Alder Creek

National Forest Development Road 141, Umatilla National Forest, Heppner, Oregon 97836 USA

“where the Donner spent a gruesome winter”

Since there is no trailhead, a topographic map comes in very handy for locating the beginning of the trail. Pick up a fireman's map from the district office, they work quite nicely. The southern portion of the trail is cool and green from the Alder Creek system. Farther north there are great views and ample areas for camping. From this trail you can access the Copple Butte Trail #3052 and head west approximately 2 miles to Madison Butte. Also, one can take the Copple Butte Trail about 1 mile west to Skokum Trail #3053, which will loop back south to FS Road 140, approximately 1/2 mile from Alder Creek Trail beginning. Directions from Heppner: Take State Highway 207 south for approximately 26 miles to Anson Wright County Park. Turn left onto County Road 670. Continue until it turns into FS Road 22, then take FS Road 2119. Follow it approximately 3 miles to FS Road 21, then turn left. Continue approximately 3 more miles, past Tupper Work Center, to Road 21-140. Take a left on the 140 road and continue for about a mile until you reach the tank trap. There is no trailhead, but the start of the trail is marked with flagging about 500 feet past the trap. The Alder Creek excavations, conducted in 2003 and 2004, turned up more than 16,000 bone fragments in all, including the remains of rodents, rabbits, deer, horses, oxen and cattle. They also found canine bones, supporting accounts by survivors that they ate their pet dogs. It’s clear that Donner Party members went to great lengths to avoid eating their own dead: The stranded migrants consumed a glue-like substance made from boiled animal hides, along with charred bones, twigs, leaves and bark. But despite the lack of human bones recovered from the Alder Creek site, researchers concluded that cannibalism may have occurred there in the days between the departure of the first relief party in late February and the last survivors’ abandonment of the camp in mid-March. While cannibalism may indeed be part of the Donner Party story, the Alder Creek excavations help reveal the more complicated truth behind their harrowing struggle to survive, and the desperate efforts they made to stave off such a gruesome solution. Seasonal Information:Normally Open: Spring through Fall.

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Reviewed by
Travel Oregon

  • Expert
  • 5,385 Reviews
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June 17, 2015

Since there is no trailhead, a topographic map comes in very handy for locating the beginning of the trail. Pick up a fireman's map from the district office, they work quite nicely. The southern portion of the trail is cool and green from the Alder Creek system. Farther north there are great views and ample areas for camping. From this trail you can access the Copple Butte Trail #3052 and head west approximately 2 miles to Madison Butte. Also, one can take the Copple Butte Trail about 1 mile west to Skokum Trail #3053, which will loop back south to FS Road 140, approximately 1/2 mile from Alder Creek Trail beginning.

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