilla River canyon. Between mileposts 15 and 16, just before the hamlet of Thorn Hollow, turn right across the railroad tracks onto paved Bingham Road, following signs for the Bar M Ranch. Drive this road (which becomes Road 32 at the Forest Boundary) for about 16 miles, past the Bar M Ranch Camp, to the Umatilla Forks Campground. The last 3.5 miles to the campground are good graded gravel.

Just past the campground, but before the bridge over the South Fork Umatilla River, look for dirt Road 045 branching to the left (east). Follow Road 045 for 0.2 miles to the trailhead sign at road's end, near the entrance to the Kiwanis Organizational Camp. Park here, taking care not to block the gate into the organizational camp.

Camping Options
The only developed campground in the vicinity is the Umatilla Forks Campground, along Forest Road 32, just 0.2 miles from the trailhead. On a shady bench above the South Fork Umatilla River are 12 sites, 6 of them for tents only and 6 for trailers and tents. There is a vault toilet and a potable drinking water supply. Fees were $10.00 per night in 2013.

For campers with their own water and sanitation, there are 8-10 nice dispersed campsites along the South Fork Umatilla River upstream from the developed campground. These sites are along the river bank, spread out over the three miles between the two river bridges. They are all accessible from the good gravel road running up the canyon, with about half of them suitable for camping trailers and half for tents only.

Agency Contact: Umatilla National Forest, Walla Walla District, (509) 522-6290

DISCLAIMER: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, but the authors do not guarantee that it is either current or correct. The reader assumes full responsibility for any use of this information, and is encouraged to contact local public land agencies to inquire about current conditions before traveling.

Page last updated: 11/26/13